While scrolling through my Twitter timeline a couple days ago, I came across the following tweet.
There’s a lot to unpack here. But what I found most shocking was that I hadn’t heard about the “Sh*tty Media Men List” until this very tweet. This is something that I should have known about, especially as a woman hoping to work in the media industry post graduation so I’m not sure how it slipped under my radar. I decided to research further into the story behind this list for my own sake and so you don’t have to.
Last October, Moira Donegan, a former assistant editor at The New Republic, started an anonymous excel sheet for women inside the New York City media sphere to recount their stories of sexual assault at work. In a piece published on The Cut admitting her role in the origin of the list, Donegan described why she started the document in the first place.
“I only wanted to create a place for women to share their stories of harassment and assault without being needlessly discredited or judged. The hope was to create an alternate avenue to report this kind of behavior and warn others without fear of retaliation,” she wrote.
On the top of the spreadsheet, a warning message was written for those that logged onto it. This list was aggregated by individuals in the industry and was not intended to be taken as cold, hard fact since it wasn’t a legitimate investigation.
Intelligencer wrote about the disclaimers the list provided: “It was highly and admittedly unreliable — ‘take everything with a grain of salt,’ it said at the top, and ‘if you see a man you’re friends with, don’t freak out’ — but it was also private, meant to be shared quietly and directly between women the way whispered warnings always have been.”
Donegan intended for the list to be shared privately among close circles of women working in media. Women shared their stories that ranged from male colleagues sending inappropriate text messages, making sexual comments on the job or at job-related events, and harassing them physically. Men that were accused of physical contact by three different women were highlighted in red.
But what started out as a resource for women in media quickly became viral and was used as a weapon rather than a safe space. Mike Cernovich, a vocal, anti-feminist writer, offered $10,000 to anyone that would give him access to the list and when he got his hands on it, published some names of those accused.
Investigations were opened up by media outlets who found some of their employees on the list. People were fired. Donegan lost her job herself. And now, a year later, she is being sued by New Orleans writer Stephen Elliott for libel and emotional distress because his name was on the list (he is seeking $1.5 million in damages).
This is the only legal action taken against Donegan thus far and she has Robbie Kaplan in her corner for this case. Kaplan is one of the co-founders of Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which aims to help “survivors of sexual harassment or abuse in the workplace can get the legal help and public relations support they need to take back their power, seek justice, and make their voices heard,” according to its website.
She explained why she thinks Donegan will be in the clear for this case, and that Elliott suing may just be an intimidation tactic against those who contributed to the list.
“Given the fact that (1) the case against Ms. Donegan is extremely weak both factually and legally; (2) our client is a freelance writer who obviously doesn’t have the resources to satisfy any monetary judgment; and (3) the case was filed in New York, a state with perhaps the most protective standard for free speech in the nation, it seems pretty clear to us that the whole point of the lawsuit is to intimidate other women against speaking out in a similar manner in the future,” she told The Cut earlier this month.
After looking into the story behind this list, I am shocked at how little reporting has been done on it. The Cut is one of the only outlets that has continuously reported on the progression of this story over the past year. This fact in itself is proof to why lists like this can exist to help and why the strength of women in media comes from collaboration and allyship.
What do you think of the case against Donegan and the list?