It started as a story about Sh***y Media Men. But it became a story about Amazing Media Women.
In mid-October 2017, shortly after the news broke about Harvey Weinstein allegedly being a serial predator -- and #MeToo broke the silence surrounding a complicit culture wide open -- a spreadsheet began quietly circulating around young women journalists. The spreadsheet was called "Sh***y Media Men" and invited women to anonymously post names of men in media whose behavior put them in the category of sexual harassers, and in some cases, assaulters. The cells on the spreadsheet began to fill with names and more names, some highlighted darkly in red to highlight men who had been accused by multiple women of sexual assault.
As the list circulated, it went less-quietly viral, and Buzzfeed's Doree Shafrir wrote about it a day after its inception, causing an outward hand-wringing on Twitter about the danger of such a list (to men, natch) and a private stampede in media-type inboxes as women tried to suss out a copy and men quietly emailed lady-friends to see if they could take a look, too. Pretty soon the spreadsheet was pulled, but the screenshots lived on.
As did the rumors. Companies began quiet investigations and a number of high-profile men in media were less-quietly terminated, while alongside them giants of media like Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer were toppled amidst allegations of years of harassment and abuse of power. People began to reference the #MeToo movement as something that might be dangerously wielded against innocent men as opposed to a movement of women speaking publicly about their own experiences with harassment, and standing in solidarity with other victims.
#MeToo isn't about attacking men, of course. That's the wrong way to look at it, and one that erroneously centers on the concerns and comfort of men. Even so, it surely implicates men -- especially sh***y ones! -- so, in a refreshing change from many feminist issues, more than just women are thinking about it.
Really, it was only a matter of time before Katie Roiphe got involved. Roiphe, who came to prominence in the 90s in an article (and book) denying the prevalence of date rape and continued as a purveyor of give-that-nice-dude-the-benefit-of-the-doubt-you-ladies-are-just-being-hysterical writing, had reliably inveighed against feminism over the years. In this one, she was contracted by Harper's to write about the Sh***y Media Men list.
And this is where the Amazing Media Women come in. Like dominoes of sisterhood, the following happened in rapid succession:
(1) n+1 editor Dayna Tortorici tweeted that she'd heard Harper's was planning to out the author of the list: "It's come to my attention that a legacy print magazine is planning to publish a piece 'outing' the woman who started the Sh***y [sic] Media Men list. All I can say is: don't. The risk of doxxing is high. It's not the right thing to do."
(2) Founder and publisher of the now-defunct-but-always-beloved The Toast, Nicole Cliffe, stepped up and urged Harper's to reconsider, and pledged to pay the fees for any writer who pulled their piece from the next Harper's issue in protest. Her inbox started to fill.
(3) Megan Lynch, VP and Editorial Director of Ecco publishing, tweeted that her company had pulled an ad from the next issue of Harper's: "You can all guess why."
(4) The New York Times wrote about the matter under the headline "A Feminist Twitter Campaign Targets Harper's Magazine and Katie Roiphe" wherein it was reported that a fact-checker from Harper's "contacted a person said to be a creator of the list and said the article identified her as someone widely believed to be one of the people behind it." Roiphe claimed that she'd had no plans to out the author and would never dream of doing so if she didn't want to be identified.
(5) On Twitter, women began claiming to be the author of the list, standing up in a veritable "I, Sh***y Media Men List-icus" moment.
(6) Somewhere amid the hubbub, New York Magazine's The Cut and its editor, Stella Bugbee, gave the green light to a new piece.
(7) Wednesday night at 10:12 p.m., Bugbee published the piece by writer Moira Donegan. It was called: "I Started the Media Men List."
Overnight, Donegan has become a hero. Her name trended on Twitter. Her piece is now the most popular piece on the site. The New York Times updated its piece with a new headline leading with Donegan's name. Oh, and her account calls Roiphe's description of events into question to an eye-popping extent, since in Donegan's telling, the email from the fact-checker identified her as "a woman widely believed to be one of the creators of the Sh***y [sic] Men in Media List."
