On Wednesday afternoon, I received an email from a friend, a woman writer, that had been forwarded from another woman, also a writer. The body of the email contained an anonymous Google spreadsheet labeled “SHITTY MEDIA MEN.” On the top, it said, “DISCLAIMER: This document is only a collection of misconduct allegations and rumors. Take everything with a grain of salt. If you see something about a man you're friends with, don't freak out. Men accused of physical sexual violence by multiple women are highlighted in red.” I saw some of the names and thought: fucking finally. Finally, the grossest men in media will be exposed.
The allegations on the spreadsheet range from “flirting” and “weird lunch dates“ to accusations of rape, assault, stalking, harassment, and physical violence. What these things have in common is that they remind women, particularly vulnerable women, that they are not in power.
But things do get complicated when you start lumping all of this behavior together in a big anonymous spreadsheet of unsubstantiated allegations against dozens of named men — who were not given the chance to respond — that, by Wednesday night, seemed to have spread far and wide. At various points on Wednesday, dozens of anonymous accounts were looking at the spreadsheet. This was by design; because of the way the document was structured it meant that anyone could look at it, download and share it, and so there was no way to know if they were all the intended female recipients. Several men who were on the spreadsheet had reached out to other staffers at BuzzFeed News because they had seen it.
As The Nation contributor Collier Meyerson tweeted earlier on Wednesday, “There is a difference between serial sexual assaulters, harassers, rapists and dogs. There are tons of both in media. In the coming days, as aggregated lists of men are created, it’s important to distinguish who are dogs and who are sexual assaulters.” Does a spreadsheet of this size and breadth of allegations accomplish its goal, which is presumably to warn women about predators? I'm not totally sure, but the fact of the spreadsheet's existence is itself a feature of this new social media age, of email hacks and document leaks, and a time when things that had just been whispered about are put into digital form, and shared, and take on a life of their own.
I've never been assaulted or harassed by someone I worked with, and it's only been lately that I've realized how messed up it is that I feel fortunate that's the case. There have been a few uncomfortable incidents for me personally, like the editor who Gchatted me late at night, seemingly drunk, and propositioned me, or the art director who was way too interested in my intern experience and put his hand on my thigh at a party. But people whispered about the guys who were really bad, the ones who coerced young women into sex, the ones who were physically abusive. The ones to stay away from.
But of course, not everyone gets the memo right away. Especially if you're young, or a woman of color, or unconnected. Then you had to find out for yourself. And since media, like Hollywood, has historically been an industry built on networking and connections, it's not surprising that powerless women have not felt like it was in their best interest to try to take down the powerful — particularly since the consequences almost never outweigh the price that women pay for coming forward. Our motives are suspect, our reputations are maligned, our victimhood called into question.
So it's no coincidence that the spreadsheet emerged in the wake of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and the women coming forward — more and more every day — to say me too. Media has long protected its own; the thing that stuck out to me, and sickened me, the most on the list was the men about whom it had been written “rumored sealed settlement.” Because most of those men are still working in media, you see. Their reputations did not precede them. Or, more depressingly, maybe they did, and it didn't matter.
When the Weinstein accusations came out, a common refrain on social media was that men who had themselves been accused of sexual harassment or who everyone “knew” were sleazy had no right to be tweeting about how despicable Weinstein is. The hypocrisy of performative allyship has been well documented. But what of the hypocrisy of media organizations themselves?
The accused work at some of the most well-known places in the industry, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, Mother Jones, and BuzzFeed. These are places that have written about the Weinstein allegations, and other sexual harassment allegations in tech and other industries. What will their response be when the call is coming from inside the house?
This post has been updated to clarify how the spreadsheet worked.