Posted on November 29, 2017
In June, a man I’ve never met messaged me on my professional Facebook page and asked me to have his children.
I could fill this entire blog post with harassing comments and gross requests from people I’ve never met and never want to meet. I’ve had a man tell me my skin makes him want to waltz. One guy asked me if he could be my slave.
There’s an old local TV news saying. Every day, people invite you into their homes. You’re on their TV every day, delivering them information. They put their trust in you, they learn things from you, and after awhile, they get to know a part of you- the public part. You become a slice of their lives, and a part of their city.
Many times, it can be a wonderful thing. People say hi to you on the street and compliment your stories. An older woman might bring baked goods to your TV station. You know almost every neighborhood and every street in your town. It’s an amazing feeling.
And then, sometimes, it’s different. Sometimes, people believe they have a right to your body, whether you like it or not. They think they own a part of you, because you’re on TV in their town, and you’re a pretty girl in a pretty dress who’s there for their entertainment. It doesn’t matter what’s in your head, or how hard you worked on your story.
Harassment in the media is a problem- that’s clear. The recent news about Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer cements that reality. That’s another blog post for another time.
But there’s another problem running through local TV news that affects women daily.
Harassment from the people who watch the news.
It’s the guy who screams, “F**k Her Right in the P***y” behind your live report. Or the local woman who sends you racial slurs because she doesn’t like the way you look. Or the man who sends flowers to your station over and over again. This is a pervasive issue. For the hundreds of young women in local broadcast news, there are thousands of stories of harassment.
And some of those women shared their stories with me.
Imagine this. You’re a young woman in your first or second job. You’re hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from your family. Surviving on slim paychecks, living alone, and working odd hours. Usually, thanks to social media- it’s relatively easy to find out where you are at any given moment.
And, along with some guy who wants you to kick him in the balls, you’re dealing with people like this:
Outside harassment is so commonplace, it’s basically become part of the job. You’re a public figure in a small town, a woman always dressed up and made up. Your first creeper is a right of passage. A weirdos obsessed with your shoes is a hilarious screenshot. It’s something to laugh about at drinks with fellow reporters- unless it isn’t funny anymore.
It’s a reality for women. For men. It’s even worse for journalists of color and LGBTQIA journalists.
I’ve tried to understand why these people threaten and harass journalists. Is it power? Sex? They’re just inappropriate weirdos and creeps?
I don’t know. But I do know these people are harassers, and what they’re doing is inexcusable.
The wild and wonderful world of local news take its reporters everywhere- it’s amazing, and exhilarating, and many times, these young journalists do it alone.
It’s less amazing when you’re constantly worried about the man who pretends to offer reporters jobs before sexually harassing them. Or mentally preparing yourself when an older man approaches you while you’re reporting, and you can tell by the look in his eye that he’s going to say something lewd and offensive.
The kick in the chest doesn’t just come from harsh words or threats to safety. It’s the complete disregard for your intelligence and hard work. It’s that squirming feeling in your heart when you realize that many people consider women in TV news, first and foremost, eye candy.
As women, and as public figures, too many TV newsers are taught to be polite and friendly. It goes against years of conditioning and stereotype to flip the switch and be aggressive. Even now, when I deflect any kind of harassment, there’s still a little twinge of guilt that I have to brush away.
As I wrote this article, I read a lot of stories from women in the business. At the end of many of them, they asked: Next time this happens, what should I do differently?
Should they be more aggressive? Smile and try to be polite? Every question was filled with a vague sense of guilt and one damning thought: Am I overreacting?
And you know what? That’s happening to me right now, as I write this post.
Let’s go back to the guy who wanted me to have his children. When I responded to him, he got angry.
“There’s a thousand other half-cute journalism grads who’ll easily replace your milquetoast-ass tomorrow. So don’t flatter yourself. No one gives a shit about you.”
His rejection-fueled rage was pretty obvious, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me.
Because, for awhile, I thought he was right. Who would give a shit about some small-town news girl getting creeped on? We’re a dime-a-dozen, generally represented in popular media as vapid bimbos with half a brain.
