The privileged and prestigious professional life of Charlie Rose came to a shocking end this week. In the latest lurid front-page testimony on powerful men, The Washington Post reported eight women accused Rose of brutish and exhibitionist behavior. New employees were warned of being grabbed by his “crusty paw,” and female staffers testified that he liked walking out naked in front of them. Boom, CBS and PBS abruptly fired him.
This was shocking to people who watched Rose glide along with elites, who seemed on air like a courtly Southern gentleman, which turned out to be deeply false. His ego was immense, while his humble, facilitating TV persona seemed the polar opposite of an aggressive questioner like his 60 Minutes colleague Mike Wallace.
Did Rose see his day of reckoning drawing nearer in the wake of the “Access Hollywood” tape, and then the Harvey Weinstein wave? You couldn’t tell from his interviews, as he asked Tina Brown about Weinstein’s rapacious ways, or sympathized with Amy Schumer’s tales of being harassed. He let David Brooks blame the hostile environment on the bubble of impunity surrounding Bill Clinton. He scolded Steve Bannon about Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” with Billy Bush.
Rose even let Samantha Bee use him for a satirical video for TBS last summer titled “What Are You Hiding, Charlie Rose?” The skit’s joke was when Bee turned on the lights, Rose had creepy clones of himself that hid in the darkness of his studio. Bee made a horrified face as one clone pawed her shoulder.
Perhaps like so many others of the ruling elite, Rose believed he was untouchable. (Apparently lots of people thought that!) Rose must have believed that anyone he had wronged would never come forward. Even when they did, he insisted there was no “wrongdoing.” Like many self-absorbed lechers caught up in this well, “malestrom,” he sounded clueless about his behavior. He put out a statement that included this sentence about his aggressive advances: “I always felt that I was pursuing shared feelings, even though now I realize I was mistaken.”
The idea of a 75-year-old man strolling around naked in front of a college-age intern like he is Grade A material is the definition of delusion. He’s just a dirty old man. It sounds like someone who always believed the old Henry Kissinger axiom that “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” Or in Rose’s case, that sitting and listening to the powerful and stroking their egos on public TV made him irresistible.
It was a slightly gentler echo of the comedian Louis C.K., who caused unintentional laughter by admitting “At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay, because I never showed a woman my d–k without asking first.” He had to be taught that disrobing and masturbating in front of women he’d just met was for them a…“predicament.”
Every powerful man who is getting caught up in this wave isn’t living by the Ten Commandments, but by the “Access Hollywood” code: When you’re a star, the women will let you do it. You can do anything.
Charlie Rose exploited women for decades as he produced shows at Bloomberg’s TV studio for PBS and hosted shows on CBS. None of those news agencies ever seemed to find any wrongdoing worth reporting inside their own offices. The embarrassment and shame should also be theirs.