I Left My Career in Prestige Media Because of the Shitty Men in Charge and They Are Still In Charge and Still Fucking Up
I had the plum job. The top of the masthead of one of the most prestigious and respected publications with more than a 150-year-old history. I left because I blew the whistle on my boss for doing something unethical then abusing the staff and undermining the editorial process during which time I was assured he would be fired but instead he was promoted and after threatening me privately in his office, he marginalized me to the point of being completely invisible. In addition to being my boss at this prestigious publication, he was also the president of the principal organization in the United States for the editorial leaders of magazines and websites. Literally every editor of every publication was beholden to him.
My career was over. I was 44 years old.
Not long after I quit, he also left but he went on to be next in line to run the paper of record, and I was volunteering to write the newsletter for the parent organization at my kid’s school. He’s since been fired, or rather resigned, for another major public failing but just last week I was told he’s working with the new editor in chief of the publication I left to write for them. He’s going to land on his feet. At the top.
Why does it matter? Because the same men who continually fuck up are still in charge of the media. They shape the world. If you don’t think that’s true, take a look at the coverage of Hillary Clinton during my former boss’s tenure at the paper of record leading up to the 2016 election. Despite even major public failings, they keep coming back because they work behind the scenes to protect themselves and each other to stay in power and preserve the status quo.
And it’s happening at the expense of women. Time after time.
When I worked at the publication, we published an article about what still holds women back in the workplace. It was a seminal piece that drove the national conversation. Workplaces not just in the U.S. but globally held forums to discuss and adopt the practices we outlined in our piece. It was prescriptive, and my boss garnered accolades galore. But behind the scenes it was a different story.
My boss regularly canceled cover meetings I scheduled during normal business hours because he preferred to have them “later, over beers” and he and a group of editors, all men, would gather around the creative director’s computer and open a bottle of bourbon and work on the cover which flew in the face of the article we published, to great acclaim. I had a young child, so this precluded me from participating if I was going to get home before bedtime.
There were other obstacles I faced in my workplace.
One afternoon (years before the incident that led to me leaving my career), I noticed a large group of people gathered outside of my boss’s office, most of whom I managed. I went out to see what was going on and was told they were gathering for a meeting about publishing the magazine’s content on the new digital platforms we were developing. I asked who had called the meeting and they said it was my boss, and I assumed he’d just accidentally left me off the invite — he’d been working without an assistant. More on that later. When my boss opened the door for everyone to enter his office, he saw me and looked surprised and said there was no reason for me to attend and literally closed the door in my face. I was shocked, and went back to my office and composed myself. When it was time for our next standing meeting he said he didn’t see any reason for me to be there and simply hadn’t wanted to waste my time, even though the work was to be done entirely by the staff I managed. He literally didn’t see why I’d need to attend a meeting about the work the staff I managed was going to be doing. He also was extremely preoccupied with whether or not I was I was “angry” about the the situation. The situation being that he literally closed the door in my face in front of everyone I worked with, many of whom were my direct reports, signaling to them his lack of respect for me.
It’s just a boys club, people would say. You have to learn to fit in. So I did. I adapted. I’d had my fair share of working with demanding editors. I was one of a handful of people alone in a room with Anna Wintour on a daily basis. I knew how to adapt. I learned to listen outside of doorways to figure out what meetings were being scheduled so I could make sure I’d be on the invite. I’d drink the bourbon. I’d miss the bedtime.
My performance reviews were all excellent. I was really good at my job.
But my boss had a rage problem. And it was largely directed at women. He hated his assistant. It became so bad he literally stopped speaking to her. If she was walking his way, he’d turn the corner. He refused to acknowledge his own assistant in any way shape or form, except to yell at her in front of everyone. I spoke with him multiple times about the situation as it was untenable. He wasn’t capable of managing his own schedule or workload so having an assistant he couldn’t work with was a disaster. He refused to fire her or allow me to do it for him. He tortured her until she quit. The day she left we had coffee and she told me her stomach never stopped hurting.
There were a handful of editors, all men, who had carte blanche to walk into my boss’s office at any time, even with the most trivial of matters. But when I needed to see him for business crucial to the magazine, he’d yell at me. Loudly, and with rage. It wasn’t that I was doing anything differently than the men who wanted to see him, it’s just that he was comfortable yelling at me. I noticed he did the same thing to another woman who was on the digital side. Every time he yelled I’d shrug it off, smile feebly to anyone who was in earshot and carry on. I’d make a joke. Brush it off. It’s no big deal, I’d say, all the while working extra hard behind the scenes to adapt and find ways to get what I needed out of my boss without tripping his rage wire. I performed a tightrope walk every day to do my job and keep the respect of the staff I managed despite being publicly yelled at or shut out of meetings by our boss.
