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Roundtable Reactions: The Latest Sexual Harassment Allegations And Apologies

Nov 11, 2017
Originally published on November 11, 2017 5:41 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to stay on this admittedly difficult but important topic for a few more minutes in the Barbershop. Now, this is where we gather a group of interesting folks to talk about what's in the news and what's on our minds. Today, we need to let you know again because of the nature of this conversation, this may be upsetting or inappropriate or too graphic for some, so please know that. With that being said, in the chairs today are Rebecca Keagan. She's Hollywood correspondent for Vanity Fair. She's with us from NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Welcome, Rebecca.

REBECCA KEEGAN: Hi.

MARTIN: Also at NPR West is Wall Street Journal reporter Joe Flint. He covers media and entertainment. Hello to you, Joe.

JOE FLINT: Hi. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: And last, but certainly not least, Jeff Yang. He's a CNN contributor. He's a frequent guest of ours as well. He's with us from La Mesa, Calif. Jeff, thank you so much for joining us.

JEFF YANG: Thank you and always glad to be back.

MARTIN: And so today we're going to talk more about this, the sexual harassment scandals that are unfolding in so many industries, including, it has to be said, our own. As many people know, this company's head of news was recently forced to step down because of sexual harassment complaints. We want to talk about Hollywood though because after the allegations about the powerhouse producer Harvey Weinstein, a number of big names have been accused of having engaged in conduct that the targets experienced as coercive or abusive. I'm thinking about the producer Brett Ratner, the actor Kevin Spacey.

And now, this announcement that the standup comedian and actor Louis C.K. exposed himself - and here it is, folks - masturbated in front of multiple women. The New York Times had detailed descriptions from five women about this. And in a written statement yesterday, Louis C.K. acknowledged that everything reported was true. I'm going to read a bit of his statement.

He says, (reading) the power I had over these women is that they admired me and I wielded that power irresponsibly. I've been remorseful of my actions. Now I'm aware of the extent of the impact of my actions. I learned yesterday that the extent to which I left these women who admired me feeling badly about themselves and cautious around other men who would never have put them in that position.

It goes on, as you might imagine. So, Jeff, let me start with you. And I'm just going to ask, you know, how you react to all of this.

YANG: Well, you know, I think these celebrity apologies, if you will, after actions they've taken that are truly horrific tend to fall into different categories. There are some which seem sincere but then when you actually probe down deeper, I have real issues. And there are some which are simply not sincere. I mean, I guess there are occasionally ones that are sincere and actually sincere but we don't see a lot of them. This one, I think, was the former.

I know there was a lot of people initially praising him for the very low bar of being a predator and acknowledging that he's a predator. But he doesn't say sorry anywhere in the actual, quote, unquote, "apology." He doesn't offer to make actual restitution or dedicate himself specifically to changing anything for either his victims or for the larger category of women in his space, and that troubles me. I guess that's the biggest reaction I have.

MARTIN: Rebecca - and I should mention Louis C.K. is how he - that's how he pronounces it, so apologies for that. You know, one of the - a lot of the people on social media said that this is the shoe that they have been waiting to drop in this whole, you know, Weinstein, post-Weinstein era. And we saw the names of the accusers with this week's New York Times article. But I'm trying to understand this whole open secret phenomenon, I mean, which is very similar to what we heard about Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. Why does it take an article with, you know, with these kinds of allegations to be taken seriously, Rebecca?

KEEGAN: That's the million-dollar question million. I mean, as you say, in the case of Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K., there were people in their inner circles who knew about the behavior that's now been reported. And it's interesting that the town seems to react. And by the town, I mean the agencies, the publicists, the studios and networks with whom people are doing business only when there is a story published in a publication like The New York Times, not when the entire town knows about the behavior.

MARTIN: And, Joe, what about that? I mean, you know, talk about that if you would. And what ramifications is Louis C.K. going to face? I mean, there is a - I mean, we know that he's been dropped by his production company and so forth, that a lot of this ongoing projects have been terminated. But I don't know. Going forward, do you think it goes beyond that? And do you think that there are ramifications for other people?

FLINT: Well, I think we are waiting for more shoes to drop. There's some other low-hanging fruit out there or people who are also openly whispered about. To go back to Rebecca's point and to your question, the challenge for us as journalists getting people - you know, and it's very tough, we understand - but the courage to put your name to it and go on the record then makes it easier for us to do our jobs.

I've reported a lot on Roy Price at Amazon, but I wouldn't have been able to get the stories I got into The Wall Street Journal in without a producer, Isa Hackett, willing to go on the record about what happened to her. With regards to Hollywood and change, I think when things start to have financial implications, that's when you start to see change in the industry. So when they - when it starts hitting their wallet, they'll figure out a way to hopefully deal with this.

