Another day, another Hollywood scandal. If the first thing that comes to mind here is sexual harassment, it’s for good reason: Unethical behavior is pervasive in the industry. While a movement toward greater diversity is generally lauded, it’s not so great in this instance. Jay Rosen discusses.
The Wall Street Journal pushes out a developing story headline: “Warner Bros. Chairman CEO Kevin Tsujihara to Step Down.”
Without knowing any recent background about the executive or Warner Bros.’ recent box office track record, I presumed that this early on a Monday morning, there could only be one explanation.
I immediately texted a colleague in the compliance and ethics field and typed:
My colleague replied, “Most probably.”
As the morning progressed, we learned that in an article in The Hollywood Reporter on March 6, text messages between the executive and actress Charlotte Kirk revealed that Tsujihara said that he would push for auditions for her amid an apparent sexual relationship they were involved in.
Kirk appeared in two Warner Bros. films: 2016’s “How to Be Single” and 2018’s “Ocean’s 8.” Tsujihara’s personal attorney stated, “Mr. Tsujihara had no direct role in the hiring of this actress.” An outside law firm continued to investigate the claims made against Tsujihara.
Ironically, Tsujihara’s departure comes as John Stankey, named CEO of WarnerMedia in 2017, was putting his stamp on the company in the wake of AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner. In a major reorganization, announced March 4, Tsujihara had been given additional WarnerMedia oversight responsibilities.
A week later, on March 13, The Hollywood Reporter detailed that for the third time in a 16-month span, Tsujihara was the subject of an internal investigation about his relationship with the actress.
A WarnerMedia representative said that the prior investigations it conducted did not find impropriety in Kirk’s casting in the two Warner Bros. films. But according to a knowledgeable source, the company is treating text messages between Tsujihara, 54, and Kirk, 26, as “new information.”
Time Warner first launched an investigation by an undisclosed law firm in November 2017 as reporters began calling about Tsujihara and Kirk’s relationship. At that point, Ocean’s 8 had wrapped, and rumors about Kirk’s casting had begun to swirl. The company, in the midst of the merger, found no wrongdoing.
The issue reared its head again nearly a year later when a letter penned by someone going by the moniker “Social Justice Warrior” was sent to Stankey in September 2018; the letter raised a series of explosive questions about a top Warner Bros. executive who promised speaking roles to an actress it identified only as “CK.”
In response, WarnerMedia retained the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson to investigate (it was not involved in the first investigation and is not involved in the current one). Again, no wrongdoing was found.
Tsujihara, 54, is the first executive of Asian descent to head a major Hollywood studio.
He released the following memo to his employees:
Over the past week and a half, I have been reflecting on how the attention on my past actions might impact the company’s future. After lengthy introspection, and discussions with John Stankey over the past week, we have decided that it is in Warner Bros.’ best interest that I step down as Chairman and CEO.
I love this company and the people that make it so great. I’ve been honored to head this organization and work alongside all of its talented employees over the past 25 years. Together we’ve built this studio into an unequivocal leader in the industry.”
It seems that his love for the company was not enough to stop him from abusing his power.
So back to the opening of my blog. After having my sarcastic instincts confirmed, I had to step back and wonder: Why was I immediately so cynical? Was it because I had previously worked in the motion picture industry as Jay Rosen 1.0 and heard a horror story of a male friend who was working as an assistant to a top producer on a noted Hollywood lot?
When my friend had not updated the producer’s phone call sheet quick enough, he was soon on the receiving end of a scalding cup of hot coffee pegged at him in disgust by the producer. Next stop, the HR department, where a settlement was hastily offered and accepted. Within the hour a new victim (I mean assistant) was trying his luck updating the call sheet.
Have we seen this movie before? But it’s not just Hollywood. Possibly we have become inured to and numbed by the deluge of harassment and rape accusations which seem to be blare out daily, ranging from the U.S. Armed Forces to a Supreme Court nomination hearing, an enabling college football program for a child pedophile and the national women’s gymnastics team. The powerful taking advantage of the powerless. Harassment, rape, human trafficking. It’s horrible and disgusting. And it has to stop.
Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Louis C.K.
Al Franken. Larry Nassar. Jeffrey Tambor.
Charlie Rose. John Lasseter. Les Moonves.
Bill O’Reilly. Steve Wynn. Matt Lauer. R. Kelly.
This roll call of shame spans all industries:
hospitality, media, music, politics and sports.
While my ethics and compliance colleagues are always looking to create more diverse corporate boards and C-suites, sadly this latest chapter of the #MeToo movement has shown some diversity with the addition of Kevin Tsujihara to the list. Unfortunately, this is not the diversity we have in mind.