Politics & Media
Jan 11, 2018, 12:09PM

Workers Organize Against Harper's

Using labor action to protest Harper's sexism.

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Donald Trump and his enablers want you to believe that the media is composed entirely of out-of-touch coastal elites. Anti-media media personalities like Salena Zito and Chris Arnade stump through rural white America, nodding sagely at the pronouncements of Trump voters and wagging a rhetorical finger at the bubble-dwelling city denizens who wrongly believe that real people live in urban areas, too. There’s a class divide in America, we’re told, and it’s between the smug liberal press and everyone else.

This narrative is deliberately intended to distract from an actual discussion of class. But the recent effort by women writers to protect one of their own from a punitive article in Harper's is a reminder that writers—like truck drivers, farmers, or teachers—are workers. Media owners are elites, but the people who work for them generally aren’t. And workers are not empowered by sneering at everyone who lives in cities. They're empowered through solidarity.

This week Dayna Tortorici, editor of n+1, tweeted that she had information that Harper's was planning to out the creator of the “Shitty Men in Media” list. The list was a spreadsheet created after the sexual abuse revelations about Harvey Weinstein. An anonymous woman created a crowd-sourced document in which women could list men who’d engaged in abusive or sexist behavior. The list was meant as a low-key way for women to share information about men who might be a threat, so they could protect themselves. It spread quickly, though, and numerous news sources debated whether it was ethical or right to create such a document. It also served as a place to start for reporters investigating instances of misconduct at media outlets.

The list was controversial; exposing the creator could damage her career, and would also expose her to threats and harassment, as Men's Rights Activists and other anti-feminist trolls attempted to terrorize her into silence. In order to prevent that, numerous women writers and reporters called on Harper's, and story author Katie Roiphe, to refrain from outing the woman in question. Nicole Cliffe, a writer at Elle, offered to compensate any writer with a piece in the upcoming issue of Harper's if they pulled their articles in protest.

Cliffe's offer was an act of feminist solidarity. But it was also an act of labor solidarity. People withdrawing their articles from Harper's was a labor action—it was a work stoppage. The work stoppage was undertaken in order to protect an individual worker. But like all labor actions, it was also undertaken to force better workplace practices for everyone. The “Shitty Men in Media” list was an effort to protect women from workplace harassment; it was a response to unsafe working conditions. Rather than address those working conditions, Harper's decided to out and endanger the whistle-blower. That’s a common management response. And it's why labor solidarity, and freedom to organize, are vital tools for justice in every industry.

Moira Donegan, the list’s creator, outed herself at The Cut, and confirmed that Roiphe planned to reveal her name. Donegan decided that her best option was to come forward on her own terms, rather than allowing Harper's to go to press first. It's shameful she had to do that. I hope the campaign on her behalf will help her get the resources she needs to deal with the backlash.

But Cliffe's campaign is also important in itself. Labor actions are valuable because they show labor power. Management needs to know that labor can organize. Labor needs to develop tactics, and see its own strength. Writers individually in media have little leverage, and almost no say in how publishers treat them. That's why sexist, unsafe working conditions persist. Cliffe showed one way in which writers, working together, can exert pressure on the media to protect themselves from sexism, harassment, and exploitation.

Cliffe showed how writers can, sometimes, make elites listen. 

  • Once again, Noah argues against printing the truth and his love of censorship. Cliffe's actions were blatant self-promotion and bullying. Like the sun, the truth can't stay hidden for long. If one won't stand behind their work, they shouldn't publish it.

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  • To be honest with you, I am still trying to understand the whole mess, but I do think that compiling a list smacks of totalitarianism. These women are making all kinds of accusations, and men are now allowed to defend themselves.

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  • Real freedom of speech is harassing women if they speak about their harassment.// Totalitarianism is by definition something imposed by the state, Emina. People are allowed to warn other people on the job of workplace dangers.

