On Wednesday, a highly qualified woman editor who left journalism in 2015 wrote a blog post detailing the shitty work environment that lead to her departure and the impossibility of succeeding within a system quite literally designed for women and POC to fail. The unfortunate thing is how utterly unremarkable the story is, as it outlines nearly the exact same experience of countless other women attempting to explain how things went so wrong for them in a work environment that loudly champions “diversity,” in theory.
Jennifer Barnett, former managing editor at The Atlantic, wrote a blog post at Medium explaining her departure from the “top of the masthead of one of the most prestigious and respected publications with more than a 150-year-old history.” In it, Barnett details how her (unnamed in the post) boss launched a campaign to freeze her out of work decisions, events, and meetings when he wasn’t loudly berating her in front of the staff for taking issue with his violation of journalistic ethics and poor treatment of other staff members.
Though she omits his name, it’s clear that Barnett means James Bennet, most recently in the news for “resigning” from his position at The New York Times after publishing an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton calling for government-sponsored violence against Black Lives Matter protests. But before he published a fascist polemic that he admittedly had not even read, Barnett says her “boss had a rage problem” that he often took out on women employees, including his assistant and herself:
“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,” Barnett wrote. “But when I needed to see him for business crucial to the magazine, he’d yell at me. Loudly, and with rage.” In the post, she notes several instances where she says saw Bennet behave similarly to at least two other women employees while simultaneously scheduling alcohol-heavy work meetings outside working hours when women with families would have difficulty attending, and literally shutting the door in her face in order to lock her out of his meetings with her staff, all sexist-but-common industry practices that The Atlantic condemned in its own “Women at Work” reporting.
But the incident that forced Barnett to resign, she writes, was Bennet’s alleged behind-the-scenes meddling in a piece the magazine published that was critical of his father, who was once president of Wesleyan University. The clash over Bennet’s behavior, which Barnett told The Washington Post in 2019 was “abusive” was presented by the paper as a “he said/she said” involving Bennet, who was painted as complicated rather than unethical. The following year, Bennet would make headlines again for the Tom Cotton piece.
But despite public missteps and what sounds like privately just being an incompetent nightmare of a person, Barnett says her former boss will likely be taking a job as a writer for The Atlantic under a publisher who seems to believe only men are good enough writers to produce “10,000-word cover stories.”
If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it absolutely is. In my one year as a staff writer at Jezebel, I’ve reported on similar workplace abuses twice, and the men involved have either moved on to even more lucrative gigs or laid low long enough for the controversy to die down before going right back to being exactly the kinds of shitbag bosses they were before anyone called them out on it while a large percentage of the women I interviewed have left the industry. And these are stories where the call is coming from inside the house—media companies that publicly champion their women and POC employees while privately treating them like garbage. If it is this bad for people in the industry supposedly leading the charge on changing the workplace, the stories no one is telling from other industries must be just as awful as they have always been.