‘I was naive,” the former New Republic staffer told me by email last week. Donegan, who is 28, intended the shareable spreadsheet — titled “Sh***y Media Men” to be circulated privately as a warning system among a fairly small group of women. It would be a digital version of the way a woman might advise her friends to stay away from someone because he’s a creep or far worse.
Almost immediately, it went viral, and after only 12 hours, Donegan took it down. But in the digital age, it lived on.
So did the repercussions. Some of the prominent men it identified were fired or disciplined after their employers did internal investigations. Among them: literary critic Leon Wieseltier at The Atlantic and Lorin Stein, editor of the Paris Review. (Wieseltier apologised; Stein acknowledged disrespectful behaviour.)
After Donegan’s name became public, she was and continues to be viciously trolled, as have members of her family, she said.
And very recently, the top editor of Harper’s Magazine, James Marcus, was fired largely, he said, because he had opposed from the start his boss’ idea of assigning a contrarian take on the #MeToo movement.
It was the magazine’s public relations head who finally made the story assignment, on the publisher’s behalf, that resulted in the March cover story — one that knocked the #MeToo culture, took Donegan to task personally and denigrated those who supported her. (Twitter feminists author Katie Roiphe scornfully tagged them in her takedown.)
Roiphe argued that there is no room for disagreement on the subject of predatory men: “There is a vicious energy and ugliness beneath the fervour of our new reckoning.” It’s become, she wrote, “blood sport.” The Harper’s story was widely disliked among the magazine’s editorial employees, Marcus told the New York Times.
The firing would amount to nothing more than fleeting media-industry fodder after all, Harper’s revolving door of editors is well known — if it weren’t for the larger questions it raised. Donegan explained, months ago, her original intention.
“The anonymous, crowd-sourced document was a first attempt at solving what has seemed like an intractable problem: how women can protect ourselves from sexual harassment and assault,” Donegan in January wrote in The Cut, an online subset of New York Magazine.
She identified herself as the creator of the spreadsheet in that piece because she had reason to believe, after receiving questions from a magazine fact-checker, that Roiphe’s piece was going to name her. (Roiphe has contested that.)
In her exchange with me, Donegan further explained her reasoning: “Existing reporting channels too often serve to protect the accused, disappear complaints, and further punish women for coming forward.” Was the spreadsheet unfair to the named men when the contributing women wanted anonymity? Has the whole thing gone too far?
I’ll put myself squarely on Team Donegan. Yes, she was naive about keeping her document circulating quietly as a warning mechanism. But her intentions were righteous and her fears well-founded about what often happen to women who report their truths.
I know of no cases in which men were disciplined solely because of their appearance on the spreadsheet. If it forced employers to look into long-standing situations and take action, so be it. If it caused a great many men to be put on guard and hence more respectful in their dealings with female colleagues, that’s all to the good.
The long-needed reckoning over sexual harassment and assault has taken many forms, included in the groundbreaking journalism by the Times and The New Yorker recognised last week with the Pulitzer Prize for public service, and by The Washington Post with its reporting on former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, also recognised with a Pulitzer.
Donegan’s spreadsheet and the Harper’s article — as well as their still-reverberating aftermath— were just one small chapter. But one with lessons that Donegan is still painfully absorbing.
“The past months, including the actions taken by Harper’s, have shown me how much risk all of us who used (the spreadsheet) took in trying to shield one another from harm,” Donegan told me.
“The choices that Harper’s made, made it clear to me how much persistence and resolve will be required in the ongoing fight for women’s rights and dignity.”
And should you think for a moment that the #MeToo movement has gone too far, consider how quickly we’re hearing of comebacks by the likes of comic Louis C.K., NBC star Matt Lauer and celebrity chef Mario Batali. Persistence and resolve – and courage – had better not be in short supply.
By arrangement with The Washington Post