Matt Lauer, of NBC News, played the easygoing dad you could rely on — fun-loving but serious enough when he had to be.
Garrison Keillor, of public radio, was your quirky uncle, quick to spin a yarn, tell a corny joke or even break into a song that, if you paid close attention, just might have a lesson in it.
Charlie Rose, of CBS, PBS and Bloomberg News, was the urbane, inquisitive host whose Manhattan sophistication was grounded by a humble North Carolina upbringing.
And Bill O’Reilly, of Fox News — what can you say? To half the block, he was the neighborhood bully. But if you were with him, you swore by him. He was looking out for you and he had your back — as he reminded you every night.
These media luminaries were just right for the archetypal parts they inhabited for so many years — roles that not only made them big names in broadcasting but also took them to the forefront of the national political discussion.
One by one, they have fallen to a range of allegations of sexual misconduct against them — the latest coming against Mr. Lauer and Mr. Keillor on Wednesday. And their sudden loss of stature is stripping away their television personae and swiftly ripping down the edifice of the old television news patriarchy in the process.
For their networks, these stars, whose talent for storytelling was matched by their ability to charm audiences, were money in the bank. They also drew salaries that were commensurate to how important they were to their bosses’ budgets. Mr. Lauer and Mr. O’Reilly each made more than $20 million.
The size of those investments would have provided their networks with ample motive to turn a blind eye to their alleged misdeeds. And NBC and CBS, like Fox News before them, now face questions about where their managerial systems broke down — as they inarguably did — to allow such sickening behavior to go unaddressed in ways that allowed the offenses to repeat themselves over years.
The arrival of hard consequences for these men may have come too late in the news industry, but media organizations are unquestionably leading the national reckoning now underway.
For the news business, this is the way it has to be: Its main product, after all, is integrity, which, in the case of the networks, is personified by those who sit behind the desk. Once the audience’s trust is lost, the entire enterprise falls apart.
President Trump appeared to seize on the idea on Wednesday when he wrote a message on Twitter that read in part, “Wow, Matt Lauer was just fired from NBC,” before moving on to his favorite pastime of undermining journalism, adding, “But when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much Fake News.”
Mr. Trump wrote that tweet not long after offering his support for Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama. This is the man who — as The Washington Post first revealed in a meticulously reported investigate article — stands accused of making unwanted sexual advances (and in one case, committing an assault) against teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
And, of course, there are the 10 women who have leveled accusations against Mr. Trump — who boasted of using his own star power to make surprise sexual advances on women in a “hot-mic” moment captured during a 2005 appearance on “Access Hollywood.”
In op-ed pages and on cable news, progressive commentators are questioning why television personalities, news executives and Hollywood heavyweights are losing their jobs while the politicians facing accusations — a list that also includes the Democrats Al Franken and John Conyers Jr. — remain gainfully employed.
But the two worlds have different accountability structures: Politicians will not get the hook from the public stage if their core supporters will stick with them, provided that enough of them step into the voting booth.
Journalists and news executives, on the other hand, must answer to their audiences — which overwhelmingly comprise women for the morning shows hosted by Mr. Lauer and Mr. Rose. They must also take into account their shareholders, their advertisers, their staff members and their peers, who are the ones who have been aggressively digging into these stories.
CNN on Wednesday dismissed a producer for “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper, Teddy Davis, after allegations of workplace misconduct surfaced against him. Mark Halperin, the political commentator, author and correspondent, lost his job at MSNBC because of allegations that he made unwanted and aggressive sexual advances against underlings when he worked at ABC. He also lost a lucrative book contract and his place on Showtime’s political documentary program “The Circus.” In addition, The New York Times has suspended a White House correspondent, Glenn Thrush, and NPR forced out two of its top news editors, Michael Oreskes, a former Times journalist, and David Sweeney, after allegations surfaced against them.
As leading national news hosts able to reach millions of people, Mr. Lauer and Mr. Rose are in a different sphere. The notion of anchor as authority — a stubbornly male prototype that goes back to the pre-feminist days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite — was flawed to begin with. And yet, news organizations continue depend on stars to what often seems like an unhealthy degree. In this, they are not so different from Hollywood producers whose main concern is having a big opening weekend.
The stature of the men behind the desk was such that they ended up holding a high level of power within their organizations to go with their lavish pay. And, per the accusations against them, they used it on underlings who, as one of Mr. Lauer’s accusers put it to The Times, did not feel as if they were able to say no or repeat mistreatment to higher-ups.
The networks bear extra responsibility because they did so much to make them into the larger-than-life — and, therefore, not-true-to-real-life — characters they became.