NPR Executive Faces Sexual Harassment Allegations

Nov 1, 2017
Originally published on November 1, 2017 5:12 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And we have some news this morning about our own newsroom. NPR yesterday placed its chief news executive Michael Oreskes on leave after he was accused of sexual harassment in two separate instances nearly 20 years ago. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is reporting that Oreskes was also warned against inappropriate conduct at NPR after a complaint was filed by one of our junior colleagues two years ago, and David joins us from New York City. Hi, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: Let's go back to these first two accusations. This stems back to a time that Michael Oreskes was at The New York Times. What exactly is he accused of?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, these were first published by The Washington Post, these accusations from two unnamed women. Separate accounts but very similar. They go back to Oreskes's times as the Washington bureau chief. They accuse him in separate meetings at which they thought they were talking about possible career opportunities at the times of forcibly kissing them, unsolicited, unwanted, and sticking his tongue in their mouths. And they talked to The Post in ways that indicated they really felt severely affected in how they thought about The Times and journalism as a result of these instances, including his, in a sense, his pursuit of them.

GREENE: OK. So that was nearly two decades ago. You have now been reporting on an accusation against Oreskes much more recently involving his time here at NPR. What do we know?

FOLKENFLIK: This involves a junior colleague of mine. She agreed last night to talk on the record. Her name is Rebecca Hersher. She was a junior 26-year-old producer two years ago, October 2015. An invitation to talk about her concern about career advancement at NPR, her desire to become a full-time reporter changed an afternoon meeting into an evening dinner that extended over three hours at which she felt increasingly uncomfortable. His - repeatedly turned to questions about her personal life, his personal life. He talked about his first sex girlfriend. He said, you know, he couldn't imagine that any man or boyfriend could keep up with her. This is, again, by Rebecca's account, and he has not responded to several requests for comment from us on this matter. But she talked about how there was a severe power dynamic, an imbalance, and talked also on tape. We have a cut of what she said it felt like after getting out of that dinner.

REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Went to the train station, and I called my best friend and I cried on the phone with her. And then I went home and I cried to my boyfriend. It felt very - it undercut my confidence in a way that was surprising to me.

FOLKENFLIK: And, again, so that's - there's not the same forcible element of it, but it very much severely affected how she thought about dealing with the chief news executive of this network.

GREENE: OK. So you said we have not heard directly from Michael Oreskes yet. How is NPR responding to all of this?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, two years ago, Rebecca Hersher filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment to NPR. It, you know, formally and explicitly rebuked him, and told him that his behavior toward her had been inappropriate and informed top other officials at the network. When these other allegations surfaced in The Washington Post yesterday, it appears that NPR placed him on leave. I have confirmed that yesterday was the day he was on leave, not when these women first shared these concerns with NPR a bit earlier this month.

GREENE: And why did it take so long to learn about this accusation from two years ago?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I first started reporting on Rebecca Hersher's incident about a year and a half ago, and what I can tell you is at that time she wasn't willing to go on the record, but also that I was not able to discern any pattern, any prior behavior, either at other news organizations or here at NPR. It seemed like a less severe incident. Not everything that happens is national news. At that time, we decided it wasn't news yet. Obviously with the new reports, that changed the dynamic greatly.

GREENE: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thanks, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.