Adapt. Be one of the guys. It was a boy’s club after all, and it was celebrated as such. Despite the fact that my boss openly acknowledged and resented the reputation of being a boy’s club — he frequently pointed out the number of women working there (yet at the time, I was one of the few at the top of the masthead and he still shut me out of meetings) this was the culture that was actively fostered. The publisher at the time was quoted in an outrageous article extolling the manliness of magazines.
I’ve been told things improved since the current editor in chief took over, but soon after he started he was quoted as saying women aren’t capable of writing cover stories. Facing considerable and deserved backlash, he then made a big show of hiring women, many of whom seem happy. I notice many of them tweet his praises. But since he’s taken the helm there’s a wake of women who are no longer there who have signed NDAs. Just last week a woman I once worked with at a different publication was added to that list, and the details I know show me that the men in charge will do everything in their power to save their own hides, usually at the expense of the women they claim to champion. I was told he worked behind the scenes to discredit me when I went on the record with the Washington Post. Despite his own public missteps — he famously, erroneously, tied Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda and published a cover story advocating the specious good guy with a gun argument — he remains unscathed. He gets interviews with Obama and people praise him for being a genius.
Not only are these guys shitty at their jobs, they keep each other and themselves in power so they can continue to be shitty at their jobs.
One thing I observed while I worked at the publication is that in times when we were called into question, my boss felt that we were beyond reproach — so prestigious, we were to be held to a different standard. After all, nobody did journalism better than we did.
Still, one of the contributing editors who has made a name for himself for being a Never-Trump Republican, Tweeted, (then published a lengthy defense) criticizing Hillary Clinton’s smile.
Another editor defended Jeffrey Toobin’s dick brandishing citing Occam’s Razor.
Here’s the thing: No one cares. People literally do not give a shit.
When I quit my job I told everyone I was leaving to spend more time with my family. But after the dust settled, I wanted to go on the record with all the details. No one would touch it. My boss was one of the most powerful people in publishing. I even reached out to one of the women who wrote cover stories who said that while what I went through sounded horrible, she didn’t see the larger story. She made a lot of money writing for them. Her husband was one of the men at the table full of powerful male editors when my boss snubbed me at the National Magazine Awards.
That’s the thing. People want to keep their jobs. Who can blame them?
I was shocked when, years later, a reporter from the Washington Post contacted me. When I asked him how he found me he said multiple people suggested, off the record, that he get in touch with me. The events that led up to me quitting were so well known, even people in the newsroom at a different publication knew the details. I found myself reliving the trauma of the events that led me to leaving my career, weighing once again the risks with me going on the record including but not limited to assassinations of my character. After discussing it with my husband and a few trusted confidants, I decided to go on the record.
Still, it didn’t matter.
The article ended up being a puff piece profiling my boss and his brother, who was running for President of the United States at the time, with a wildly out of context quote from me. Still, it was on the record. I was telling the truth.
After the article came out nothing happened. It mostly just disappeared. But that’s not the worst part.
The worst part is that I learned the current editor in chief was working behind the scenes to undermine me. I was told he put tremendous pressure on the editor I’d worked so hard to protect, whose name I never disclosed to The Washington Post, to deny my statement. The editor told me he refused because everything I said was true but did give what he told me he hoped would be interpreted as a “hostage statement” wherein people could read between the lines and see that by not denying my statement, everyone would be able to clearly see it was true.
No one I’ve spoken to was able to read between those lines.
Long before my boss did what he did, things were shady for women.
My boss and his counterpart on the digital side would patrol the office to see who was at their desk and took issue with an editor who had recently returned from maternity leave because she left by 5:30, but still continued to work from home carrying a heavy work load. Yet a man on the digital side, one of the golden boys as they were known, had previously been given permission to leave work early to act in a play. The golden boys were a handful of guys whose work my bosses promoted to such a degree that many of them achieved a level of fame — a practice that was not extended to any of the women at the time.
Plus the canceling of the cover meetings during regular business hours so they could be held later over beers despite us publishing how late meetings held women back.
Then there was my boss’s counterpart on the digital side (one of the office patrollers) asking me to have one of the woman on staff who was breastfeeding clear her breast pump from the only free office space so it could be used for another male hire. (I shit you not, as we were walking back from the office in question he pointed out how most men probably wouldn’t even know it was a breast pump so he deserved credit for knowing such a thing).
Not being included in meetings pertaining to the workload of my own staff.
A promising junior editor was promoted and given a pay raise but a man on the digital side wanted one too and my bosses didn’t want to give him one. Instead of denying the man the promotion, they retracted the woman’s. After they had already given it to her. My boss then accused her of being too immature and emotional for being upset about it and she nearly got fired.
All from the publication that published the tome on what’s still holding women back at the work place.
Achieving the same level of success as my male counterparts was an uphill slog every day but I was willing to cope with all of it in order to keep my job, a job I loved and had worked decades to achieve. I adapted. I walked the tightrope.