I sat on this post for months. I started working on this in late spring, but every time I came close to publishing it, doubt started worming its way into my heart. A little voice, whispering at me:
And then, other women began stepping forward, in other industries. Allegations emerged.
And the more women I saw come forward to tell their story, the more people reacted. Other woman, echoing that feeling of helplessness. Of weakness. And I realized that these experiences, no matter how slight or different, absolutely do matter.
I’m tired of getting messages that make me feel ashamed, or have me looking behind my shoulder when I walk to my car at night. I’m tired of talking with other women in the business, feeling their fear and shame, hearing their stories like confessions.
And when I got tired of the man asking me to have his children, I went to my station about it. Not all stations are supportive when women come forward with their concerns, but mine was. They supported me whole-heartedly. I got in contact with our local police, who also supported me and assured me that it wasn’t a foolish move to report the message.
That experience was one of the two bright spots in this whole mess. The other?
The women I spoke with.
Despite this barrage of threats, sexual requests and invasions of privacy, the woman journalists I spoke with still press forward in their passion. Journalism is already an emotionally and mentally taxing business- to also deal with external threats and still create compelling stories is a testament to the strength of women working in the business.
If you’re a journalist who feels threatened by a harassing message or personal interaction, tell your news director and contact police.
NOTE: I would like to thank all of the women who shared their stories with me. This post wouldn’t be a reality without them.
NOTE II: Harassment is a reality for journalists, no matter what gender you identify as. However, I’m writing from my perspective as a woman, and chose to keep my focus on events close to my own experiences.
© 2017 Ellen Meny
Posted on September 20, 2017
UPDATE 10/14/18 This man is still harassing women in local news. If you have any information on him- numbers, emails, screenshots- please send them my way. Thanks. He may go by a different name now.
I got a phone call last Thursday I wasn’t too surprised to receive.
It was a serial harasser who targets female journalists.
My phone buzzed, the word “Unknown” flashing up on the screen. I hesitated before picking up- who answers an Unknown call?
“Hi, Ellen,” the man said. “This is Chris from NBC. I found your reel online.”
My reporter reel was on Youtube with my email and phone number. I asked him which station he was with, and where he was located. He told me New York City, at their national station.
The man sounded like he was in his late 20s, early 30s- a little awkward, a little nervous.
It did not sound like the voice of an NBC job recruiter. And generally, job offers don’t come from Unknown numbers.
At that point, I knew it was him.
I told him I was busy and I’d call him back tomorrow- but I needed his number. Oddly enough, his phone wasn’t working properly- he would call me.
He hasn’t called.
Here’s the thing. “Chris” isn’t really Chris. He’s also Tom. And Mike. And Jason.
He says he’s from NBC. CBS. GMA.
Because those are all names and networks used by a man who calls female journalists and harasses them. And most likely, it’s all one man.
I first heard about “Chris” after seeing several posts on a Facebook group:
I’ve seen dozens of these stories- same setup, same structure. As I searched through posts and asked around, I found warnings about him going back to 2015.
Three years of making women feel simultaneously violated and stupid- which I’m sure is what he wants. For someone to commit to harassing women for three years straight in this very specific manner is some next-level dedication.
While phone calls are his normal method, it looks like “Chris” sometimes emails people- and some women heard from him through both mediums.
I want to make something very clear:
This man is most likely using an alias. There are a lot of Chris Burke’s out there, and there’s nothing to suggest he’s any one of them. Please don’t harass them. As time goes on, he’ll probably switch to a different name.
Now armed with his email address, I reached out.
He never responded to my email, but he did call me once more. When I started asking too many questions- where was he located; what was his name- he hung up.
And that’s where I am. Struggling to connect a name and a face to a man who spends years harassing women. Right now, an email and a voice is all I have.
If you’re a woman in TV and have a reel out there- heads up.
For more about harassment in local news, you can read my full piece, “Eye Candy: The Harassment in Local News You Don’t See”.
(NOTE: I did not record our phone conversation. While Oregon is a “one-party consent” state, I have no idea where Chris is located. It may be in a “two-party consent” state, meaning he could push legal action on me if I recorded him without his knowledge.)