As I’ve listened to the parade of mighty media men apologize for the endless iterations of sexual misconduct that cost them their jobs, one thing has been strikingly missing. Not one has talked about his faith.
Matt Lauer said he was “truly sorry” and “ashamed.” Charlie Rose said he was “greatly embarrassed” and “acted insensitively.” Mark Halperin said he had been “selfish” and “immature.” But, like the entertainers and politicians also offering calculated displays of remorse, there was not a prayer among them.
That isn’t surprising. In their world, they are treated like gods. They rule their kingdoms. They make their own rules, they preach to their flock on the airwaves, and others kowtow to them. Many, including women, are complicit in keeping them on their pedestal, making them seem so much more than merely human until they come crashing down like fallen idols.
Now, perhaps most of them haven’t mentioned faith because they’re not particularly religious. Maybe they fear being accused of using faith as a cover for wrongdoing. But for all the handwringing about media and morality, God has been largely missing from the conversation. While Time’s Person of the Year honors the “silence breakers”—the women who are now speaking out—there has been far less focus on the men who created this toxic culture.
These Industries Are Tailored for Abuse
I know this hypercharged arena from the inside. A top television executive once stared at my chest during a job interview. A top television personality once told me, with little subtlety, that I needed him to give me career-boosting exposure. The business rewards good looks and alluring wardrobes, and I had to be mindful of that. Sometimes the flirtations and locker room talk were hard to reconcile with my Catholic faith.
Every friend I know has had similar experiences. One was told she could have a job if she agreed to have sex. Another was asked by a potential employer if she was dating anyone. A third was told she should always wear dresses that made her legs look good.
We are starting to understand that sexual harassment and assault aren’t fundamentally about sex, they’re about power. The power imbalance between wealthy TV executives or anchors and younger women fueled much of the misconduct. But the dirty deeds also thrived in an atmosphere of immorality, in a business that worships celebrity and sex appeal but barely covers religion.
The Choice Between Recrimination and Redemption
Ironically, it was former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn, who recently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation, who invoked his faith, He said he recognized that his actions “were wrong, and through my faith in God, I am working to set things right.” There’s no way to defend what the former national security adviser did, but at least he is looking to a higher authority.
Journalists’ statements of alleged contrition strike me as too calculated, words carefully crafted by lawyers and crisis managers. They don’t even appear on-camera; it’s all very antiseptic. If these men truly wanted to show remorse, they would go on a news program and submit to an interview, the kind they specialized in booking when newsmakers were in trouble. Lauer interviewed Brian Williams after the latter was suspended for his fabrications, so he knows the drill.
Where do we go from here? We face a choice of whether to pursue recrimination or redemption. Now, no one is saying there shouldn’t be accountability for the people who have engaged in serious sexual misconduct. Men like Lauer deserve to be punished. Executives who enabled these predators or turned a blind eye to their antics also need to pay a price.
But it makes little sense to spend all our energies investigating the past rather than changing future behavior. Otherwise, this can just become a witch hunt.
America is a forgiving country, and of course we’re all sinners. Rather than wallowing in self-serving apologies, the transgressors of the past should be encouraged to openly treat women with more respect and control their libidos, perhaps setting an example for their younger colleagues. I pray that this can be a healing moment, not one of angry retribution, and that my daughters will find a far more comfortable workplace than my generation has.