But it all came crashing down when my boss violated journalistic ethics then abused the staff and undermined the editorial process. It became so bad we were in jeopardy of missing our press date. I used everything in my arsenal to adapt. I protected the staff from his rage. I worked behind the scenes to get our press schedule shored up. Still, his behavior was so disruptive we couldn’t get the work done. After consulting with two of my senior level colleagues, I decided to go to management for help. I reported my boss’s behavior to HR and to the president of the publication on three separate occasions and each time I was assured his behavior was known and unacceptable and that they were working behind the scenes to address it and that my boss would face consequences, including being fired, if he did not stop.
He didn’t stop. But he did get way sneakier about it. Most of his abuse was focused on a specific editor. It was horrendous to witness. The editor was a veteran of the publication, and was beloved by the staff. He was also uniquely vulnerable (he published a book about his anxiety) and my boss was maliciously cruel towards him. It began taking a toll on the editor’s health.
After I reported my boss and was told action was being taken behind the scenes, my boss changed his tactics. Instead of overtly lashing out at the editor, he’d do so in ways that were much more difficult to detect. For example, he’d make a big show of inviting people into his office for drinks, but would deliberately leave the editor off the invitation. If they were in the same room for drinks (there was a big drinking culture) he’d clink glasses with everyone except that editor. He’d ignore and refuse to acknowledge him during meetings. If he saw the editor coming his way, he’d turn the corner to avoid him. The editor offered, in writing, to resign and my boss refused to acknowledge it. I reported this all to the president of the company and to HR and was again assured they were handling it behind the scenes.
Then, in a shocking turn of events, the president quit to take another job and it became immediately obvious my boss was next in line to take his place.
I knew I was screwed.
The next time my boss lashed out at me — he went ballistic over a piece he was supposed to have recused himself from — lashing out at me in front of multiple people. He was screaming at me, saying I was “doing it to him” again. I told him his behavior was unacceptable and immediately went to HR to report it. I was told they were handling it and the head of HR offered for me to get in touch with her, even on the weekend, if I needed help.
During our next meeting, my boss threatened me privately in his office. He chastened me on my “tone”. He peered over his glasses and told me to “be very careful” and that he was “in this for the long game.” I later described him as looking like a cartoon villain. I immediately left his office and reported the threat to HR but this time I got a very different reaction. All along I had been assured by HR and the president that my boss’s behavior was unacceptable and was being handled behind the scenes and would result in him being fired if he didn’t stop but this time the head of HR told me that my boss had expressed remorse about the situation and was embarrassed by his behavior.
It was clear I wasn’t going to get any support from the company. My boss was going to get promoted and have even more power. After months of keeping the train on track while dealing with the consequences of my boss’s abuse, I was left twisting in the wind.
I knew that unless I got back into my boss’s good graces not only would I lose this job, it was unlikely I could get hired anywhere else in media. My boss was the president of ASME. He held enormous power in the publishing industry.
I wrote him an email saying that I’d support him in his role as president of our publication, and that I knew he would advocate for the magazine. My hope was that his promotion would take him out of the day to day operations of the magazine and that in time things would settle down.
Just to underscore that point, I found myself in a position of having to recommend my abusive boss for a promotion at the height of his abuse after having followed the chain of command available to me to report his abuse and being left in the cold.
Over the following weeks he marginalized me to the point of being completely invisible. He canceled our weekly check in meetings and ceased all communication with me, but continued his same editorial oversight which made doing my job nearly impossible.
The final straw came when it was time to attend the National Magazine Awards. We were nominated in multiple categories, and I’d previously attended the ceremony as had the managing editors before me. When it was time to make the arrangements I realized I was being left out. When I asked him about it he said that he didn’t see the need for me to attend, and that another editor, a man who had no specific reason for attending, should be given the chance to attend instead.
This was not okay with me. The NMAs were a big deal — pretty much the Oscars of the publishing world and every editor of every publication was in attendance. It was the event of the year, and in years past I’d had valuable conversations with other prominent editors. I was at the top of the masthead for a publication that was nominated for several awards. I needed to go. I wrote an email prostrating myself, even offering to pay my own way. I was given permission to attend but my boss iced me out of conversations with other editors by literally blocking me by turning his back on me. He gave a toast to the former managing editor saying she’d been the best in the publication’s history (even though I knew they’d had a rocky road). He clinked glasses with everyone but me. I’d seen this behavior time and time again. I knew it was over for me.
The following Monday I gave my notice. I knew I was walking away from a career I’d spent decades building.
My boss went on to mold the coverage of the paper of record before spectacularly, publicly, falling on his face. But his friends are looking out for him. And they have powerful jobs molding the coverage at the most prestigious publications in existence. He’ll be back. They will make sure of it.
It should matter.
** I fixed plum and Hussein. The rest stands.