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This startup wants to save journalism. It hired a former NPR boss accused of sexual harassment.

In the latest #MeToo comeback, former NPR news chief Michael Oreskes is joining a startup tasked with “restoring faith in media.”

An activist holds a #MeToo sign during a news conference on a Title IX lawsuit outside the Department of Education in Washington, DC, on January 25, 2018. 
An activist holds a #MeToo sign during a news conference on a Title IX lawsuit outside the Department of Education in Washington, DC, on January 25, 2018. 
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Multiple women have accused Michael Oreskes, the former head of news at NPR, of unwanted kisses or other inappropriate behavior. One woman said his conduct toward her “utterly destroyed my ambition.”

But now, less than eighteen months after the allegations first became public, Oreskes is joining a journalism startup aimed at “restoring faith in media,” Jason Schwartz reports at Politico. In a 2017 statement after his resignation from NPR, Oreskes had apologized and called his behavior “wrong and inexcusable.”

The website, started by former Fox News executive Ken LaCorte, will be called LaCorte News. Also joining is John Moody, a former executive editor of Fox News who left after writing a widely criticized column mocking the US Olympic Committee for its efforts at diversity. The column, which was removed by Fox, joked that the committee wanted to change its motto from “Faster, Higher, Stronger” to “Darker, Gayer, Different.”

It is not clear what the new site, which LaCorte says will include a mix of aggregation and original content, will offer that other media outlets don’t. LaCorte, who tells Politico he is “troubled by this kind of new McCarthyistic era where people are blown out of careers for relatively minor things,” may believe that by bringing on Oreskes, he is offering readers something new and different in the #MeToo era.

In reality, however, plenty of men accused of sexual misconduct as part of #MeToo remain in powerful positions, in the media and elsewhere. Hiring someone like Oreskes isn’t iconoclastic — it’s business as usual.

Michael Oreskes has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women

The allegations against Oreskes first became public in October 2017, as the #MeToo movement gained steam. Two women told the Washington Post that in the 1990s, when Oreskes was Washington bureau chief at the New York Times, he subjected them to unwanted kisses after they met with him to discuss their careers.

One of the women said that after their first meeting, Oreskes took out a personal ad aimed at her in the “Adult Services” section of the Washington City Paper that read “Saw you at the Army-Navy Building. Loved hearing your life story and your ideas. Hope you get this message. Let me know.”

Later, she said, he invited her to have lunch in his hotel room. When he learned she was flying to New York for work, he urged her to book the same flight as him — and in the cab on the way into the city from the airport, she said, he kissed her and slipped his tongue into her mouth.

“The worst part of my whole encounter with Oreskes wasn’t the weird offers of room service lunch or the tongue kiss but the fact that he utterly destroyed my ambition,” she told the Post.

Other women have accused Oreskes of behaving inappropriately with them after he joined NPR in 2015. NPR producer Rebecca Hersher filed a sexual harassment complaint against Oreskes that year, alleging that he invited her to dinner and tried to talk to her about sex and relationships, including calling an ex his “sex girlfriend.” And after the allegations against Oreskes became public in the Post, five other women filed new complaints against Oreskes with NPR. He was placed on leave and ultimately resigned.

“I am deeply sorry to the people I hurt,” he said in a statement at the time. “My behavior was wrong and inexcusable, and I accept full responsibility.”

Moody, meanwhile, cut ties with his employer after writing in a Fox News column that the US Olympic Committee was focusing too much on diversity. “While uncomfortable,” he wrote in the February column, “the question probably needs to be asked: were our Olympians selected because they’re the best at what they do, or because they’re the best publicity for our current obsession with having one each from Column A, B and C?”

“Unless it’s changed overnight, the motto of the Olympics, since 1894, has been ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger,’” he said. “It appears the U.S. Olympic Committee would like to change that to ‘Darker, Gayer, Different.’”

Fox News removed the column, saying in a statement to the Hill that it “does not reflect the views or values of Fox News.” Moody retired from Fox shortly after the incident, though a source told CNN he had been planning to retire before the column was published.

Supporting a man accused as part of #MeToo isn’t iconoclastic. Many are doing so.

LaCorte told Schwartz he is not concerned about Oreskes’s and Moody’s histories. “I’m proud that I pulled in both the former head of news at Fox News and the former head of news at NPR,” he told Politico.

He also expressed appreciation that other news outlets’ “hypersensitivity” had allowed him to pick up Oreskes and Moody at bargain prices. “I couldn’t have afforded either one of these guys had we not been in this crazy type of atmosphere,” he said. “In a weird way, I’m actually a beneficiary of companies being hypersensitive.” And by hiring from Fox and NPR, Schwartz writes, LaCorte believes “he has a built-in buffer against the trust problems that have plagued media in the era of President Donald Trump.”

“I think that Mike Oreskes is a good man and a great journalist,” LaCorte added. “I am more troubled by this kind of new McCarthyistic era where people are blown out of careers for relatively minor things that might have happened decades ago or being sarcastic in an op-ed.”

LaCorte’s ambitions for his new site are vast. “I’m not going to be egotistical enough to say I’m going to save journalism, but I’m f---ing trying,” he told Politico.

LaCorte clearly wants to offer readers an alternative to existing news outlets, and hiring Oreskes may be part of that mission — his reference to McCarthyism recalls critiques of #MeToo lodged by Andrew Sullivan and others who have claimed the movement goes too far.

But by enabling the comeback of a powerful man ousted after allegations of sexual misconduct, LaCorte is being far from iconoclastic. As early as December 2017, just months after the #MeToo movement entered its most public phase, Jack Shafer at Politico was offering to shepherd Oreskes’s comeback. “I’d be humbled to be part of the reintegration of my friend Michael Oreskes into professional life,” he wrote. Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly, and Charlie Rose have all reportedly eyed comebacks in recent months.

Outside of journalism, Garrison Keillor and Louis C.K. are performing again after sexual misconduct allegations. Mario Batali is considering a comeback (or maybe a trip to the Amalfi Coast). A powerful man’s time in #MeToo jail, clearly, can often be quite short.

That’s if he faces consequences at all. This year, Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the Supreme Court despite allegations of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford and of sexual misconduct by other women. And, of course, Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by more than a dozen women, remains president.

With LaCorte News, Ken LaCorte believes he’s creating something new. But by hiring a man accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women, he’s really offering more of the same.

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