The head of National Public Radio’s news department was placed on leave Tuesday after he was accused of sexual harassment by two women who claimed he made unwanted advances toward them while he worked at the New York Times nearly 20 years ago.
Both women claimed Michael Oreskes kissed them and stuck his tongue in their mouths after they had approached him about working at the Times in the late 1990s, when Oreskes was the paper’s Washington bureau chief.
The allegations against Oreskes were first reported by The Washington Post.
NPR reported Tuesday that Oreskes was formally rebuked following a separate incident two years ago where a female producer complained she was made to feel uncomfortable after a dinner in which Oreskes talked about sex and inquired about her personal life. The woman, Rebecca Hersher, said on the NPR report that "it undercut my confidence."
NPR said in a statement on Tuesday: "We take these kinds of allegations very seriously. If a concern is raised, we review the matter promptly and take appropriate steps as warranted to assure a safe, comfortable and productive work environment. As a matter of policy, we do not comment about personnel matters."
Attempts to reach Oreskes were unsuccessful.
Jill Abramson, the Times’ former executive editor who was Oreskes’ deputy in the Washington bureau at the time of the alleged encounters, recalled that he also showed special interest in a woman who worked as a news aide.
"If I had to do it again, I would have told him to knock it off," she told the Post. "Maybe confronting him would have somehow stopped him from doing it to another woman."
When asked if Oreskes' conduct had drawn complaints at the Times, a spokesperson said the paper "takes all allegations of sexual harassment seriously and we are looking into it." Oreskes was also at different times a political correspondent, metro editor and deputy managing editor at The Times, as well as executive editor of the Times-owned International Herald Tribune in Paris.
Oreskes was a vice president and senior managing editor at The Associated Press from 2008 until he joined NPR in 2015. When asked for comment, AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton said the AP does not provide information on personnel matters.
"The Associated Press takes any kind of harassment allegation very seriously," Easton said. "If a report is made, it is promptly investigated and appropriate action is taken. The AP is committed to maintaining a safe working environment and does not tolerate harassment of any kind."
Both women who accused Oreskes told the Post that they were motivated to come forward by NPR’s coverage of sexual misconduct allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, political journalist Mark Halperin and other men prominent in their industries.
"The idea that he’s in charge of that coverage is just so hypocritical to me," one of the women said. "It’s sickening. I want to say: ‘You owe me ... a public apology.'"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.