It's hard to keep up. The presenter Charlie Rose was fired by two American television networks at the end of November after the Washington Post reported eight women, three of them on the record, had accused him of making 'unwanted sexual advances.' They said Rose had tried to grope them, made lewd phone calls or walked around naked in their presence.
The advances took place between the late 1990s and 2011, and all the women had either worked for Rose or aspired to work for him. The five women who spoke off the record choose to do so 'out of fear of Rose's stature in the industry'; one woman who had been groped spoke depressingly about how the scarcity of jobs in the media industry influenced her decision to remain silent before co-operating with the Post.
Some of the women approached Rose's executive producer, Yvette Vega, with their concerns only to be told – in that resigned 'boys will be boys' way – 'That's just Charlie being Charlie.' Rose was inevitably, but only with the benefit of hindsight, 'greatly embarrassed' and he 'deeply' apologised for behaving 'insensitively at times.'
The case wasn't much reported over here but the pattern of events was familiar enough. The following day, Rose was fired by CBS where he co-hosted the breakfast show and worked as a correspondent for the renowned current affairs programme '60 Minutes.' In an internal email to staff, David Rhodes, the president of CBS News, mentioned 'extremely disturbing and intolerable behaviour.' Although he recognised the journalistic contribution Rose had made to the network, he rightly concluded 'there is absolutely nothing more important, in this or any organisation, than ensuring a safe, professional workplace.' Soon after, PBS announced it would no longer distribute Rose's self-titled interview programme and Bloomberg TV announced the cancellation of its rebroadcast agreement.
Rose's PBS programme was a sort of high-brow talk show produced by his own company. He would sit across a table from politicians, musicians and film stars while the rest of the studio was dark and unknowable, as if his star guests were providing the only source of light in the room. Celebrities of that nature have little problem getting attention, but the Charlie Rose show was also a great friend to writers – including female writers like Joan Didion, Nora Ephron and Susan Sontag. George Saunders, recently the winner of the Booker Prize, was interviewed shortly before the programme's cancellation in an episode that also featured Kenneth Branagh and the rapper Macklemore.
Martin Amis, Zadie Smith, Joyce Carole Oates, Norman Mailer, Margaret Atwood and Christopher Hitchens were among the other writers who appeared multiple times. As if in a dream, Rose once had George Plimpton and John Updike discussing baseball. Garrision Keillor – whose own career slid into the muck and murk of inappropriate behaviour not long after Rose was dismissed from public life – featured as well. Once, after a typically generous introduction from the host, Clive James grinned and said he was still virtually unknown in America despite all his achievements. And yet, there he was on the Charlie Rose show, there he was on American television.
Rose's nightly programme had few contemporary equivalents in the platform it offered writers: it removed them from the book promotion and festival circuits, and brought their work and ideas into American homes, albeit the numbers were never huge. In this sense, his programme became the heir to William F Buckley's 'Firing Line,' but Rose wasn't an interrogator or sharp political interlocutor in the mould of Buckley; geniality was his characteristic style and he often seemed surprised when he had to come up with another question for one of his guests. Nevertheless, he understood that television was the crowning medium and by choosing to interview writers, particularly literary writers, alongside representatives of the more razzmatazz cultural branches he was imposing a parity of esteem.
Rose is one of the many men who sped brightly across the sky before suddenly disappearing into a darkness of their own making. His career ended in the kind of disgrace that rightly works its way back into what we thought were the good times but it's only right that this should be so because the career was the source of his power over women in vulnerable positions. What's harder is to pretend that it never happened in the first place.
Many episodes of the Charlie Rose show, of which there were more than 6,000, are available online, at least for now, and those featuring our most notable writers constitute a sort of archive of literary culture. But how should we approach them knowing what we do? Can they be easily discarded in the belief that a writer's work stands or falls free from retrospective elaboration? Some will believe plenty of writers have views that are only fit for airing in a garden shed, but that would leave the field free for politicians, reality TV contestants or new combinations of the two.
In the case of Charlie Rose, the questions aren't as acute as those about the work of Louis CK or Kevin Spacey because he was a facilitator rather than a creator. The examples of Roman Polanski and Woody Allen suggest time allows many to find a compromise between personal morals and popular culture even in the most distressing circumstances. All that is certain for now is that Charlie Rose's career is over; it will be for his victims alone to judge the adequacy of this outcome. For a time, however, he carried the idea that writers should be allowed to discuss their work in a setting other than a tent or a bookshop, and that alone seems worthy of salvation from the wreckage of his career.
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