Paging Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher: Your misogynistic media frathouse is alive and well at the Tribune Company (founded 1847) where a New York Times investigation found a culture saturated with pervy executives and harassed, intimidated female subordinates.
The management that in 2008 took over Tribune, which owns The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune, was spectacularly boorish. The corporate dynamics — which included rewriting the company handbook to try to preempt any sexual harassment claims or other kinds of legally actionable offenses — are a sort of a parallel universe where feminism never happened. Think first-season Mad Men, without the Jon Hamm-esque charm. That included:
- The CEO getting wasted in front of employees, saying, "Watch this," and offering a waitress $100 to show her breasts.
- A new senior female employee being introduced in a memo as "a former waitress at Knockers - the Place for Hot Racks and Cold Brews."
- The CEO and another top executive loudly talking about the "sexual suitability of various employees" within earshot of several employees.
- The CEO telling the female editor of the Chicago Tribune about the paper's coverage of Rod Blagojevich: "Don't be a pussy" when she said she thought their coverage had been sufficiently tough.
Despite the fact that said CEO Randy Michaels brought with him a trail of sexual harassment complaints (one woman in his past job settled through the EEOC after "saying she had been bitten on the neck by Mr. Michaels and that he walked through the office wearing a sexual device around his neck"), and the new rash of claims, the board is standing by him, with one member telling The Times, "Randy is a tremendous motivator, very charismatic, but he is very nontraditional. He has the kind of approach that motivates many people and offends others, but we think he's done a great job."
And they stood by as the employee handbook was rewritten to say, "Working at Tribune means accepting that you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use... You might hear a joke that you don't consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process... This should... not [be] considered harassment."
One reason it's been easier for this to continue is the reluctance of female employees to entangle themselves in legal battles when the economy sucks. One tells David Carr,
"Not many people could afford to leave. The people who could leave, did. But it was not in my best interest to have my name connected to an E.E.O.C. suit," she said, referring to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (Indeed, there are no current E.E.O.C. complaints against the Tribune Company.)
In response to David Carr's piece, the company said,
As you know, it is our intention to create a fun, non-linear creative environment. I am tremendously proud of the results of that creative culture....A creative culture must be built on a foundation of respect for each other. Our goal is an environment where people are free to speak up, free to challenge authority, and free to fail on the way to success. Our culture is NOT about being offensive or hurtful.
Fun for whom, exactly?