On Wednesday afternoon, The New York Times announced that Glenn Thrush—its star White House correspondent who has been suspended over sexual harassment allegations—would return to the paper in two months, though in a new role.
The announcement followed the conclusion of an internal investigation into Thrush’s behavior that was conducted after Vox’s Laura McGann published a story which included numerous allegations of inappropriate conduct by Thrush from young female journalists—one of whom was McGann herself. Here is how McGann described Thrush’s behavior:
Three young women I interviewed, including the young woman who met Thrush in June, described to me a range of similar experiences, from unwanted groping and kissing to wet kisses out of nowhere to hazy sexual encounters that played out under the influence of alcohol. Each woman described feeling differently about these experiences: scared, violated, ashamed, weirded out. I was — and am — angry.
Details of their stories suggest a pattern. All of the women were in their 20s at the time. They were relatively early in their careers compared to Thrush, who was the kind of seasoned journalist who would be good to know. At an event with alcohol, he made advances. Afterward, they (as I did) thought it best to stay on good terms with Thrush, whatever their feelings.
Times executive editor Dean Baquet sent out the following statement on Wednesday about the decision to reinstate Thrush:
We have completed our investigation into Glenn Thrush’s behavior, which included dozens of interviews with people both inside and outside the newsroom. We found that Glenn has behaved in ways that we do not condone.
While we believe that Glenn has acted offensively, we have decided that he does not deserve to be fired. Instead, we have suspended him for two months and removed him from the White House beat. He will receive training designed to improve his workplace conduct. In addition, Glenn is undergoing counseling and substance abuse rehabilitation on his own. We will reinstate him as a reporter on a new beat upon his return.
We understand that our colleagues and the public at large are grappling with what constitutes sexually offensive behavior in the workplace and what consequences are appropriate. It is an important debate with far-reaching consequences that we helped spark with our journalism and that we’ve been reflecting on internally as well.
Each case has to be evaluated based on individual circumstances. We believe this is an appropriate response to Glenn’s situation.
The Times is committed not only to our leading coverage of this issue but also to ensuring that we provide a working environment where all of our colleagues feel respected, safe and supported.
It’s noteworthy that the bulk of this statement grapples with Thrush and what the appropriate punishment should be for his behavior, rather than what the Times is doing to protect women against sexual harassment at the company. In regards to the latter question, the statement simply says, “The Times is committed not only to our leading coverage of this issue but also to ensuring that we provide a working environment where all of our colleagues feel respected, safe and supported.”
Missing are any details as to how they are doing this. For example, what if a young female journalist is uncomfortable working with Thrush on the new beat he is assigned to? Will she feel supported enough to speak up, challenging one of the paper’s star reporters? And if she does, what will the Times do?
One of the allegations in the Vox piece that many readers found particularly troubling was that while at Politico, Thrush would disparage the women he approached to other coworkers. As McGann wrote, Thrush “would talk up a night out drinking with a young attractive woman, usually a journalist. Then he’d claim that she came onto him.” When this happened to McGann, she had “a nagging sense that I just wasn’t as respected as I used to be” and started to think “maybe I shouldn’t be in journalism if I couldn’t hang in a tough newsroom.” How is the Times tackling this type of culture, which is much less clear-cut, but can be quite damaging to a young female reporter’s career? Baquet didn’t say.
Is the Times doing anything to examine how sexism might affect their political coverage? Baquet also made no mention of this. And what message does the decision send to the journalists at the paper whose work directly led to the #MeToo moment we are now in?
Splinter reached out to the Times to ask about these issues and more (we’ve included all of the questions below). The Times declined to comment on Thrush or the investigation beyond its original statement. But a spokesperson for the paper wrote in an email, “Regarding your other questions, The Times is committed to maintaining a professional working environment for all Company employees that is free from harassment, any form of discrimination, or unwelcome conduct. We take allegations of harassment seriously and encourage any employee who believes he or she has been the target of misconduct to report it through one of many channels available, including an anonymous hotline. As a matter of policy, we investigate all complaints.”
The spokesperson also mentioned that Baquet had sent a company-wide note accompanying the statement that included “a broader message to employees about how the company treats allegations of harassment.”
Splinter obtained a copy of this note, which stated only the following in addition to Baquet’s statement that went out to the public (we’ve redacted the number of the paper’s internal hotline):
We have concluded our investigation into allegations against Glenn Thrush. We’re issuing a statement this afternoon and I wanted to share it with you first. This was a difficult decision and I’m sure there will be plenty of questions. If anyone wants to discuss further, please reach out to me, Joe [Kahn, the managing editor] or any other editor on the masthead.
And, as a reminder, the company treats every allegation of sexual harassment with seriousness. If you have any concerns please reach out to your manager or senior level supervisor, your HR or Labor representative or call our Employee Hotline: [REDACTED] (in North America) [REDACTED] (collect – outside North America).
Again, these responses fail to detail any specifics about how the Times will tackle sexual harassment as a structural problem. Despite a month-long investigation into Thrush, there is no sign that the company has seriously grappled with the very issues that the paper has reported extensively on—not only with Harvey Weinstein himself, but at Ford factories and at hotels; in the literary world and the comedy world; and at the Met Opera and the New York City Ballet, among other places.
There have been other public signs that the paper is ill-equipped to handle sexism within its own ranks. As many have pointed out, the reaction of Times reporters to the Thrush investigation and the Vox story, as detailed by reporting in Vanity Fair, reveal existing sexist currents within the company:
And the same day that the Times made its announcement about Thrush, the paper published a piece by opinion columnist Bret Stephens titled “When #MeToo Goes Too Far.” In it, Stephens bemoans the “professional decapitation” of men accused of offenses lesser than sexual assault—naming Thrush among them. Again, the primary concern is the careers and reputations of a few men; figuring out how to protect women from harassment and abuse in a sexist society takes a backseat.
The Times’ own reporting over the last few months has shown that sexual harassment is an intrinsic problem at almost every institution. Yet it is not clear what it plans to do about it at its own company.
Here is the full list of questions I sent the Times:
- What systems do you have in place to protect women from harassment? Are you instating any new policies after the Thrush investigation?
- What is the NYT’s policy if someone feels uncomfortable and doesn’t want to work with Thrush when he is reassigned to his new beat?
- One allegation in the Vox coverage was that while at Politico, Thrush frequently disparaged young women he harassed to coworkers. Does the NYT have any policies on how they will combat this type of culture?
- Are you doing anything to improve upon and investigate the ways in which sexism might affect your political coverage?
- Non-consensual groping, one of the allegations against Thrush, is often a criminal act. Did the NYT take this into account when they made their decision?
- What message does it send to the Times journalists who have done so much to expose harassment at work to keep Thrush at the paper?
- What beat will Thrush be reassigned to?