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Leigh Sales Angered By ‘Intolerable’ Unwanted Kiss at Charity Dinner

'It would be gutless not to stand up & say that kind of behaviour is intolerable'

“It was an attempt at humour & light entertainment to start the night off.”

This is how a director of a multiple sclerosis charity, Phil Newman, explained his decision to kiss ABC journalist Leigh Sales on the lips on Saturday night in front of 200 guests at a black tie event at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney.

Sales was the evening’s host and Newman was introducing her to the stage. He offered his cheek for her to kiss before quickly turning his head to land on her mouth instead.  

Humour. Light entertainment. Of course! Is there anything funnier than publicly reducing an accomplished professional to a vessel for a man’s unwanted advances?

Sales didn’t get the memo about her role on the night extending to accommodating the director’s hilarious gag.

Rather than laugh or even smile, Sales screamed before taking the microphone. “Hashtag Me Too” are the words she reportedly spoke before regathering and continuing to MC the Trish Multiple Sclerosis Research Foundation’s annual gala.

The Guardian broke the news of this encounter on Monday evening with Sales telling Amanda Meade: “The only reason I am commenting publicly is that given how many people witnessed the incident, I feel it would be gutless not to stand up and say that kind of behaviour is intolerable and the time for women being subject to it or having to tolerate it is long gone.”

According to Meade’s report, Newman’s kiss provoked an “audible gasp” from the 200 guests gathered, which is reassuring.

If the automatic response from the group of 200 men and women watching on had been to laugh – rather than registering shock – it would be further cause to despair.

leigh sales

But apparently Newman still didn’t twig. He approached Sales’ table afterwards and once again offered his cheek for her to kiss. Truly. Even after his “joke” had landed like a lead balloon he considered Leigh Sales might appreciate another opportunity to kiss him on the cheek.  

She reportedly told him off “angrily”.

The retired businessman Phil Newman said upon learning he had offended Sales he apologised profusely. “I am upset my judgment wasn’t better. I am embarrassed I brought any disrespect on the foundation and on Leigh.”

Sales says she has accepted his apology which is particularly gracious given his public comments certainly don’t indicate he appreciates the extent to which his conduct was so base.

Even the idea that gratuitously making a professional woman uncomfortable on stage is funny is wildly offensive.

Not because women are all miserable and humorless – though the apology certainly leaves that suggestion on the table – but because they deserve respect. If Leigh Sales’ predecessor at 730, Kerry O’Brien, or Q&A host, Tony Jones, had been the MC, there is absolutely no doubt Phil Newman would not have even considered exploiting their physical presence on stage for a laugh.

The fact that wasn’t the starting point for his interaction with Leigh Sales says everything.

It confirms that for all the hyperbole about #MeToo having gone too far, it is clear there are still men for whom women, even in professional settings, are viewed as objects.

If a woman as high profile and accomplished as Leigh Sales is still, in the year 2019, being subject to this kind of brazen yet intolerable conduct, what exactly are other women facing? Women who aren’t able to call it out and, rightfully, demand an apology as Sales has. It’s terrifying to contemplate.   

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