Creator of the "S**tty Media Men" list outs herself in powerful essay

Moira Donegan, believed to be on the verge of being identified by Harper's, speaks out [UPDATED]

Published January 11, 2018 12:46PM (EST)


The editor who initially created the "S**tty Men in Media" list in October 2017, in which anonymous women identified men in the industry who they alleged engaged in sexual misconduct, has identified herself.

"In the beginning, I only wanted to create a place for women to share their stories of harassment and assault without being needlessly discredited or judged," Moira Donegan explained in an essay published to New York Magazine's The Cut Wednesday night. "The hope was to create an alternate avenue to report this kind of behavior and warn others without fear of retaliation."

Donegan, a former assistant editor for The New Republic and current freelance writer, described how she had been warned away from certain types of sexually predatory men in her industry soon after she began working in publishing in 2013.

There was the hard-drinking editor who had worked in all the most prestigious editorial departments, who would down whiskeys until he was drunk enough to mention that he could help your career if you slept with him. There was the editor who would lean too close but who was funny enough that he would often charm women into consensual encounters that were then rumored to turn abruptly, frighteningly violent.

According to Donegan, the purpose of the spreadsheet was to provide women who had experienced sexual abuse from media figures with an anonymous and safe way to warn each other. In a very personal account of its creation, she insists that the list was never intended to be published in the mainstream press. Wary of the the fact that it could, if misused, lead to false accusations and real-world consequences to any innocent men identified, she explicitly included a warning for those who used it to "take everything with a grain of salt."

She then catalogs the surprisingly rapid growth of the list as it went viral, the addition of multiple accusations against allegedly prolific, sometimes violent repeat predators and how, with little input from her, it painted a picture of an industry not only rife with "sh**ty men," but with little systematic support for women who may have been victimized by them. Lack of proper HR responses to instances of alleged sexual misconduct was a running theme.

Equally rapid, according to Donegan, was the outing of the list's existence. Quite soon after its creation, Donegan realized that the list has become too viral and removed it from public view (though the now-uneditable document still survives in widely distributed screenshots). Almost simultaneously, BuzzFeed's Doree Shafrir reported on the list, bringing it out of the informal whisper network, without mentioning Donegan or adding names of anyone accused who had not already been a subject of other, mainstream reports.

Multiple men in media have become the subjects of either internal reviews by their employers or exposés elsewhere as part of a #MeToo reckoning in the media business, including the Paris Review's Lorin Stein, NPR's Michael Oreskes and Vox's Lockhart Steele. Media is well represented on USA Today's running list of allegations that have gone public against powerful men since The New York Times and then The New Yorker shined a spotlight on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein's decades of misdeeds.

But men weren't the only ones to have been forced out of employment following the distribution of the list. Donegan claims that not only did she lose friends as a result of her involvement in it, but she also lost her job.

In a statement today, Donegan's former employer The New Republic told CNN "we can confirm Moira Donegan was employed by TNR for just over six months in 2017. We can also confirm that she did not leave over the spreadsheet." This clarification, and the question of TNR's role in Donegan's story, comes on the heels of the magazine's own battles with sexual misconduct allegations involving men in top leadership roles. The magazine's president and publisher, Hamilton Fish, and longtime literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, were both forced to resign after internal reviews in the weeks after the Media Men list began to circulate.

Donegan also reports that she lived in constant fear of being exposed and harassed after the list went viral and became subject matter for exposés and opinion columns. This dread "escalated when I learned Katie Roiphe would be publishing my name in a forthcoming piece in Harper’s magazine," Donegan wrote.

In early December, Roiphe had emailed me to ask if I wanted to comment for a Harper’s story she was writing on the 'feminist moment.' She did not say that she knew I had created the spreadsheet. I declined and heard nothing more from Roiphe or Harper’s until I received an email from a fact checker with questions about Roiphe’s piece." Donegan adds that the fact checker who eventually contacted her said, "Katie identifies you as a woman widely believed to be one of the creators of the Sh**y Men in Media List.

Earlier this week, journalist Nicole Cliffe reported that Harper's was preparing the piece and that Roiphe would be outing the creator of the "Sh**ty Media Men," and offered to compensate any freelancers who wanted to pull upcoming stories from Harper's in protest. Many who rallied against Harper's and Roiphe expressed concern for the list creator's personal safety. In response, Roiphe and managers at Harper's denied that they ever had any intention of revealing the name of the creator, via several statements to The New York Times.

"I am looking forward to talking about what is actually in the piece when it actually comes out. I am not ‘outing’ anyone. I have to say it’s a little disturbing that anyone besides Trump views Twitter as a reliable news source," Roiphe told the Times.

If Donegan's account is true, Roiphe and others appear to have not told the whole truth to the Times. Whether they had changed direction midstream following a wave of criticism against both the author of the piece and the publication or still intended to out Donegan anyway is unknown. Roiphe has subsequently claimed that people are "confused about my intentions."

In the hours of tumult on Twitter after Cliffe's initial report, users assailed Harper's and Roiphe in a showing of broad support for the then-unidentified Donegan. One odd moment came when director Lexi Alexander briefly claimed to be the creator of the list herself, through a tweet. Many outlets ran with it, misidentifying Alexander as the actual creator before Alexander deactivated and then reactivated her account. She now claims it was more of a "I am Spartacus" moment than anything else. Despite that hiccup, the Twitter reaction to Donegan's piece has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive.

In her essay, Donegan expressed fears and doubts. "All of this was terrifying," she wrote. "I still don’t know what kind of future awaits me now that I’ve stopped hiding."

That noted, she also expresses a lack of regret and a solid sense of hope. "The experience of making the spreadsheet has shown me that it is still explosive, radical, and productively dangerous for women to say what we mean," she wrote. "But this doesn’t mean that I’ve lowered my hopes."

"Like a lot of feminists," she added, "I think about how women can build power, help one another, and work toward justice. But it is less common for us to examine the ways we might wield the power we already have. Among the most potent of these powers is the knowledge of our own experiences."

Speaking about the general #MeToo movement, she wrote, "There is something that’s changed: Suddenly, men have to think about women, our inner lives and experiences of their own behavior, quite a bit. That may be one step in the right direction."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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