A fast-moving controversy has come to an explosive conclusion. After a Tuesday afternoon tweet launched an uproar over an upcoming piece in Harper’s rumored to identify the woman responsible for the Shitty Media Men document, journalists rallied to pressure the magazine to reconsider, citing fears over the creator’s professional future and personal safety.
Last night, in a powerful first-person essay for New York magazine’s The Cut, former New Republic editor Moira Donegan surprised everyone by revealing that she created the crowdsourced document. “I only wanted to create a place for women to share their stories of harassment and assault without being needlessly discredited or judged,” Donegan writes. “The hope was to create an alternate avenue to report this kind of behavior and warn others without fear of retaliation.”
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In October, I made a google document. My life has been strange and sometimes frightening ever since. I wrote about it for @TheCut. https://t.co/wj8vkvawL4
— Moira Donegan (@MoiraDonegan) January 11, 2018
The online document, which ended up cataloguing anonymous accusations of sexual abuse and harassment against more than 70 men in media, was taken down after Donegan learned that BuzzFeed planned to publish an article about its existence, but by then, screenshots of the names spread across the internet. Several of the men listed were later fired or resigned after investigations into their behavior.
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The controversy surrounding the upcoming Harper’s piece, authored by Katie Roiphe, roiled the journalism community. On Tuesday, Roiphe told The New York Times “I am not ‘outing’ anyone,” and encouraged critics to hold their fire until her piece was actually published in the March issue. But Donegan refuted those claims, writing that she received a call from a Harper’s fact checker who said, “Katie identifies you as a woman widely believed to be one of the creators of the Shitty Men in Media List. Were you involved in creating the list? If not, how would you respond to this allegation?”
The existence of the list launched a wide-ranging conversation about the ways women protect themselves, and their colleagues, from men who have a history of aggressive or inappropriate behavior. Some criticized the anonymous, unverified nature of the accusations it contained, and Donegan responded to those concerns by adding a disclaimer at the top of the document encouraging those who saw it to take all accusations “with a grain of salt.” The concept of whisper networks, long the province of private, in person conversations, became a major part of the story. “Fundamentally, a whisper network consists of private conversations, and the document that I created was meant to be private as well,” Donegan writes. “Like me, many of the women who used the spreadsheet are particularly vulnerable: We are young, new to the industry, and not yet influential in our fields. As we have seen time after time, there can be great social and professional consequences for women who come forward.”
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Donegan admits to being “incredibly naïve” when she created the spreadsheet, not realizing the forces that would push it into public view. She says her life has changed dramatically in the aftermath. “I lost friends: some who thought I had been overzealous, others who thought I had not been zealous enough. I lost my job, too. The fear of being exposed, and of the harassment that will inevitably follow, has dominated my life since.”
But Donegan does not regret creating it. “The experience of making the spreadsheet has shown me that it is still explosive, radical, and productively dangerous for women to say what we mean,” Donegan writes. “Among the most potent of these powers is the knowledge of our own experiences. The women who used the spreadsheet, and who spread it to others, used this power in a special way, and I’m thankful to all of them.”
Below, more on the list and the reaction to the controversy surrounding naming its creator.
- On whisper networks made public: Writing before Donegan’s piece published, The Atlantic’s Megan Garber examines “the fragility of the current iteration of #MeToo.”
- Anatomy of a controversy: The New York Times’s Jaclyn Peiser explains the conversation surrounding Roiphe’s upcoming piece in Harper’s.
- Appreciation for Donegan: HuffPost’s Dominique Mosbergen compiled reactions to Donegan’s essay from journalists.
- In depth: The Washington Post’s Samantha Schmidt provides an overview of the list’s impact, the outcry over Roiphe’s planned piece, and the reaction to Donegan’s disclosure.
Other notable stories
- The New York Times’s Michael M. Grynbaum reports on Donald Trump’s repeated pledge to “take a strong look” at libel laws. The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser concisely summarized on Twitter the irony of the comments: “President Trump, who has said Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States and Ted Cruz’s father was behind JFK assassination, says laws should make it harder to say things that are false.”
- NPR’s David Folkenflik reports that Fox News’s chief Washington correspondent James Rosen left the network in December after harassment claims were made against him. The Washington Post suspended longtime reporter Joel Achenbach for 90 days following an investigation into his “inappropriate workplace conduct.”
- For CJR, Michael J. Socolow examines the critical reception from journalists that greeted Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury. “Much of the opprobrium directed at Wolff is certainly earned,” Socolow writes. “But,” he adds, “part of what’s animating all the Wolff-hate is envy, and journalists should admit this.”
- CNN’s Oliver Darcy looks at Breitbart after Bannon, where the site’s leadership is attempting to reassure staff that it’s business as usual.
- The Hollywood Reporter’s Marisa Guthrie profiles Ronan Farrow, reporting that his next career move may be “a multiyear HBO deal that will include an investigative documentary component.”
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