Ellen DeGeneres publicly apologized Monday amid allegations of misconduct on her show, but current and former employees say they found her monologue to be disingenuous and tone-deaf given the severity of their experiences.
Employees told BuzzFeed News they didn’t appreciate DeGeneres making light of their allegations of toxicity, racism, sexual harassment, and misconduct by sarcastically asking viewers, “How was everybody’s summer? Good, yeah? Mine was great. Super terrific,” and then telling them, “Let me give you some advice out there if anybody's thinking of changing their title or giving yourself a nickname, do not go with the 'be kind' lady. Don’t do it.”
“Not only did Ellen turn my trauma, turn our traumas, into a joke, she somehow managed to make this about her,” one former employee said.
“When she said, ‘Oh, my summer was great’ and that was supposed to be funny I thought, ‘It’s funny that you had a rough summer because everyone was calling out all of the allegations of your toxic work environment and now you’re the one suffering?’” another former employee said.
Warner Bros. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In mid-July, BuzzFeed News reported on former employees’ experiences behind the scenes of The Ellen DeGeneres Show who say they encountered racism, fear, and intimidation from top managers. Weeks later, BuzzFeed News reported on dozens of current and former employees who said executive producers engaged in rampant sexual misconduct and harassment. WarnerMedia, the studio’s parent company, launched a third-party investigation and executive producers Ed Glavin and Kevin Leman, along with co-executive producer Jonathan Norman, were fired in August.
In DeGeneres’s first public apology to viewers, the talk show host said she takes responsibility “for what happens at my show.”
“I learned that things happened here that never should have happened. I take that very seriously and I want to say I am so sorry to the people who were affected,” she said. “I know that I'm in a position of privilege and power and I realized that with that comes responsibility, and I take responsibility for what happens at my show.”
A current employee told BuzzFeed News they’ve been frustrated with minimal communication from their superiors about the direction and vision for the new season, and that all of their duties were “put on hold” until DeGeneres delivered her monologue. The employee said they’re relieved to be able to move forward with work now that the premiere aired, but that “it’s all tactical.”
“It’s always tactical,” the employee said. “The average person will listen to it and make their own choices, but what people don’t always take into account is that information is power, and she’s sharing it now because it’s for premiere week and it’s to get viewers back, and that just feels the opposite of what this message is about.”
They were also disappointed that DeGeneres made “inappropriate jokes” while discussing her employees’ traumas.
“When you’re talking about people who have accused her leadership of the seriousness of sexual misconduct, I don’t think it’s appropriate to have jokes in the monologue,” a former employee said.
Still, the current employee said it was shocking to hear DeGeneres talking about the show’s toxicity in the open after experiencing it in secret for so long.
“It’s kind of amazing that this is being discussed on her show. To actually go from an environment where nothing is said and everyone keeps their head down to now when it’s the topic of her first show back is pretty amazing,” the employee said. “Whether or not I believe in this message that she is saying is another issue.”
At the end of the episode on Monday, DeGeneres didn’t sign off with her usual “be kind” message. Instead, she told viewers, “Feel this love and I'm giving it back to you, and spread that in the world. Spread that, not other things — just the good stuff is what we should spread. Alright, bye, everybody.”
But former employees said DeGeneres was “deflecting” from taking responsibility for the show’s “be kind” motto and the contradiction with what they felt behind the scenes.
“I don’t feel sorry that she’s in a shit load of trouble because she branded herself the ‘be kind’ person,” a former employee said. “She’s acting like it was something she said in passing that just stuck with her. It’s not something that stuck with her, it’s not an accident. She went forward with this idea and this marketing strategy that was not true behind the scenes.”
The former employee continued, “There’s nothing wrong with being the ‘be kind' lady if you’re actually true to your word.”
Another former employee who participated in WarnerMedia’s recent investigation of the show said they’re unhappy they had to watch DeGeneres’s monologue to hear her apology.
“The right thing would be to follow up with these people who are humans who were affected by this,” the former employee said. “They have a responsibility to kind of close this chapter of our lives and move on.”
The former employee added that they would have preferred for someone at Warner Bros. to reach out to them and “say something like, ‘We’re so sorry this happened to you,’ not for Ellen to go on air and say, ‘I heard this happened and I’m sorry if it happened to you.’”
“It was like, ‘Tell us all of the most fucked-up things that happened to you for the investigation, and now that we’ve written it all down, see you later,’” they added. “It just feels like there’s no ending to this for people who came forward and said things that happened to them and reopened these wounds and rehashed these memories.”