Suddenly, John Conyers is in deep trouble. And the power of television news has plenty to do with it.
A tipping point for Conyers may have taken place on the "Today" show — that's right, the very same program that is reeling from the firing of Matt Lauer over mounting allegations of sexual misconduct and serious questions about whether any NBC executives knew about it.
But it was on "Today" that Lauer's former co-host Savannah Guthrie interviewed one of Conyers' accusers—and it was a powerful moment.
So powerful that hours later, Nancy Pelosi, who had been hemming and hawing about her Democratic colleague, went before the cameras and said he should resign.
Until then, very few Democrats or liberal commentators were willing to say that the 88-year-old dean of the House should go.
And that was the case even though several women had accused Conyers of sexual harassment, including a former staffer whose wrongful termination suit the congressman settled for $27,000 in taxpayer money. But she remained anonymous.
Not so with Marion Brown, his former deputy chief of staff. She said on "Today" that Conyers had engaged in "sexual harassment," had been "violating my body," had "propositioned me" for sex at hotels.
"He touched me in different ways. It was very uncomfortable and very unprofessional," she said.
In one hotel, Brown said, Conyers got undressed down to his underwear, and "asked me to, you know, touch it." She said she was "frozen" and "shocked."
Brown reported Conyers to the chief of staff. But why didn't she quit? Brown said she enjoyed her job and, as the single mother of four kids, needed the money.
Conyers has denied all wrongdoing, and his lawyer said yesterday that "Nancy Pelosi did not elect the congressman and she sure as hell won’t be the one to tell the congressman to leave." That is true. Except in rare cases of expulsion, only the voters can throw him out. But Pelosi can sure as hell ratchet up the pressure against him.
It was Brown's "Today" interview that changed the conversation. The same thing happened when the Washington Post first quoted four women, on the record, as saying that Roy Moore made unwanted advances toward them when they were teenagers. But they were abstractions. It wasn’t until a fifth woman, and one of the original four, went on television that their words packed more punch. (Moore has denied such allegations by nine women.)
People like to be able to look at an accuser being questioned and judge their credibility and motivation.
Conyers, who has already stepped down from the Judiciary Committee, is now in a hospital, suffering from stress. Unfortunately for him, the NBC interview added a great deal to his political stress.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.
Sources for this article include:
On Tuesday, BuzzFeed reported that Conyers, the longest serving member in the House, settled a wrongful termination complaint with a woman who alleged that she was fired for not consenting to his sexual advances. BuzzFeed also obtained documents from former staff members who accused him of unwanted sexual advances and other misconduct. But the story also exposed how the allegations were kept a secret.
Last week, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) noted the byzantine process for reporting complaints, as well as reports that Congress has paid out huge sums for settlements out of public view. The Washington Post reported that the Office of Compliance has paid $17 million for more than 250 settlements over the past 20 years, including sexual harassment complaints.
There has been significant pressure for him to resign amidst the scandal. It has also come forth that Rep. Conyers’ office paid some $27,000 to settle with a woman in 2015 after she was fired for not reciprocating his sexual advances towards her.
The longest-serving member of the House has denied all claims against him. When asked about the accusations, Monica Conyers told reporters to try to reach him at his office instead of at their home, then wondered allowed if reporters would “go and stalk white people’s houses.”
Conyers confirmed that there was a settlement, but denied wrongdoing.
StevieRay Hansen Investigative Reporter for SrhNews.com and HNewsWire.com
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