Vice, the Canadian counter-culture ‘zine turned left-wing TV and web media empire was hit by a scathing New York Times investigative report Saturday, citing “dozens” of current and former female employees to portray a “boy’s club” atmosphere.
The report is framed to show “sexual harassment” as endemic even at workplaces that epitomize the post-sexual revolution ethos of the left. As the Times’ Emily Steele puts it:
These women did not work among older men at a hidebound company. They worked at Vice, an insurgent force in news and entertainment known for edgy content that aims for millennial audiences on HBO and its own TV network.
What stands out about the women’s accounts—in the wake of a public reckoning over sexual assault and harassment by mostly older men—is that the allegations involve men in their 20s, 30s and 40s who came of age long after workplace harassment was not only taboo but outlawed.
Steele goes on to relate years of stories about Vice men trying to kiss women who worked with them, groping them at parties, and as one former female employee put it, creating a “toxic environment where men can say the most disgusting things, joke about sex openly.”
According to the report, Vice has been forced to make four settlements related to sexual harassment and defamation. One involved current Vice President Andrew Creighton, who a woman claims fired her after refusing a sexual relationship. Another involved editors changing a female contributor’s piece to make it appear she’d agreed to have sex with an interview subject.
For 23 years, even as it moved from an explicitly “punk” street publication to a more mainstream news source, Vice has continually published material that is not only sexually explicit but which deliberately pushes the boundaries of taste and propriety. As it moved toward the mainstream, the outlet has added leftist politics in an ever greater ratio to its original counter-cultural content.
The report appears to have put another nail in the coffin of Vice’s days as a devil-may-care rebel outfit. Steadily, the outlet has purged elements of its punk past to avoid controversy. Co-founder Gavin McInnis, for example, was bought out in 2008 as he became more right-leaning politically and attracted criticism for those views. As Vice’s mea culpa for the Times report’s allegations explained:
Over the last decade, we have severed ties with colleagues who espoused misogynistic and extremist ideologies, and evolved Vice from a publication with a tiny staff to a media company employing thousands of the most talented creative minds all over the world.
As a result of the Times’s report, Vice will be dropping its long-standing “non-traditional workplace” agreement “[w]ith consultation from the Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board.” The agreement read:
Although it is possible that some of the text, images and information I will be exposed to in the course of my employment with Vice may be considered by some to be offensive, indecent violent or disturbing, I do not find such text, images or information or the workplace environment at Vice to be offensive, indecent, violent or disturbing.
Steele’s report is not the first public airing of details of Vice’s “boys’ club.” One major focus of her report, Vice documentary head Jason Mojica was fired after allegations against him were published last month. Unmentioned in the Times report is “male feminist” columnist Michael Hafford, against whom multiple women made allegations of misconduct.
The New York Times was even able to point out a thread linking Vice’s slew of sexual misconduct woes to the genesis of the #MeToo moment:
When the Columbia Journalism Review published its article, it included a quote from Nancy Ashbrooke, the former human resources director at Vice, stating that since she joined the company in 2014 sexual harassment had “not been an issue.” (Ms. Ashbrooke worked as vice president of human resources at Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax Films from 1991 to 2000.)
In response, Vice issued a statement promising to reform.