Ben Smith: “No editor, reporter or newsroom is without sin — and yet we’re all in the business of throwing stones from our glass houses.”

From a Ben Smith story in the New York Times headlined “Did Hearst’s Culture Kill Hearst’s Biggest Magazine Story?”:

One evening in August 2018, Maximillian Potter, then a writer for Esquire magazine, was sitting in a restaurant in California’s inland empire, trying to persuade a man in his 30s to share his memories of rape and abuse at the hands of powerful men in Hollywood in the late 1990s.

Mr. Potter ordered a glass of wine — and instantly regretted it. The other man at the table had given up alcohol but seemed so shaken that Mr. Potter worried he might trigger a relapse.

The dinner came toward the end of a year of reporting by Mr. Potter and a fellow investigative journalist, Alex French, on allegations against Bryan Singer, the director of “The Usual Suspects,” “X-Men” and “Superman Returns.” Mr. Potter assured his reluctant interview subject that he — and the powerful media company behind him, Hearst Communications — would have his back.

But Mr. Potter was not following the intricate corporate succession drama taking place inside the Hearst Tower, a 21st-century skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan built atop the Hearst Building, a 1928 structure commissioned by the press baron William Randolph Hearst.

There, Hearst’s chief executive officer, Steven R. Swartz, had been trying to get to the bottom of complaints about the workplace conduct of Troy Young, the company’s first head of digital media and a leading candidate to take over the magazine group. . . .

Under Mr. Young, Hearst Magazines did not only have a difficult workplace environment; it also may not have been the ideal company to back an ambitious investigative project like the one Mr. Potter and Mr. French had been working on for Esquire. . . .

This is not to say that media organizations wrestling with internal cultural issues — as virtually all are — cannot publish important work. Virtuous journalists do not always come up with worthy articles. No editor, reporter or newsroom is without sin — and yet we’re all in the business of throwing stones from our glass houses.

But for many reporters who have covered the media industry’s recent bouts of self-examination, the issue of who, exactly, decides which subjects merit journalistic investigation is at the heart of the matter.

“For generations, the abuses of power we loosely group under #metoo were considered a private matter, rarely newsworthy,” Irin Carmon, a senior correspondent for New York Magazine, said. “It’s not coincidental that those terms were set by powerful men who often had their own skeletons to hide and the incentive to protect each other.”

She added, “It’s damning that Hearst would promote someone with multiple documented complaints against them in the middle of a national reckoning about the same behavior — it really speaks to what, and who, actually matters at the top there.”

Hearst executives, speaking anonymously, hotly disputed the notion that Mr. Young’s workplace issues had spilled into the company’s journalism. He was, they said, focused on salvaging Hearst’s advertising business, which has battled the same headwinds as the rest of the media industry.

As Ms. Robertson and I reported, Hearst executives described Mr. Young’s behavior as part and parcel of sharp-elbowed digital disruption, while hinting that his detractors were tired print editors unable to get the hang of the internet.

Shrinking businesses make for bitter workplaces, and it’s true that Mr. Young shifted Hearst away from the freewheeling era of glossy print journalism toward the new reality of clicks and algorithms. But I’ve never seen crude talk as part of the digital transformation.

In recent months, Mr. Young tried and failed to keep alive a valuable print publication, O: The Oprah Magazine, which Hearst had published in conjunction with Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Entertainment Group since 2000. Ms. Winfrey has decided to discontinue it as a print magazine. . . .

As media companies go, Hearst is discreet, without the frequent public dramas besetting its more glamorous rival, Condé Nast, and even this newspaper. Perhaps for that reason, its executive comings and goings have not attracted much scrutiny. The highest profile recent departure before Mr. Young’s was probably that of Mr. Fielden, the editor who lost the fight to publish the Singer story.

On the day he left the company in May 2019, he posed for a photograph that captured him striding out of the Hearst Tower while dressed impeccably and carrying four luxury-brand bags. The image, an immediate Instagram hit, subjected him to one of Twitter’s great roastings, and The Cut declared him a “fancy man.” The last thing the photo projected was an editor who had taken a professional risk for the cause of journalism.

But Mr. Fielden ignored pressure from above to prevent the story from appearing elsewhere, according to three people with knowledge of what happened, and had encouraged The Atlantic’s Mr. Goldberg to take it.

“I told Jay that if we publish a version of this story, it could be embarrassing for Esquire and it could get him in trouble,” Mr. Goldberg recalled.

In the end, Mr. Goldberg added, Mr. Fielden “stood up for his writers, and he stood up for a story that was true, and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves for doing that.”

Ben Smith is the media columnist. He joined The Times in 2020 after eight years as founding editor in chief of BuzzFeed News. Before that, he covered politics for Politico, The New York Daily News, The New York Observer and The New York Sun. Email: [email protected] @benyt

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