MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
NPR News has placed its top news executive on leave tonight after allegations surfaced that he sexually harassed women when he was Washington bureau chief of The New York Times. Those allegations against senior vice president for news Michael Oreskes, stemming from nearly two decades ago, were first reported by The Washington Post. Two women say he kissed them forcefully without their consent.
NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reports there was another, less-severe incident of sexual harassment alleged here at NPR. David joins us from our studios in New York. And David, first tell us more about the allegations as reported by The Post.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: So these allegations, as you say, stretch back nearly two decades, and they involve separate instances in which two women who are unnamed - have not been willing to be identified to date - say that Oreskes kind of kissed them as they were trying to discuss their job prospects with him at The New York Times. They were expecting it to be a job conversation. Instead, he unexpectedly veered in, kissed them on the lips and stuck his tongue down their mouths without consent. Jill Abramson, at that time the deputy Washington bureau chief for The Times who later rose to run the news room at the paper, confirmed that account of those two women to both The Post and to NPR.
KELLY: OK. How is NPR responding? There's an investigation underway.
FOLKENFLIK: NPR said it's looking into this. And executives have confirmed to me tonight that they've put Michael Oreskes on leave as a matter of taking this seriously. In addition, Jarl Mohn, the CEO, has put out a staff-wide memo saying he's got their back and that, you know, sexual harassment is not welcome here.
KELLY: And just to be clear about the timeline, these are alleged episodes that happened before Oreskes was at NPR. But the complaints being made by these two women have been filed with lawyers here at NPR.
FOLKENFLIK: Just in the last couple weeks.
KELLY: Have you reached out to Mike Oreskes for comment?
FOLKENFLIK: We have in a number of different ways over recent hours - have not heard back and look forward to trying to invite him to help make sense of this thing.
KELLY: You are also reporting tonight that there's been another complaint filed by a younger colleague here at NPR who has filed a formal complaint with HR against Oreskes. Can you tell us what she is alleging?
FOLKENFLIK: Yes. This dates back two years to an episode in October 2015. Rebecca Hersher - she's a producer on the science desk now, has had a number of long-term temporary assignments at the network. Hersher took Oreskes up on his offer when he visited out at NPR West one time to get career advice and guidance, to talk about what lay ahead for them. And she ultimately connected with him in Washington, D.C., at our headquarters. Mid-Afternoon appointment became an invitation for drinks and then dinner.
And during that dinner - she was 26 years old at the time - he asked her a lot of questions about her personal life, about her boyfriend. At one point he said, it's surprising to me that any boyfriend or man could keep up with you. At another point, he talked about a girlfriend being his first sex girlfriend. And there were a number of instances that she claims made her feel deeply uncomfortable. We have a cut of her talking this evening about it.
REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: From my point of view, every little thing that he or I said pointed to the relative difference in power. Like, he's the one with the power. He gets to decide what we talk about, and I am trying to keep up.
KELLY: And David, you mentioned these events are alleged to have happened two years ago. The ones reported by The Washington Post are reported to have happened two decades ago. Why are we learning of them now?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know, corporations don't always announce the actions they take. I've been able to confirm that NPR did formally rebuke Oreskes for these actions, that HR took Hersher's complaint seriously. She said that she was satisfied with the network's response. In addition, what Hersher alleges and what NPR's HR department investigated is not the same severity as what is alleged to have occurred at The New York Times. There is no accusation of forcible or physical sexual harassment - yet sexual harassment nonetheless.
You know, I did reporting on this about a year and a half ago as I learned about it, and it didn't seem to me to rise in the severity as an isolated case in such a way that it rose to the level of a national story. Obviously we now have a different context. We have what is alleged anyway as a pattern of behavior by Oreskes. This very important for the public to know about as we try to be transparent about what happens here at NPR.
KELLY: OK. Thanks very much, David.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
KELLY: That is NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.
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