And so it has begun. A month after allegations about Harvey Weinstein’s predatory ways hit the presses and set in motion a global reckoning of sorts, a famous Australian has been identified as an alleged abuser, harasser and bully of women.
An exclusive investigation by Fairfax Media & ABC has identified Don Burke, who for two decades was one of Australia’s most powerful media identities, as an alleged ‘high grade, twisted abuser’, who was lewd and crude towards female members of staff.
'Psychotic bully’, ‘misogynist’, ‘sexual predator’, ‘lecherous’, ‘sinister’ and a ‘high-grade, twisted abuser’: just some of the extraordinary allegations levelled against Don Burke in Fairfax/ABC investigation https://t.co/zzKjDS9OI8 via @smh
— Kate McClymont (@Kate_McClymont) November 26, 2017
Burke’s weekly television series, Burke’s Backyard, was broadcast on Channel Nine, from 1987 to 2004, and was a ratings success.
A number of Burke’s former staff members have spoken out about various incidents where his behaviour ranged from harassment to indecent assault.
He groped women, showed a new member of staff video footage of a woman having sex with a donkey, attempted to undo a woman’s bra and waited in the hotel room of a young new star and refused to leave for over an hour when a senior member of staff took her back and discovered Burke waiting.
"I've been trying to think of Harvey Weinstein-type people, and the only one I can ever come up with is Burke," former Ch.9 CEO, David Leckie on Burke's Backyard host Don Burke. #abc730 @knowleslornakhttps://t.co/SrjhgKYfOG pic.twitter.com/nIjWJ926z7
— abc730 (@abc730) November 26, 2017
From hosting interviews at his own house late at night, to bragging about touching the nipples of schoolgirls, to suggesting women audition for his show topless, the conduct identified is sickening.
Burke strenuously denies the allegations but there are scores of men and women who worked with him at different points who identify and verify the conduct.
“He was an absolute sexual predator. He was a bully. He was horrible to people in the office. He would often have women in tears. He used to take great delight in it,” a former male crew member told Fairfax.
Monday's front page pic.twitter.com/5Xqpl724lG
— Ben Cubby (@bencubby) November 26, 2017
It is predictable and woeful at once. We are, as of the last month, conditioned to discovering the truly lewd modus operandi various powerful figures have adopted to exploit, harass and abuse younger people in their midst, particularly women.
The playbook these serial predators employ is despairingly similar.
In the wake of Weinstein’s undoing Tracey Spicer sent out a tweet asking for Australian women to come forward to identify any local abusers. She was inundated with responses and one name kept coming up: Don Burke.
Tracey Spicer says her investigation into misconduct in Australia’s media industry, due out this week, has uncovered 485 complaints against 65 offenders.
— Ben Nielsen (@benjnielsen) November 26, 2017
Spicer told Fairfax Media that the media and entertainment industry has lost “a generation” of women who were unwilling to accept this type of groping and grabbing.
“We’ve put up with sexual harassment and indecent assault for so long and finally we’re able to say, ‘Enough is enough, let’s change the structures within the workplace so women can feel safe’.”
Source says Don Burke isn’t the only person we are going to learn about.
Past and present Nine executives were aware of Burke’s antics.
Sam Chisholm, a former Nine CEO, said this. “Don Burke was a disgrace because of his behaviour internally and externally.”
David Leckie, another former Nine CEO, told Fairfax Media & ABC he wasn’t surprised to learn of the allegations against Burke. “I’ve been trying to think of Harvey Weinstein-type people [in Australia] and the only one I can ever come up with is Burke. He was a horrible, horrible man,” he said.
And yet, despite his apparently well known predilections, Burke spent almost 20 years with his own TV show, unperturbed by any action from management.
He was protected. A former Nine staffer made this clear.
“Every single person in management … has known about Don Burke. Every male manager. There is not one that does not know.”
— Eric Campbell (@ericperipatetic) November 26, 2017
When women tried to seek action they were counselled against it and left isolated.
Which is why until 2004, Don Burke remained protected. It meant he was entitled to continue to bully, harass, intimidate and indecently assault staff at his whim, and the psychological toll he exacted is laid bare in the papers today.
These allegations are an abysmal indictment on Don Burke, but they reflect just as badly on every single executive who knew and failed to act.