Never wanted to be part of a hashtag. Especially this one.
As I read and hear of the vile and vulgar accusations against media giants including Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Garrison Keillor, Bill O’Reilly, vomit is thick in my throat. It was a familiar taste.
Lauer and company are nothing but little boys with X-rated fantasies they allegedly acted upon.
Respect for women — and the workplace — is a foreign concept they are ill-prepared to comprehend.
The disgraced journalists have given the profession a black eye, violated the public’s trust beyond comprehension and are sucking the oxygen out of the universe. They need to just go away and live in the shadows.
Sunlight needs to be cast in the corners of local newsrooms around the country where little boys with a Lauer mindset play and prey on women.
I was one of them.
As a newbie in a South Dakota newsroom, I was eager to practice my passion. I was a full-time journalist at a daily newspaper — living the dream. There was a team of four or five new journalists hired as part of an expansion plan and with them, a new publisher. He embodied all things health and fitness.
All he needed was one cross-eyed glance at the cast of characters in the newsroom to see we were a motley crew of journalists whose diet staple was fast food, vending machine snacks or pizza. Whispers of belly bulges and thunder thighs filtered throughout the breakroom.
To help whip the newsroom into shape, the publisher hired a team of registered nurses and initiated a weight-loss challenge. Participation was voluntary. Handsome financial awards to cash-strapped journalists were the fabled dangling carrot.
I bit. As someone who has always struggled with her weight, it was an enticing challenge. Our names were printed on huge poster boards that were on display in the newsroom. Our weights weren’t there but our weekly loss was posted. It was a topic of conversation as weight loss totals gained momentum. Competition to be the biggest loser was fierce.
Losing weight — for me — was a pivotal point in that newsroom.
A veteran, hard-working and talented writer began to take notice. He complimented me in a seemingly ogling way. He would stare at me from across the room. Not wanting to be rude, I would say thanks for the compliment and brush him off. Although technically we were peers, he had clout in that newsroom and was well-liked by management.
He was married with a newborn at home. I feared perhaps I was misreading his compliments.
As the pounds continued to shed, his behavior grew increasingly bizarre. The men’s and women’s bathrooms were located in a long, rather isolated hallway. Somehow, he would time it so that whenever I would go to the bathroom he was in the hallway eager to spew some comment about my body. He would linger outside the women’s room door until I’d come out. I knew it was not my imagination. I started asking colleagues to accompany me to the bathroom to nix his harassing behavior.
When I talked recently with former Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono about her experience with sexual harassment, she said she often walked the line between “being a flirt” and “being a bitch.”
Heck, I was simply trying to walk the line between being “nice” and being a “bitch,” aka troublemaker. All I wanted was to do my job and be that all-important team player. I was in love with my job. I didn’t want anything to mess that up.
His compliments flourished. He was constantly checking me out and commenting on my looks. If it wasn’t my dress, it was my shoes. If it wasn’t my hair, it was something else. But he always found a way to comment on my weight loss.
Tried talking to some who knew him well. He chalked it up to “X” just being “X” and dismissed as a “crush.” Told me to enjoy the compliments.
In hindsight, it was another form of harassment — looking the other way. It was easy and convenient. Things didn’t get messy — for them anyway.
There was no joy to be found. I did not have to work directly with him so I did my best just to avoid him. He did not take a fancy to that. I worked days; he worked nights. He started waiting for me by my car. He said he just wanted to talk. I was terrified. I clutched my keys ready to poke out his eyes or worse if I had to.
My harasser would call my home during his shift. He just wanted to talk, he said.
Still fearing management would blame me, I never said a word.
I stopped answering the phone.
One night he showed up at my apartment and beat the hell out of the door. I crouched trembling inside with my back against the door, praying he could not break the lock. I told my property manager to be on the lookout for him.
Still, I could not bring myself to tell management. I had thousands of dollars in student loans to repay and could not afford to lose my job.
To this day, I believe managers were well aware of what was going on and chose to do nothing. It was a small newsroom. There were no secrets.
His damning move was a lengthy hand-written letter he sent. The contents were vile and unnerving. Vomit filled my throat and I could not hold it back.
I was nearly paralyzed into not being able to do my job.
As I continued to more sternly rebuff his advances, little did I know he had begun sexually harassing another woman in the newsroom. I do not know how long it went on but she reported him to management and told managers she suspected I, too, was being harassed. They called me in and I seized the opportunity to spill my guts. They asked me to produce the letter, which I did.
The publisher apologized for making the weight losses public. The chart wasn’t the problem. The creepy reporter with a blatant disrespect for women — even his own wife — was the problem.
Ironically, the day he was called in to be fired, his wife accompanied him.
The pair left the building yelling obscenities in my direction.
They were escorted from the building.
Never saw or heard from him again. Don’t need to. Don’t want to.