Gayle King’s response to the allegations of sexual harassment by her former co-worker and friend, Charlie Rose provides an important blueprint for how to respond when someone you love does something despicable.
As you know by now, legendary newsman Charlie Rose was unceremoniously fired by CBS after eight women revealed that he’d sexually harassed them while they were employed or seeking to become employed by his signature show, Charlie Rose.
CBS initially suspended Charlie but later terminated him from his position as co-host, duties he shared with Gayle King and Norah Odonnell. Not only were they co-workers, the trio had become close friends, judging by the photos they took together while out having dinner or other events outside of their job responsibilities.
Gayle and Norah each addressed Charlie’s departure and the allegations that led to it; but it was Gayle’s response that captured the whole spectrum of conflicting emotions that emerge when your disappointment in a person’s behavior smashes up against your genuine feelings for the person.
How hard it must be to discover that someone you trust, care deeply about, work and hang out with has done such despicable things. Norah kept her statement rather general, but Gayle spoke from her clearly broken heart while empathizing with the victims; a response that was stark in its contrast to the one given by Phylicia Rashad when asked about the allegations against Bill Cosby, her TV husband on the Cosby Show.
Rashad automatically dismissed the allegations of dozens of women with a flippant, “forget these women.” Hers was an attempt to protect the legacy of Cosby’s work; which she implied was far more important than more than 50 women with strikingly similar stories of sexual assault.
As a woman and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I was disappointed in her response, but I understood it. It’s hard to admit that someone you thought you knew so well could be capable of something so sinister. It’s easier to dismiss it or cast blame elsewhere while sincerely wanting to forget the victims exist.
Rashad responded the way so many mothers have unfortunately responded when faced with news that their boyfriend/husband/lover abused their young daughter.
Compelled to take a side, these women consider what they have to lose, not what their daughters have already lost. Rashad, similarly, considered the loss of the Huxtable legacy and speculated that there was a plot underway to destroy Cosby’s reputation.
I understand how hard it is. I really do. I cannot accept it, however. I no longer associate with men who victim blamed and resorted to essentially slandering women who were allegedly raped by Cosby.
Which brings me back to Gayle's response. She's grappling. She's having a hard time accepting that her friend could do something so horrific, but she's supporting the women. Her response is as authentic as it gets. She's not ready to throw her friend under the bus; but he's not getting an automatic pass from her either.
Sadly, King’s blueprint for how to respond authentically when a friend has behaved horrifically has already been put to use. NBC fired its star anchor, Matt Lauer, after discovering he behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner with a female staffer.
Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb reported on their colleague’s alleged behavior and termination minutes after learning about it and their emotions were all over their faces. They, too, supported the woman brave enough to come forward and tell her story. They, too, expressed dismay that their colleague and friend could behave so despicably. (I wondered, as I watched them, if Gayle's response helped them navigate their own difficult terrain.)
I wish no one was ever in the position to provide such a pained response regarding a loved one's horrific behavior because it means a victim has already suffered something far more devastating. But for the sake of the victims, respecting their dignity with an authentic response also contributes to their ability to heal. Instead of selfishly dismissing them or accusing them of lying, the response reflects the complexity of human emotions, and, importantly, leaves space for compassion and support while waiting for the evidence apparently necessary for full acceptance of their story.
It would be perfectly understandable if, when a woman is confronted with the news that her husband/boyfriend/lover has violated her child, she expresses her conflicting emotions. Go ahead and say how difficult it is to comprehend that said husband/boyfriend/lover could behave that way; while simultaneously supporting your child through what is likely the most horrendous experience she has ever had.
When a victim is accused of lying or is blamed for the attack, it makes an already devastating experience even more traumatic and is one of the reasons sexual assault is so under-reported (or reported years after the crime was committed.)
After being physically violated, many, many people (women and men; girls and boys) choose to remain silent because they fear not being believed or of being held responsible for their assault; accusations that come dangerously close to being victimized all over again.