Very few #MeToo-ed men have had the guts to attempt a comeback. Mark Halperin, the journalist and former partner of John Heilemann, seems to still be trying. He signed a deal in 2019 for a book on how to defeat Trump. When it came out, several of his sources said they regretted speaking to him. He appears occasionally as a commentator on Newsmax, the conservative news channel.
Louis C.K., the comedian, won a Grammy Award this year for best comedy album, Sincerely Louis C.K., five years after he first admitted to sexual misconduct. He did not appear at the awards show, nor did CBS broadcast his win. He’s also lately been trying to get distribution for a new independent movie he made, Fourth of July. Both Halperin and Louis caught grief, at least in the Twitterverse.
Then there is the, so far, relatively stealthy return of Charlie Rose, one of the more notable perpetrators of sexual misconduct. Soon after The Washington Post delineated chapter and verse of Rose’s misdeeds in November 2017, his prominent positions were quickly terminated at both CBS, where Rose was one of the three anchors of the morning news-and-entertainment show, and at PBS and Bloomberg TV, where he was the founder, proprietor, and host of the respected Charlie Rose show, and where night after night he interviewed at great length the leading thinkers, politicians, businessmen, and cultural trendsetters of our time.
That really should have been the end of him. If you have any doubts, a quick re-read of the Washington Post report or of Reah Bravo’s piece about Rose in The New York Review of Books will set you straight. (Disclosure: I appeared on the show a few times and was an occasional guest host when Rose was on vacation or out of town.)
But Rose is not one for sitting still. During the pandemic, he wrote and circulated among some acquaintances a 75-page treatise on why he deserves a second chance. (He declined to share it with me.)
Now 80 years old and the survivor of two heart surgeries, the irrepressible Rose is back doing his Charlie Rose thing. On April 14, he interviewed in person none other than Warren Buffett, perhaps the world’s greatest investor, in person for nearly 75 minutes in what looks like a hotel suite overlooking New York’s Central Park.
The interview appeared on Rose’s Web site, charlierose.com, and the host also arranged for several shorter snippets of the Buffett interview to appear on TMX, an online distributor of video clips for newsrooms recently founded by Matt Zimmerman, the onetime lead booker at NBC News who also found himself caught up in the Today show host Matt Lauer’s #MeToo problem, a result of Zimmerman dating a subordinate.
During the pandemic, he wrote and circulated among his friends a 75-page treatise on why he deserves a second chance.
Buffett was only the first step on Rose’s road to attempted redemption. On May 10, Rose posted on his Web site an interview he did a few weeks earlier with Fatima Gailani, an Afghan political leader and women’s-rights activist. Rose conducted the hour-long interview over Zoom. He looked to be in the corner of an apartment, boxed in by bookshelves. She was in Afghanistan.
On May 17, Rose posted a third interview, this one filmed on May 8 with Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who was the president of Estonia from 2006 to 2016. Recently, Rose had been hard at work on compiling a tribute to his late friend Roger Angell, the great New Yorker writer and editor. That interview appeared on his website on May 27. On June 9 he posted a conversation with the actress Isabella Rossellini.
All of which does not sit well with some former colleagues. As one tells me, “He truly does not deserve a comeback. Because he’s done nothing in five years but basically say, ‘I did nothing wrong.’”
Reached via e-mail on several occasions lately, Rose has been a little opaque about just what he’s trying to accomplish. Like Dylan or Springsteen, Rose has also been hard at work packaging his extensive content—his decades of interviews—and hopes to sell it, along with his Web site. (There have been no takers so far.)
We were going to have an off-the-record interview on May 24, in the Thomas Friedman–President Biden vein. But he nixed that at the last moment. He wrote that he was instead “immersed deeply” in preparing the Roger Angell tribute. He wanted me to know he had put a lot of effort into it: re-reading Angell’s writing and re-watching previous interviews they had done together, including one in which Angell and David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, were chatting about New Yorker writers such as Joseph Mitchell and A. J. Liebling. Rose had once done an interview with Mitchell, too, and reminded me that his Angell tribute was similar to ones he had done for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Madeleine Albright, Desmond Tutu, and Joan Didion. “It’s a small contribution to their memory to hear them in their own words,” he wrote.
But it wasn’t only because he was preoccupied with the Angell tribute that he decided not to speak with me.
“As you know,” he wrote, “I’ve been silent and tried to stay focused on the future and make the best contribution I can. That’s probably the best course for me at this moment.” He did offer to check facts. I had heard he was close to lining up Nancy Pelosi for an interview. (Not true, he responded.)
Not surprisingly, Rose’s return, however modest to date, has inflamed his former victims, who figured he would have had the good sense to fade away quietly. Reah Bravo, the young woman who recounted her experiences with Rose for The New York Review of Books, has moved to Europe and is writing a book, in part about her time working for him as an intern and then as an associate producer on his show, beginning in 2007. She declined to be interviewed, citing her publisher’s request to save her thoughts about Rose for the book and the book publicity. But she had put it well in her New York Review of Books essay: “For those who carry the scars of having worked for the Charlie Roses of the world, it has become only too apparent how such misconduct can be normalized, even among intelligent and well-intentioned people.”
One of his former employees who agreed to chat is basically appalled by his attempted return. “Charlie is relentless,” she tells me. “Charlie is incapable of thinking that he’s ever wrong. Because he is a narcissist. I mean, we’re all narcissists to a degree, right? But he believes that he made a big mistake not fighting back earlier.” She remains incredulous that, in her recollection, Rose never directly apologized to any of his victims and has done little, if anything, to change his behavior.
Then there was the matter of severance for his employees at the show, when the plug was suddenly pulled on it.
“He gave two weeks’ severance to everyone,” she says, regardless of how long they had worked for him. Some of Rose’s employees had been with him more than 20 years; they still got two weeks’ severance.
“I’m so sorry, but I basically can’t afford anything else,” she says he told them, to universal disbelief.
(Rose didn’t respond to questions about the severance he paid staffers or his apologies to them.)
Money aside, though, the former employee remains annoyed that Rose is trying to return to the stage.
“He has not shown in any respects that he has done anything to [change]. The first thing being that as he was fired, he couldn’t even properly pay his staff well. All the women, this was their career. We all lost our jobs. Those people were not absorbed by any other news organizations within Bloomberg or anything.… I get why he’s trying to come back. A narcissist has to. Charlie has nothing. There’s nothing. There’s no family. He doesn’t even really have friends. But like, you know, of course, he doesn’t deserve a comeback. I mean, that thing actually fucking kills me.… I knew he would never stop. He just doesn’t get it.… He’s really a malignant narcissist.”
William D. Cohan is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL and the author of such best-selling books as The Last Tycoons, House of Cards, and The Price of Silence. He is a founding partner of Puck. His new book, Power Failure, will be published in November