The Inquirer headline was succinct and solid: “Harrisburg’s answer to sexual harassment disappoints.”
“At least one line may be hidden in next year’s budget that Harrisburg lawmakers are finalizing: settlement of sexual harassment lawsuits,” the paper’s editorial board wrote, with appropriate disdain.
Unfortunately, those words were written in 2018.
Here we are in early 2024, and the settlement of another sexual harassment suit has roiled Harrisburg, yet this time the Inquirer’s editorial voice remains silent. Why?
Anyone who’s a reader of this site surely knows that in late September, Broad + Liberty was first to break the news that a former staffer on Gov. Josh Shapiro’s team alleged she had been sexually harassed at work by Shapiro’s director of legislative affairs, Mike Vereb.
Since then, further breaks by others revealed that the state settled with the accuser with $295,000 of taxpayer funds.
As the scandal grew, other outlets have editorialized on the matter, but the Inquirer has remained aloof.
From the Tribune-Review: “What [Shapiro] owes the issue and the people of Pennsylvania is a full-throated condemnation of sexual harassment in the workplace and bright lights shining into every corner of his administration to root it out. He shouldn’t acquiesce to requests for information; he should volunteer it.”
From Lancaster Online: “Asked in a news conference about [Republican Senator Kim] Ward’s legitimate questions, Shapiro replied, ‘Consider the source.’ That’s appalling. This is not mere partisan politics. This is a matter of character and transparency.”
And our favorite editorial of the bunch belonged to Brandon McGinley, a member of the Post-Gazette’s editorial board who authored a piece under his own byline.
“Does [Shapiro] approve of Mr. Vereb’s behavior? Perhaps he thinks the ends justified the means. Does Mr. Vereb have leverage of his own? It’s impossible to say,” McGinley wrote.
“No matter the reason, the fact is that Josh Shapiro chose to place Mike Vereb in his sidecar on his race to the White House. In doing so, he put women across his administration, and across Harrisburg, at risk,” McGinley concluded.
(While McGinley authored the above quotes under his own byline, the Post-Gazette has also written house editorials on the matter.)
The stakes are enormous, and not just for Shapiro’s political future. As McGinley notes, securing a better workplace for women or other groups in Pennsylvania politics hangs in the balance.
With those clips in mind, it doesn’t seem a stretch to say this scandal was arguably the most important development in the governor’s first year, perhaps other than the budget debacle. This feels like an incontrovertible fact.
Meanwhile, the Inquirer’s silence feels like a straightforward example of gatekeeping bias.
Consider the fact that the Inquirer has editorialized on the Central Bucks School District and its board members no fewer than four times in the last twelve months. The editorial board even spilled ink to endorse each of the Democrats running for Central Bucks School Board in the local election last November.
Is the Inquirer suddenly afraid of punching up?
Count us as among those who still believe a newspaper editorial board is a good thing, regardless of how often you personally may agree with it. For example, a paper’s in-house editorials do the service of giving a sense of the outlet’s values, why those values matter, and how they may have changed over time and with news developments. Those values will most certainly influence a paper’s hard-news coverage.
We’ve had our share of disagreements with the Inquirer’s editorial board. Yet presently, there’s no editorial even to disagree with. In this respect, the paper has failed — utterly and miserably.