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An editor tells of a past sexual assault, sparking dialogue about a crude newsroom culture

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The former Los Angeles Times building
(Los Angeles Times)

When the first woman came forward to allege that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her decades earlier, Kathy Gosnell decided it was time to share a painful secret of her own.

The retired Los Angeles Times copy editor, now living in DeKalb, Ill., made her story public on a private Facebook page popular with current and former employees of the newspaper.

“It’s time for me to speak up,” Gosnell, 73, wrote. “In the early 1980s, I was drugged, beaten and raped by one of our colleagues at the L.A. Times.”

She said she had told no one for three decades, but felt inspired last week to come forward to show support for Kavanaugh’s accuser and other women who said they too had stayed silent for years about abuse.

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Gosnell’s post — about an unnamed male colleague she said has since died — inspired several colleagues to share their experiences of being harassed by men at The Times, in some instances having their complaints brushed off by supervisors. They recounted stories of drunken calls in the middle of the night, repeated unwelcome touching and watching men accused of sexual misconduct not only keeping their jobs, but being promoted.

The discussion on The Times alumni Facebook page reflects a larger dialogue occurring across America in the wake of the Kavanaugh allegations and his supporters assailing his accuser’s credibility.

Times Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine said he was deeply troubled by Gosnell’s experience. It was unclear whether any of the accusations made on the Facebook forum involved people currently working at the paper.

As the 1991 testimony of Anita Hill against now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sparked conversations about sexual harassment, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh are prompting women to speak up about having been victims of sexual violence and about the social environment that kept them silent.

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Gosnell said she was only a few years into her tenure at the L.A. Times, in her late 30s, when an older colleague she knew casually invited her over for dinner. He was respected and liked in the newsroom, and she thought of it as a nice gesture, she said.

When she arrived at his house, she sat down at his kitchen table and he poured her a drink. That was the last thing she remembered, she said, before she woke up in his bed in the middle of the night, her clothes strewn around the room and her neck, shoulders and upper arms covered in bruises.

She got up, got dressed and left. She took shower after shower after shower and never told a soul. She did not think she would be believed at The Times — he was an established figure in the newsroom and she a fairly new hire. By speaking up, she thought she would jeopardize her career.

“It never occurred to me that I would have had a prayer if I reported it,” she said in an interview. “I didn’t feel like I would be supported, he was very well liked by management … I just figured it was his word against mine, and the upper echelons were all male.”

Gosnell’s story prompted a wave of support from former colleagues, with some veteran female journalists saying it was an extreme example of the crude culture they all endured back then.

Patt Morrison, a longtime columnist and reporter for The Times, said in an interview that she sympathized with why Gosnell and Ford may have felt as though they wouldn’t be believed or that their complaints wouldn’t result in anything.

“You have the sense that you could say something, but what’s going to happen? To him, probably nothing. To me, a lot,” said Morrison, who started in the newsroom in the 1970s as one of only a handful of women.

Morrison said she was shocked by the violent attack described by Gosnell, but at the same time remembered the male-dominated atmosphere of the newsroom that may have enabled men like Gosnell’s alleged assailant.

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Lewd jokes yelled at her across the newsroom, unwanted touches in the elevator, and colleagues leaning a little too close for comfort over her desk were just a part of the regular workday, Morrison said.

“You feel a nudge, you feel a hand,” she recalled.

Narda Zacchino, who was one of the first women to rise through the ranks at The Times, said female reporters and editors at the time had to fight to be treated as professionals rather than as women. When she first applied for an internship, a male editor told her he couldn’t hire her because interns had to cover the police — who swear and tell dirty jokes and wouldn’t be comfortable having a woman around.

She was hired anyway. Shortly into her career, a colleague who was envious that she’d been selected to move to the downtown headquarters from a suburban bureau loudly remarked in front of colleagues that Zacchino “has sat on more laps than a napkin.” Other male reporters were outraged and defended her, she said.

Years later, she recalled having a male editor dismiss a major scoop, involving a state senator who had had sexual relations with a 16-year-old constituent, because the editor didn’t think it was problematic.

“Well, guys do that, Narda. ... Men do this sort of thing, and it’s not a big deal,” she recalled the colleague saying. She fought for the story to be published, and the senator ultimately was criminally charged.

One of the several former Times employees who shared stories of harassment at the paper in response to Gosnell’s Facebook post declined to be interviewed, saying she wanted the details of her story to remain private. Others who shared their stories with the private group could not be reached, or did not respond to requests for comment.

Gosnell said that after the attack, she moved on with her life, avoiding her alleged assailant as much as she could even though they continued to work in the same office for years. Last year, she told her now-grown daughter about it for the first time. And with the news of Ford’s accusation against Kavanaugh, she felt the need to tell her community of former colleagues.

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“It was just the idea that yet another woman was not going to be believed,” she said. “And I know so many have not been.”

victoria.kim@latimes.com

For more California news, follow me on Twitter @vicjkim


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