After October of 2017—when the New York Times published a story describing producer Harvey Weinstein's history of sexual harassment and coercion—it seemed as if a dam had broken. Further news stories about powerful men abusing their colleagues seemed to come on fast and frequent. It felt like American culture suddenly woke up to the prevalence of gender-based harassment and violence in numerous fields. (Weinstein has since pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual assault and rape.)
But was there really a "Weinstein effect" in the media? A new report, published by the Women's Media Center, says yes. Among the 14 large newspapers the center analyzed, the number of stories about sexual assault took off after October of 2017. It dropped off a bit after January of 2018, but has remained about 30 percent higher than in the five months before the Times' Weinstein story.
The moment elevated female reporters, too, slightly. Men still wrote the majority of stories about sexual harassment that appeared in the papers the Women's Media Center analyzed, but woman-bylined harassment stories rose from 45 percent to 48 percent.
For the Women's Media Center, a progressive non-profit that seeks to improve the representation of girls and women in media, more #MeToo news stories is a good thing.
"[S]urvivors' stories need to be heard in order to get justice or for personal healing—and to change the culture that has normalized sexual abuse, sexualized violence, and harassment," the report reads. The center presented one of the Times' sources on the Weinstein story, actress Ashley Judd, with an award last year for "speaking truth to power."
In fact, the center would like to see more. It wants journalists to cover more stories of ordinary women and men, not just the rich and famous. And it wants stronger language used in stories. For example, the report faulted journalists for describing Weinstein's alleged behavior as "harassment," even after he was indicted for assault and rape. In addition, media headlines overwhelmingly call those who have been sexually assaulted "victims," the report finds. The better term is "survivor," the report suggests, "unless the person died—then it's 'victim.'"
The report does hint at some important cultural backlash to the #MeToo movement. The person or category most often tied to sexual assault stories was President Donald Trump, the report found. Some of those stories had to do with allegations against the president, but, most often, Trump appeared in stories to defend the accused, including former Senate candidate Roy Moore and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.