leah letter

Honestly, fuck Harper’s

Hiring Katie Roiphe to write about modern-day sexual harassment was a bad idea to begin with.
leah letter

Honestly, fuck Harper’s

Hiring Katie Roiphe to write about modern-day sexual harassment was a bad idea to begin with.

First things first: the writer Katie Roiphe is not a very good journalist and never has been. In a 1993 review of Roiphe’s first book, The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism on Campus, the critic Katha Pollitt wrote that it was “a careless and irresponsible performance, poorly argued and full of misrepresentations, slapdash research, and gossip. She may be, as she implies, the rare grad student who has actually read Clarissa, but when it comes to rape and harassment she has not done her homework.” In a piece the next year for the Baffler, journalist Jennifer Gonnerman wrote that “Roiphe does little which even verges on reporting” in The Morning After.

As Gonnerman argued, Roiphe, who at the age of 25 was welcomed into the luxurious tower of traditional media with a column at The New York Times, was not so much accepted by the public as a feminist provocateur with interesting ideas about rape as she was forced upon them. “By making Katie Roiphe the new celebrity feminist, the Times aimed to create the illusion of being on the cutting edge of sexual politics,” Gonnerman wrote. “Its discovery and single-handed championing of this latest variety of feminism may have ostensibly served to ‘further debate,’ but it actually did little more than prop up the Times’ long-standing opposition to feminism’s more radical strains.”

This is a pretty good parable for how media has been for the last 50-odd years, especially when it comes to the women who are (so rarely) elevated to its most prominent mantles. Publication identifies firebrand, hires firebrand to say firebrandy stuff that will make everyone mad, firebrand and publication enjoy attention and increase in clicks (or column inches, whatever), publication thinks its a genius for hiring firebrand and increasing reader engagement — the media is a business, after all! And then the stakes become raised: What insane shit can the firebrand say next? It’s the creation of this sadomasochistic relationship that makes the media such a treasurable resource and a force for progress. Heh.

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Roiphe’s firebrandy thing has mostly been that rape doesn’t happen as much as statistics say it does, which is wrong, and Pollitt’s review gloriously disembowels her assertions. Anyway, all of this makes Roiphe a very interesting candidate to write an article about our current sexual climate, which Harper’s magazine commissioned her to do for its March issue. When it was alleged on Tuesday that Roiphe was intending to name the creator of the Shitty Men in Media list — an anonymized spreadsheet of mostly New York media men and their various sexual offenses that was live for less than one day in October, and on which my feelings are very clear (it ruled) — the feminist internet rightly erupted. Here we had a non-journalist at a legacy magazine who doesn’t believe in rape doxxing the creator of a spreadsheet so filled with radioactive information that it sent an industry into a moral panic? Not good.

This is a pretty good parable for how media has been for the last 50-odd years.

By now you are likely aware with how this story has ended, at least for the time being. Last night Moira Donegan, a former editor at the New Republic, revealed herself as the creator of the spreadsheet in an immediately viral essay for The Cut. Donegan’s essay was a brave and brilliant move, scooping Harper’s and pouring egg on Roiphe’s face while frankly discussing the rationality behind the List and how her life has changed since she created it. She also revealed Roiphe to be a liar. In a Wednesday Times article about the drama, Roiphe said that she didn’t know the identity of the List’s creator, but Donegan quotes an email sent to her from a Harper’s fact-checker: “Katie identifies you as a woman widely believed to be one of the creators of the Shitty Men in Media list.”

This microdrama gives us all a lot to mull, so I am going to focus on one main thing, which is that Harper’s completely fucking blew it. They first fucked themselves when they hired Roiphe to write this piece, and then fucked themselves harder in their response to the irate readers expressing concern over Roiphe’s intentions and Donegan’s welfare. Instead of listening to readers’ concerns about the nonconsensual revelation of Donegan’s identity, Harper’s immediately went on the defensive. In a statement to Folio magazine on Wednesday, a Harper’s rep who, ironically, remains anonymous, said: “We find it disturbing that voices from the bog are criticizing and issuing threats over a piece that they have not yet read and is not even finalized. We look forward to talking about what is and is not in the piece when it is published.”

Good god. Voices from the bog? I literally have not stopped laughing since reading this statement yesterday. Twitter, yes, is a complicated medium invented by Silicon Valley sadists to make creative people work for free, but it’s also been a force for good, especially during this nationwide sexual-assault reckoning. As I’ve argued before, social media has played a large role in democratizing the media, making it less of a nepotistic clusterfuck — a place that rewards and promotes people like Katie Roiphe — and more of a meritocracy (there are bad things and good things about this shift, but I mostly hope that it prevents another John Podhoretz from happening).

Good god. Voices from the bog?

So for Harper’s, the publisher of which has been infamously grumpy about the internet, to haughtily dismiss out-of-hand the angry statements of hundreds of people as “voices from the bog,” well, that basically tells you all you need to know. Harper’s just said to any potential young, new subscriber who learned through this brouhaha that the publication is different from Harper’s Bazaar: We hate you, we’re better than you, go fuck yourself. (Roiphe, for her part, dismissed the outcry to the Times as “Twitter hysteria” and then created an account expressly to respond to it. As of this writing she has 250 followers.)

It’s really not that hard to take people on the internet seriously and admit it when you’ve fucked up instead of trying to hide in the fusty fortress of your legacy publication. It’s shit like this that makes it very difficult for me to feel bad about how people don’t buy magazines anymore. I suppose we will have to wait until March to see what thoughts Roiphe’s raisin brain actually formed about sexual assault in the modern day; by that time I will probably have forgotten about this entire thing, as everyone will have forgotten, once again, about Harper’s.

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