MARTIN: Well, let me bring up another issue too which is these - which I don't want to imply by sort of moving to this topic is less important but the financial aspect of it and the economic aspect of the whole thing is, as you told us, very relevant. Now there is this whole question of the mergers that are emerging, I mean, AT&T's proposed acquisition of Time Warner. And then there was this other potential merger reported this week which would combine 21st Century Fox and Disney. So what would this mean for the two companies and how they would work in the marketplace? And I'm wondering also how this would affect creators of shows. Like, what do you think this would mean?

FLINT: Well, you've got different motivations for both these deals. AT&T is in the distribution business between owning DirecTV and all of their telephone mobile operations, so they want content. And then you have Fox and Disney, who are both big content players but fear of being too small to negotiate with the AT&Ts and the Comcasts of the world. So Disney wants some of those Fox assets so that they can be a bigger player.

To the question of what it means for the community, I've yet to find a producer or writer who feels that more consolidation is better. We live in an era where there's all these different platforms for writers and producers to get their content out, but those platforms are owned by fewer and fewer companies. So the more consolidation it is, the tougher I feel it is for writers and producers to negotiate to get deals done. And that's where the challenge will be.

MARTIN: So, Rebecca, why don't you pick up the thread here? I mean, this merger means Disney would now have rights to Blockbuster Fox movies like "Avatar," something you know a thing or two about, you know, having written a whole book on "Avatar's" director, James Cameron.

KEEGAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: I mean, what is your take on this? I wonder what it means for audiences and creativity. I also wonder what it means for, you know, behavior, if the kind of behavior that we've been talking about here, how that gets handled in this new world. I don't know. What do you think?

KEEGAN: Well, it's interesting. Yeah, as you say, so Disney - if this deal were to go through - would own the four "Avatar" sequels that are in production. It would also own the Marvel properties that it doesn't already own. This comes in addition to Disney owning Lucasfilm, Pixar, Disney animation and most of the Marvel films. So that is just a lot under one roof. And I do think it's kind of concerning for audiences.

One thing to keep in mind though, as Joe mentioned, there are all these new players - Apple, Netflix, Amazon - who are in the marketplace. And if you look at sort of the market capitalization of Apple, you could put all of the studios under one roof and they wouldn't be as big as Apple. So the studios are sort of feeling like - and the media companies are feeling like they're sort of fighting for their lives against these new companies. And consolidation is one way for them to stay going.

MARTIN: So, you know, but Jeff - Jeff, your son actually plays Eddie in "Fresh Off The Boat," which is a show produced by Fox, which runs on ABC, which is owned by Disney, right? So it seems that there's already a lot of cross-pollination in the industry. I mean, I don't know. What are your thoughts about this?

YANG: Well, it's absolutely the case that a lot of these studios are kind of frenemies, right? You know, they create things in collaboration. They air things on one another's different platforms. They're exchanging content and opportunities all over the place. But the issue with consolidation I think in a broader sense is that it tends to reinforce the notion that the people who are there already, who are inside the circle, if you will, get more chances.

And, I mean, I'm saying this with a kid who is inside the circle to a certain extent. It's, you know, kind of great to see that when you have recognizability within a studio, other options come to you. But, I mean, he wasn't a few years ago. He'd never acted before. And I feel like a lot of ways, especially when we're talking about diversity, finding a way to break into an industry that is becoming more and more consolidated and monolithic can only be harder over time. So that's an issue.

MARTIN: So, before we let you go, I just wanted to ask just very briefly if I can. And this is such a - I wanted to loop back to the topic that we started with, which is the behavior in the industry. I know, Rebecca, you were saying that - to us earlier that the casting couch was a real thing. I mean, this is a thing that has really affected people's lives in this industry. Do you feel - And I'm asking you to predict, I apologize - do you think that this is really a cultural moment where this has really changed? I'm going to give you the last word here.

KEEGAN: I do think that things are changing. I mean, there's no question since the very early days of the movie studios that sexual harassment and sexual assault has been part of how people do business. We're now, for the first time, seeing consequences from that behavior. And we're seeing companies like the agencies who sort of quietly enabled it being forced to look at their own behavior. So there are real repercussions now. And I think that we'll see a real change in behavior.

MARTIN: That's Rebecca Keegan. She's a Hollywood - she's Hollywood correspondent for Vanity Fair. Joe Flint is a media and entertainment reporter for The Wall Street Journal. They were both kind enough to join us from our studios at NPR West. Jeff Yang is a CNN contributor, and he joined us from Drexler Media in La Mesa, Calif. Everybody, thank you so much for speaking with us.

KEEGAN: Thank you.

YANG: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.