The boss from hell

Jennifer Barnett tells us what it’s like to be a woman in journalism working for a terrible man, so terrible that she ended up having to quit. She says it’s a common situation and the men stay on and on, because that’s how this works.

I had the plum job. The top of the masthead of one of the most prestigious and respected publications with more than a 150-year-old history. I left because I blew the whistle on my boss for doing something unethical then abusing the staff and undermining the editorial process during which time I was assured he would be fired but instead he was promoted and after threatening me privately in his office, he marginalized me to the point of being completely invisible. In addition to being my boss at this prestigious publication, he was also the president of the principal organization in the United States for the editorial leaders of magazines and websites. Literally every editor of every publication was beholden to him.

She never names him, but she gives a lot of very specific clues, so there’s already a Mediaite piece on her piece pointing out how easy it is. I Googled “what editor had a brother running for president” (very specific clue, see) and it’s James Bennet, of the Atlantic when she worked for him and then of the New York Times editorial page – he’s the guy who decided to publish that horrendous piece by Tom Cotton, which made such a stink he had to resign, but yaboosucks now he’s at The Economist.

Not long after I quit, he also left but he went on to be next in line to run the paper of record, and I was volunteering to write the newsletter for the parent organization at my kid’s school. He’s since been fired, or rather resigned, for another major public failing but just last week I was told he’s working with the new editor in chief of the publication I left to write for them. He’s going to land on his feet. At the top.

Why does it matter? Because the same men who continually fuck up are still in charge of the media. They shape the world. If you don’t think that’s true, take a look at the coverage of Hillary Clinton during my former boss’s tenure at the paper of record leading up to the 2016 election. Despite even major public failings, they keep coming back because they work behind the scenes to protect themselves and each other to stay in power and preserve the status quo.

And it’s happening at the expense of women. Time after time.

Which means that women leave, which means that journalism and opinionating remain in the hands of men, so there’s yet more “But her emails” and “why are women so imperfect?”

There were a handful of editors, all men, who had carte blanche to walk into my boss’s office at any time, even with the most trivial of matters. But when I needed to see him for business crucial to the magazine, he’d yell at me. Loudly, and with rage. It wasn’t that I was doing anything differently than the men who wanted to see him, it’s just that he was comfortable yelling at me. I noticed he did the same thing to another woman who was on the digital side. Every time he yelled I’d shrug it off, smile feebly to anyone who was in earshot and carry on. I’d make a joke. Brush it off. It’s no big deal, I’d say, all the while working extra hard behind the scenes to adapt and find ways to get what I needed out of my boss without tripping his rage wire. I performed a tightrope walk every day to do my job and keep the respect of the staff I managed despite being publicly yelled at or shut out of meetings by our boss.

I’m sure it’s pure coincidence that it’s only women he does this to and that men are welcome to bounce into his office whenever they feel like it.

One thing I observed while I worked at [The Atlantic] is that in times when we were called into question, my boss felt that we were beyond reproach — so prestigious, we were to be held to a different standard. After all, nobody did journalism better than we did.

Still, one of the contributing editors who has made a name for himself for being a Never-Trump Republican, Tweeted, (then published a lengthy defense) criticizing Hillary Clinton’s smile.

I Googled that one too: it’s David Frum.

He really did write that lengthy defense. In the Atlantic.

13 Responses to “The boss from hell”

Leave a Comment

Subscribe without commenting