Like the sh***y men of media (obligatory disclaimer: #NotAllMediaMen!), Roiphe and Harper's have not come out looking good here. Here's who looks good:
(1) Tortorici, who took a stand publicly against outing and sounded the alarm about doxxing (and offering to pay for an ad to fill the space if necessary);
(3) Lynch, who took a stand by pulling her company's ad and ended up on the right side of the story;
(4) The women of media Twitter, from the women claiming authorship to the women yelling loudly to collectively comprise the NYT's "Feminist Twitter Campaign" to the women who pledged to kick in with Cliffe for the pulled articles to the women who kept Donegan's name under wraps for so long;
(5) Stella Bugbee, for being an editor whom Moira Donegan could trust to stand behind her, and with her;
(6) And, most importantly, Moira Donegan, for her brave and honest and clear-eyed article -- and for starting the spreadsheet in the first place, because she saw that media needed a safe space for women, and that no one was providing that, so she tried to fill in that gap.
Notice how Katie Roiphe is not on this list. That so-called feminist "hysteria" that Roiphe decried only yesterday is looking particularly well-founded given Donegan's account of the fact-checker email (with receipts) and let's just say Roiphe's veracity in speaking to the NYT has been roundly called into question.
Bugbee put her finger on it on Twitter: "Katie Roiphe built her entire career telling men what they wanted to hear. A tactic for success only when men hold the keys to publishing." Bugbee holds her own keys, and used them here.
But also, Bugbee posits that Roiphe miscalculated, thinking that her version would not be contradicted because Donegan wouldn't go public. That makes sense, and here's why: Roiphe isn't part of a sisterhood. And when you're part of a sisterhood, you know that your sisters will have your back. I can only imagine what it meant to Donegan over the past few days watching friends and friendly feminists stepping up publicly to support her, many with their money and their reputations. I can only imagine what it meant to her to have Bugbee step up as an editor she could trust. And I can only imagine what it meant to see that Roiphe quote in the New York Times and feel brave enough -- and supported enough -- to challenge it. With receipts.
Late Thursday afternoon, Donegan tweeted: "I'm so awed by and thankful for the amount of generosity, solidarity, and kindness that's been sent my way. Thank you-really, it means more than you know."
#MeToo is about women, standing up with and for other women, with the empathy of knowing exactly what they're talking about, because, well, them too. When I say I can only imagine how Donegan felt, it's because a decade (give or take) ago, I needed the Donegans, and the Bubgees, and the Cliffes, and the Torticis of the media world signaling that kind of solidarity.
Heck, I still need that. Whisper networks are imperfect, and they don't protect everyone (if they did, there'd be no need for a Sh***y Media Men list, and Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer would have been gone long ago). But it is also an unfair burden to place on women -- the gross abuses #MeToo has shown in sharp relief require an institutional response. Which is good for men too -- as Donegan acknowledges in her article, her list was "vulnerable to false accusations," which in addition to potentially implicating someone who has not, in fact, harassed or abused, also risks undermining the credibility of legitimate accusations. It also leaves room for threats of legal action, especially from deep-pocketed alleged perpetrators (case in point: the current President!) which has a chilling effect on speaking up.
So we come back around to women, left to fend for themselves when really they just want to work. With just whisper networks, the burden is on women to avoid and strategize rather than on systems and power structures to address and preclude. (This is perfectly expressed in a tweet by editor Hannah Giorgis: (sic) "can't stop thinking about how many media dudes are having a perfectly normal thursday while the women around them deal with yet another wave of reminders that our safety matters less than their comfort.") As Donegan writes,"I had become so accustomed to hearing about open secrets, to men whose bad behavior was universally known & perpetually immune from consequence, that it seemed like no one in power cared about the women who were most vulnerable to it."
Well, guess what -- these women in power cared. It's a welcome, welcome shift in who has the power and what it's being used for. And it's right on time because -- to mix my metaphors, but not really -- time's up.