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  • Why the attack on Chris Arnade's work? (I have not read Zito's) Your implication that he is a Trump enabler is simply wrong, and to say that he "stumps" (clever use of subliminal connection) through "white rural America" is to ignore the fact that at least 50% of his work is about African Americans. Further, your proposition that journalists with an audience are somehow as disenfranchised as the truck drivers and teachers and the rest of the prolateriate is disingenuous. Journalists, by the nature of their work, have an audience and a voice. The link between your opening paragraph and the rest of your piece is at best spurious, so I wonder what your agenda really is? It seems like a desperate attempt to find solidarity with the "workers" who, according to you, are disempowered by their totalitarian editors and the evil media owners, as well as align with the (rather naive) "feminist" action of making a list of shitty men in media (that would be,like, everyone with a dick). It sounds all very privileged and petulant and in no way should your call to action be considered a labor movement. Sounds like a bowel movement to me.

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  • So, I've actually done a little podcast thing with Arnade (though it didn't get recorded) and I think he's well intentioned. His work does end up covering for Trump, in that he transposes class to "back row kids" as if it's about paying attention in school. I think he downplays racism as well. (though i do appreciate that he covers black people.) Salena Zito is worse.// journalists do have a platform (though often a very small one.) They often make less than truck drivers.// I'm reasonably sure from your post that you don't actually support labor movements anyway, yes? If you don't, I would say, fuck you. If you do, I would strongly reconsider the idea that only some workers are authentic enough to be worthy of solidarity, and that the labor movement is best served by separating feminism from labor issues, and by sneering at workers when they try to organize for workplace safety.

  • Well, it is like they're not paying attention in school. The so called left in the US is more right than what I would consider facist. The growing inequality and subgugation of minorities and people with brown or black skins is pervasive. In my opinion Arnade does not make excuses for Trump at all- he does, however, express empathy for some people who voted for Trump. The point being, that if those "fighting inequity" had recognized their privilege- these days about education- and made real efforts to address real issues, then we may not be in this mess. To equate the lack of earning of a journalist to an equivalence of the earnings of a truck driver is to miss the point. A journalist has an audience, has an education, has a voice, and has a career path. For a journalist to claim affinity with the laborer based on parity of pay is insulting - unless we are in the middle of a revolution and the journalist is in the trenches and writing about real issues. A revolutionary journalist of the prolateriate recognizes their privilege and exploits it to the full. I do certainly support the labor movement, and I do not promote seperation of feminism from all struggles - the exclusion of non-cisgender males is something to be challenged at every opportunity. But, where are the journalists screaming about the Montana County Prosecutor call for a crack-down on pregnant women? Weinstein is dispicable and I worry for my child as they hit Hollywood next year as a 21year old. But where are the calls to actually call out those that supported Weinstein for decades, people of all genders, I'm sure? Making an anonymous list of shitty men is like making a list of Trumps stupid comments- it is never ending, changes nothing, and ends up as a late night twitter feed until the world is so numb they stop noticing. To make a difference pick two of the shittiest, confront them publicly and get them charged and perhaps incarcerated or certainly restricted. Then on to the next. Or, do what Chris Arnade did, go and talk with the sex workers in Hunts Point, get to know them, as he did Beauty, drive them home to Atlanta so they can reconcile with family and turn their life around. Then write about how, for the sake of a minor drug charge, this human being is dragged back to Riker's Island and sits awaiting trial while their, possibly, last chance slides down the drain-pipe of the American dream. Write about that, and see how many so called liberals are banging on the doors of Rikers screaming "Liberty, Egalite Fraternite" and "Amandla" as the prisoners respond "Awethu".

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  • Noah, you're not on an NPR podcast here. No need to preface your response with "so."

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  • So, I've never been on an NPR podcast, and "so" is a useful introduction, imo. You'll just have to deal with it.//Shaun, I'm familiar with Arnade's argument, which you're repeating. I don't find it convincing.

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  • I wrote about this here, fwiw, if anyone is interested. https://newrepublic.com/article/141828/bernie-sanderss-misguided-attacks-liberal-elite

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