Vice Media, the young company that boomed from hipster Canadian magazine to $6 billion media company with offices around the world, is home to a spectacularly “degrading and uncomfortable” environment for women, according to a report by the New York Times.
Through an investigation that included interviews with over 100 current and former Vice employees and over 100 pages of “legal documents, emails, text messages and other filings related to Vice’s operations, the settlements and allegations of harassment,” the Times learned that there have been “four settlements involving allegations of sexual harassment or defamation against Vice employees, including its current president.”
The stories in the Times piece are graphic and disturbing, revealing a culture where a playfully transgressive reputation belied an actually violation-laden workplace.
Vice employees describe being propositioned for sex by higher-ups and facing professional blowback for not acquiescing.
A number of allegations concern Mike Germano, Vice’s chief digital officer and the founder of digital ad agency Carrot Creative, acquired by Vice in 2013.
Amanda Rue, a former strategist, said that at Carrot’s holiday party in 2012 Mr. Germano told her that he hadn’t wanted to hire her because he wanted to have sex with her.
Gabrielle Schaefer, who worked closely with Mr. Germano as director of communications at Carrot, said he made her feel uncomfortable during a work event at a bar one night in 2014 when he pulled her onto his lap. After Ms. Schaefer reported the incident to human resources, she said, she felt that she fell out of favor at the company and eventually left.
Jason Mojica, formerly head of Vice News, is also the subject of multiple allegations: Martina Veltroni settled with Vice for an undisclosed amount after she claims her relationship with Mojica “derailed her career at Vice.” Former Vice journalist Abby Ellis said that Mojica “tried to kiss her against her will” in 2013. Though she “yelled at him and hit him with an umbrella multiple times,” she said she continued to face unwanted advances from him. She reported on Mojica to Nancy Ashbrooke, then the human resources director at Vice, who Ellis said told her that “because she was an attractive woman she would face similar behavior throughout her career.” Mojica remembers the incident as “misreading a moment.”
A former Vice employee, Helen Donahue, reported to Ashbrooke that Mojica “had grabbed her breasts and buttocks at a company holiday party.” This was two years after Ellis’ report. Donahue said that Ashbrooke “said I should just forget about it and laugh it off.”
Mojica was fired last month.
Another appalling case involved Jessica Hopper, a renowned music journalist, who did a freelance story for Vice in 2003. She was interviewing the rapper Murs; he asked her if he could have sex with her, and she said no. She included this in the article. But when the story ran, the magazine not only changed her response to “yes” but published the piece with the headline, “I Got Laid But Murs Didn’t.” Hopper hired lawyers and reached a $25,000 settlement with Vice which also required the magazine to “print a retraction and a formal apology.”
In a statement to the Times signed by co-founders Suroosh Alvi and Shane Smith, Vice acknowledged that “the truth is inescapable: from the top down, we have failed as a company to create a safe and inclusive workplace where everyone, especially women, can feel respected and thrive.”
Meanwhile, multiple people contacted the Times as news about the investigation spread:
As word spread within the media industry that The Times was reporting on Vice, more than a dozen women and men contacted The Times with accounts that they said were humiliating and emotionally traumatic. Several broke confidentiality agreements to speak on the record, but many spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing those agreements and fear of reprisal.
In 2015, the Columbia Journalism Review published an article about Vice’s workplace culture and its treatment of women. In the story, Nancy Ashbrooke, the former human resources director at Vice, is quoted as saying that sexual harassment “had not been an issue” at the company since she joined its ranks in 2014. As the Times notes, “Ms. Ashbrooke worked as vice president of human resources at Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax Films from 1991 to 2000.”