#MeToo, Charlie Rose and Newsroom Practices: Teaching Ethics and Leadership in Journalism

The Press Forward and the University of Texas at Austin have launched a ‘Creating a Safe and Fair Workplace’ training—part of an Ethical Leadership in Newsrooms curriculum.

CNN’s Alisyn Camerota speaking to students at a Press Forward event in 2019. (Courtesy of the University of Texas Austin)

The morning of Nov. 21, 2017, CBS This Morning co-anchor Gayle King, seated at the show’s round table, looked into the camera and spoke with bewilderment, “I really am still reeling,” King said. “I got an hour and 42 minutes of sleep last night—none of us ever thought that we would be sitting here at this table in particular telling this story.”

The “story” is the now widely known news that just hours earlier CBS fired King’s co-anchor, longtime 60 Minutes correspondent and eponymous public television talk show host, Charlie Rose, amid multiple, explicit sexual harassment claims against him, spanning several years. Rose was part of a wave of #MeToo reckonings that saw departures at the highest levels of the media industry, including CBS’s own chair and chief executive officer.

A case study, “#MeToo, Charlie Rose and Newsroom Practices,” is the centerpiece of a new teaching module designed to educate aspiring journalists to become effective and ethical leaders, so they may foster media workplaces free of sexual harassment and employment discrimination. It is part of a multimedia module, “Creating Safe and Fair Workplaces,” an element of the University of Texas at Austin and The Press Forward’s “Ethical Leadership in Newsrooms” curriculum. The case study is free for journalism schools to use nationwide.

Our case study prompts students to wrestle with the issues themselves. They will consider and discuss what they would have done if they had been working in a newsroom with Rose and had heard about or observed him bullying and/or sexually harassing their coworkers.

Minette Drumwright

“The story of Charlie Rose and those who surrounded him, demonstrate the importance of newsroom leadership and culture to ensure those early in their careers have safe, fair and dignified environments,” said Carolyn McGourty Supple, executive director of The Press Forward. “Ethics and accountability are everyone’s responsibility—at all levels—and core to the future of journalism.”

The case study is co-authored by Minette Drumwright, director of the Communication and Leadership Degree (CLD) at the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody College and co-chair of the curriculum project, Jennifer L. Jones Barbour, associate director of CLD, and journalism Ph.D. student Adriane Grubic. They worked in collaboration with The Press Forward, a nonprofit organization that uses research, education and training to positively advance newsroom culture. Journalists who covered the story and individuals directly impacted by Rose’s behavior were interviewed to inform the case. 

“Our case study prompts students to wrestle with the issues themselves,” Drumwright said. “They will consider and discuss what they would have done if they had been working in a newsroom with Rose and had heard about or observed him bullying and/or sexually harassing their coworkers.”

Curriculum coursework includes lectures, discussions and learning about sexual harassment law, “networks of complicity” and “moral myopia”—which is “what happens when we do not recognize the moral implications of a problem or we have a distorted moral vision.” Students also learn about Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which not only bans sexual harassment in workplaces, but also bans any discrimination in employment “based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”

A comprehensive teaching note accompanying the course is available to university professors and select newsrooms for free, and the case is open source and available to journalism schools and newsrooms nationwide. To request a copy of the case study, please contact team@thepressforward.org. For more information on the curriculum, head here.

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Colleen McCabe is vice president of strategy and communications at Camino Public Relations, where she uses the power of strategic communications to make the world a better place.