Monday, August 27, 2018
Before MeToo: Was Media Representation of Sexual Harassment Accurate?
Joni Hersch & Beverly Moran, He Said, She Said, Let's Hear What the Data Say: Sexual Harassment in the Media, Courts, EEOC, and Social Science, 101 Kentucky L.J. 753 (2013)
In this article, we examine whether two national newspapers (the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal) provide a realistic representation of sexual harassment in the workplace. Whether intentional or inadvertent, the national media influences attitudes and subsequent behavior. Victims of sexual harassment who encounter such accounts may find comfort and validation in learning that others have had similar experiences, and that may lead to greater willingness to report their own harassment. It is only through exposing illegal behavior that such workplace practices can be eradicated.
We expected the news articles to provide more information about age, marital status, and race of the parties. These facts are almost never given in the newspaper accounts. Nevertheless, the demographics of the victims
covered in the newspaper articles we surveyed are largely reflective of the victims of sexual harassment reported in the three data sources we analyze. We also find that there is fairly limited information provided about the
specific nature of the harassment.
We expected a more even distribution of attention between the accuser and the accused in all accounts. In fact, the accused is almost always the focus where the incident only generates one news story. On the other hand,
where the incident generates several reports, the articles tend to become more even-handed in their coverage of the accused and the accuser. We also expected that the parties would speak for themselves. In fact, a large
part of the communication with the press is through attorneys. We found that there is virtually no coverage of events taking place before litigation.... [T]he articles on sexual harassment tend to wait for litigation, despite studies showing that the majority of incidents are not reported, much less litigated. Although understandable from the press' point of view, the focus on litigation gives the impression that most sexual harassment is handled in the courts....
Our main focus is on identifying whether the media's portrayal of sexual harassment accurately reflects the reality of sexual harassment as indicated in surveys, charge filings with the EEOC, and in complaints filed in district court. We provide and compare empirical evidence from these four different sources, and conclude with
an assessment of whether the media does accurately characterize sexual harassment.