Lesson from my toppled hero


D.G. Martin - Contributing columnist



Stunned.

North Carolina lost another monument. It came like a flash.

And I am still reeling.

Charlie Rose was one of North Carolina’s nationally best-known and most admired people. He was right up there with Michael Jordan, Billy Graham and the late Andy Griffith, as someone that people in the rest of the country know and admire.

After stating that North Carolina had given to the world giants of 20th Century journalism Edward R. Murrow, David Brinkley and Charles Kuralt, the “Moon Guidebook to North Carolina” says, “Charlie Rose carries their torch today.”

Like these predecessor giants, Rose brought Southern charm and spirit to the television screen. Polite, earnest, and a disarming, twinkle-in-the eye seriousness, he charmed the guests on his television programs and captivated his viewers.

Even at the age of 75, Rose co-hosted the daily CBS Morning Show and a daily talk show for PBS and Bloomberg News. In addition to that amazing and grinding schedule, he made regular appearances on CBS Television’s “60 Minutes.” His work paid well, $2.5 million a year, and gave him a net worth of 10 times that amount, according to estimates in the media.

I have had another reason to admire Rose. As host of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, I have the weekly responsibility and privilege to interview North Carolina-connected authors. Rose’s interviews were my great teachers. His careful preparation, his skillful listening that showed respectful curiosity about his guests and their achievements and opinions, his reliance on the flow of conversation rather than a hard and ordered list of questions, and his studied reluctance to interrupt, made him a valuable role model.

I could never be in his league, but Charlie Rose’s example helped me do better, and I am grateful to him.

I even found ways to include him in my “North Carolina Roadside Eateries” book. When I wrote about Skipper Forsyth’s Barbecue in Henderson, I suggested a post-meal pilgrimage to “the site of Henderson High School (now Henderson Middle School), where television personality Charlie Rose was a star basketball player.”

When I wrote about Whistle Stop Cafe in Norlina, I suggested a visit to nearby Warren Plains, where Rose’s father ran a store before moving to Henderson. I wrote, “Rose credits his experience working in the store when he was 8 years old for his interest in listening to other people. He told the Savannah Morning News, ‘I was a young kid and I wanted to have conversations with adults; you have to speak to their world. …You have to know who they are, what they’re about, what their curiosity is, what their experience is, what they’re good at. People like to talk. And people like to talk about themselves.’”

Having taught me about interviewing, his example is now helping to teach us another lesson.

Last week, The Washington Post reported that eight women who worked or sought work with Rose accused him of sexual harassment by groping, walking around naked, and other provocations.

The hammer came down hard and immediately. CBS News President David Rhodes fired Rose, explaining that because of “extremely disturbing and intolerable behavior” he had been terminated. “Despite Charlie’s important journalistic contribution to our news division, there is absolutely nothing more important, in this or any organization, than ensuring a safe, professional workplace — a supportive environment where people feel they can do their best work.”

Anticipating that some of us might say that this kind of conduct had been tolerated in the past, Rhodes stated, “I’ve often heard that things used to be different. And no one may be able to correct the past. But what may once have been accepted should not ever have been acceptable.”

What may once have been accepted no longer is. That is the hard and sad lesson Charlie Rose’s recent troubles teach us.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.

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D.G. Martin

Contributing columnist

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