NBC fired Matt Lauer Wednesday, after a colleague filed a complaint of sexual harassment against the TV host.

With Gender Imbalance and Poor Reporting Guidelines, Sexual Harassment Thrives

Matt Lauer, longtime host of the Today Show on NBC, was fired Wednesday over allegations of sexual misconduct from a female colleague. On the same day, Minnesota Public Radio announced it was severing ties with Garrison Keillor, who created and hosted the popular show “A Prairie Home Companion,” for “inappropriate behavior.”

NBC fired Matt Lauer Wednesday, after a colleague filed a complaint of sexual harassment against the TV host. Visual: Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The news follows an endless slew of investigations and firings during recent months, which has media outlets and pundits pondering what all of this really means.

Whether in Congress, the film studio, or the newsroom, research suggests that in the workplace environment, the balance of men and women — and whether women are in leadership positions — is a key predictor of sexual harassment. A lack of clear guidelines for reporting such incidents plays a major role as well.

According to a recent NBC poll, the majority of Americans believe the reporting of sexual harassment has increased, rather than incidence of harassment itself. More than 80 percent of respondents said sexual harassment is occurring in the workplace, but only 9 percent thought it was a problem in their own offices.

There is some research to suggest that in workplaces where sexual harassment is common, women may earn slightly more than they would in jobs with a lower risk. While some economists disagree with the idea that women earn this sort of premium, sometimes called “danger pay,” harassment may make the gender pay gap worse by pushing women who don’t put up with it into lower-paying jobs.

Also in the news:

• A five-year study at Purdue University that was supposed to study diet-mitigated hypertension in adolescents has been cancelled, after an internal investigation revealed that incidents of sexual abuse and violence among participants went unreported. The university announced this week that all data from the study’s Camp DASH will be scrapped and the principal investigator will be required to go through remediation before any future studies will be considered. It’s unclear at this time if she or other staff involved with the study will face charges. (Undark)

• Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Wednesday that Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, would oversee the White House effort to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic. Trump declared a national public health emergency in October over the crisis, after drug overdoses claimed 64,000 lives in 2016. (Buzzfeed)

• An assessment from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration suggests that the 210,000-gallon Keystone pipeline spill was caused by damage during construction. Officials in South Dakota have cited the finding as reason to shut down the pipeline. (Inside Climate News)

• It’s been six years since the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, but Japan is still undecided on how to handle the millions of tons of radioactive water stored on site. Government advisers are advocating for its gradual release into the Pacific Ocean, but fishermen say the optics of such a move could devastate their livelihoods. (Associated Press)

• Two months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the country’s official death toll stands at 55. But interviews with funeral home directors, doctors, and local officials mesh with findings from researchers who say the real tally is likely more than 1,000. (Vox)

• And finally, two years ago, a New York University researcher had eight psychiatric studies terminated after he was found to have “falsified records and compromised patient safety.” Now prosecutors are alleging the researcher, Alexander Neumeister, spent tens of thousands of dollars from the NIH and NYU for personal travel and expenses. (STAT)