There used be a dirty little secret lurking inside some of the biggest media companies in the world: the secret of how powerful men in senior positions treated, demeaned and often abused their junior female subordinates within a blokey culture that actively protected this kind of behaviour at the highest levels.
Like many other dirty little secrets, insiders knew what was going on and had been going on for decades. But for obvious career-limiting reasons, they looked the other way and never blew the whistle.
Over the past six months, that whistle has blown the lid off the culture of offensive male abuse in media (especially television) companies.
Case study 1: Laurie Luhn and Roger Ailes, CEO of Fox News …
“Laurie Luhn put on the black garter and stockings she said Ailes had instructed her to buy; he called it her uniform. Ailes sat on a couch. ‘Go over there. Dance for me,’ she recalled him saying. She hesitated. ‘Laurie, if you’re gonna be my girl, my eyes and ears, if you are going to be someone I can depend on in Washington, my spy, come on, dance for me,’ he said, according to her account. When she started dancing, Ailes got out a video camera. Luhn didn’t want to be filmed, she said, but Ailes was insistent: ‘I am gonna need you to do better than that.’
“When she had finished dancing, Ailes told her to get down on her knees in front of him, she said, and put his hands on her temples. As she recalled, he began speaking to her slowly and authoritatively, as if he were some kind of Svengali: ‘Tell me you will do what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it. At any time, at any place when I call. No matter where I call you, no matter where you are. Do you understand? You will follow orders. If I tell you to put on your uniform, what are you gonna do, Laurie? WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO, LAURIE?’ Then, she recalled, his voice dropped to a whisper: ‘What are you, Laurie? Are you Roger’s whore? Are you Roger’s spy? Come over here.’ Ailes asked her to perform oral sex, she said.
“Later, Ailes showed her the footage of her dancing. She asked him what he intended to do with it and, she says, he replied, ‘I am going to put it in a safe-deposit box just so we understand each other’.” — New York magazine, July 16
Case study 2: Amber Harrison and Tim Worner, CEO of Seven West Media …
“Harrison claims there have been ‘hundreds of text messages’ between the two which laid out the pair’s ‘sexual proclivities and eagerness’ but were later destroyed at Seven’s direction. According to her, Worner said in the text messages: ‘I love being with you. Too much. Too sexy’, ‘I was just going to tell you that I had a massive hard on and I was thinking about ramming it in your mouth’, and ‘I want to fuck you like a wild man’.
“Harrison says the sexual relationship between the pair was often ‘heightened’ by cocaine, an allegation never denied by Seven or Worner. He texted Harrison one night: ‘I think my performance was drug assisted. And if you can go dirtier I am slightly scared. But you are so f hot so I will take the chance’.
“The drug-fuelled affair and corporate trips were topped off with a $10,000 ‘special bonus’ which Worner authorized to Harrison for ‘exceptional performance and outstanding contribution’ and the ‘hard work you put in and the considerable patience with which you do it’ …” — Financial Review, December 20
The companies behind these two stories are controlled by media moguls Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes, who themselves have each married much younger employees. Both these companies employee a large number of women (at Seven West it’s 52% of their 5041 employees).
When the story of Roger Ailes and his sexual predatory emerged earlier this year, it was James and Lachlan Murdoch, not their father, who stepped in to sack Ailes and begin a process of remaking the corporate culture at Fox News.
And when allegations of sexual harassment against then-editor of The Age Mark Forbes emerged earlier this month, Forbes himself resigned.
The worm has turned. The dirty little secret has been exposed. No longer will media CEOs, editors and senior executives get away with abusing their positions while running media companies that report and lecture other people in society who abuse their positions.