I’m sure that any woman who has been sexually abused has felt a variety of emotions while watching the wall of silence and double standards of harassment tumble down recently – so now we can speak up about what has happened and you guys will believe us. Problem solved? Likely not. I believe all of the hoopla is likely to leave millions of women who knew the risks of speaking up and didn’t, with very mixed emotions, having already been damaged by the injustices of life.
Pondering this, I became aware that there are other social obstacles that also need to be addressed. I got a lot of my education about these things in the 1990s while working as a reporter and columnist at the San Antonio Express News.
I entered the workplace as probably the most naïve and inexperienced woman ever to enter the downtown San Antonio Ave E building. Having been a housewife and mother for 8 years, armed with a journalism degree but no newspaper experience, the question in the newsroom was, how the hell did this woman get here? I got the job after my divorce in 1993. As I exited my marriage I had attended a few self-help and self-discovery seminars that helped me hone in on my purpose and passions, which led me to conclude that the only thing I wanted to do was be a feature writing newspaper reporter. Specifically, I wanted to be Ann Landers and write an advice column about relationships.
I called the publisher of the newspaper, Larry Walker to ask him what the possibilities for me were of getting a job there. I knew Larry because I had attended numerous community events with my former husband, which resulted in us being invited to Walker’s home for a large dinner party one night. When I called he was very nice, and referred me to the editor of the paper, Jim Moss.
I began the pursuit of a position at the paper. Jim told me that they did not hire reporters without experience, so I asked him to let me write some freelance pieces so I could show him what I could do. He agreed, and just about the time I was going to run out of money from my divorce and be forced to take any job I could, I was called in for an interview. It had taken two years.
After the interview process, Jim called me himself. He said he was deeply touched by my persistence, and wanted to give me a chance. I had 90 days to prove myself, there would be no handholding, and it was sink or swim. I was scared to death of blowing the opportunity, so I told myself that failure was not an option and reported for work, and soon encountered the big question: How the hell did she get here?
Being an utter novice, I could never have imagined the newsroom culture – negativity, grandiosity, nosiness, and skepticism – not everyone, but almost. Rumors swirled, and some were bold enough to ask how I got the job. When I told them, some would say something like, “Well, we heard you were dating/aka sleeping with … fill in any man’s name in the blank who had any power at the newspaper.”
“Uh no, afraid not,” I’d say.
Like Mr. Magoo being perfectly fine after driving off a cliff in his car, these things didn’t faze me for a long while. Only 35-years-old, I still assumed the best of people, that they would come around and see what a decent person and hard worker I was. They would see I could write and was worthy of a job as a reporter there.
When I was interviewing for the position, Jim sent me to meet the managing editor, Bob Rivard, an attractive man with loads of charisma. I soon found out that he was married for years to Monika Maeckle, a fun and interesting dynamo. They had two children in the same age range as mine. We had even more in common; we lived on the same street and our kids went to the same school.
Rivard seemed amused by challenging me, and I loved it. He began to assign me high profile stories, the kind that end up on the front page or that would be widely read, like the first introduction of the new Spur’s basketball coach to the city. Each reporting opportunity in the beginning scared me to death, all of it – the reporting, writing, and then turning it in to an editor for scrutiny. They seemed to enjoy my work, and after 90 days my probation was lifted, I became an official employee of the paper, and I told myself that I was having a mutual love affair with my job. I loved it, and I felt like it loved me back.
But the newsroom noise was loud. Reporters were trying to figure me out. They pulled up the news stories I wrote before I turned them into the editor to see how much the editor had to rewrite my work. I was told by a few friendly reporters that the conclusion was: “Becky got hired with no experience, she gets great story assignments, so she must be having an affair with Bob Rivard.” What? Yes, the story was that Bob hired her because she is his girlfriend. This is how my quick ascent could be explained.
To make matters worse for myself, Bob introduced me to his wife, and the three of us became friends. I was newly single, entering a new life. I needed friends, and the Rivards were intelligent, interesting people. They kindly would offer for me to join them at community events, and I truly enjoyed and appreciated their company, as well as the events. I was just too naïve to understand how hanging out with them would fan the flames of my reputation as a sexual sycophant.
The rumors about Bob and me got so bad that he froze up and stopped talking to me. No more hanging out after hours with he and Monika, though she and I remained close. She would tell me a lot of the inside thinking about me in the newsroom and out in the public, and would encourage me to keep working toward my dream of being a columnist. Meanwhile, if Bob saw me in the newsroom he would walk the other way, and, forget high-profile stories, it was garden club and science genius achievements for me, unless I came up with a compelling story idea on my own. I still cringe when I remember Monika asking me one afternoon, “Are you sleeping with my husband?”
The truth is that Bob never acted inappropriate or romantic with me. He never hit on me, never hugged, kissed or anything else. He was totally in integrity each time we talked or spent any time together. Rumors flew about us, and not only about me, but Bob with numerous other women, but all I saw is that he seemed to be a big fan of many talented women, and he always introduced these women to his wife, and then if they got together socially, it was with Bob and Monika. I never saw evidence of any sexual or inappropriate misbehavior on his part.
The rumors about me did not stop with only me and Bob Rivard. I was told that the talk was that I slept with almost every important man at the paper. All voicemails at that time were typed up by an off-site transcriber who then faxed them to the newsroom overnight. My transcribed sheets were intercepted, copied, and passed around the newsroom. Stories were leaked about me to a newspaper gossip who wrote a column about the Express-News in a community newspaper. Certain arts writers in my department never made eye contact, and many didn’t speak to me for the entire four years I was there. In an annual media skit show that raised scholarship money for journalism students, a skit was written for me by guys in the newsroom to star in as myself that ended with me being blown up. Hostile workplace?
After years of it I became emotionally tired, and my spirit began to break. At times the newsroom’s antics landed blows, and I began to lose faith in people. I knew that I was considered a joke by many in the newsroom, and Monika told me that many of Bob’s friends lobbied and hoped for my ouster, but I trudged on because I loved the work itself. Certain editors made it clear they believed in me, and many readers seemed to love what I did. This is why I survived as long as I did.
Through it all, I could not prove to anyone that I did not do the sexual things I was rumored to have done, but time heals, doesn’t it? It’s been almost 20 years since I left the paper. Surely no one thinks about that anymore.
Not long ago a prominent San Antonio woman came up to me and said, “I know something about you!”
“Really?” I said. “What is it?”
“You had an affair with Bob Rivard.”
“Seriously?” I thought, rumor weary.
“Sorry, it didn’t happen,” I said, then asked what it would take for her to believe me.
“Maybe if you were on your death bed and had nothing to lose,” she said. “It’s OK, your secret is safe with me!”
What secret? People are going to believe what they believe. There is nothing you or I can do about what people make up about us. Complain and bullies will brand you a cry baby. Report them to higher ups and you become a troublemaker, loose canon and pariah. On the bright side, the many experiences I have had with negative scrutiny cause me not to want to negatively scrutinize, and I encourage people who are engaging in it to think about what they are doing, to remember that the people they talk about negatively are human beings who have friends and families. As for me, I am not about to believe, or take on as truth, rumors or hearsay, period. If I don’t know it to be true, it doesn’t exist as truth for me. After leaving the paper, to avoid similar situations in the future, I dedicated myself to becoming self-employed, which I am today.
Maybe one day our society won’t be so quick to judge, won’t be so harsh and toxic, and maybe will protect or even give the benefit of the doubt to those who are subject to their scrutiny. That would be very nice, indeed.