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Arianna Huffington Ignored Sexual Misconduct at The Huffington Post

Arianna Huffington Ignored Sexual Misconduct at The Huffington Post
From Deadspin - November 14, 2017

When Susan Fowler rocked Ubers world with a meticulous account of the companys sexual harassment and gender discrimination issues, the ride-sharing service turned to its only female board member to help clean up its culture (and its image). Arianna Huffington was perfectly poised to position herself as the feminist savior who would advocate for Ubers womenshe oversaw the subsequent Eric Holder investigation, and promised that no brilliant jerks will be allowed, and no one will be protected because they are top performers. But being a powerful woman with a stake in a company, and its profits, doesnt mean Huffington was actually the best choice to champion women struggling to make their voices heard.

Huffingtons well-documented history of fostering a toxic work culture, and failing to address inappropriate behavior from a brilliant jerk in her own midst, calls into question the sincerity behind her pledge to help bring positive change to Ubers culture. Most notably, her history with a former managing editor whose transfer to launch HuffPost India was later revealed to be result of an HR investigation into whether he had sexually harassed multiple young women in the New York office. Gizmodo recently revisited those allegations and not only independently confirmed that the investigation was indeed the reason for that managing editors transfer, but that Huffington knew about his actions before they were reported to HR, according to a former employee with direct knowledge of the investigation.

Huffingtons past bears revisiting not only because of her role at Uber, but also because of the recent wave of allegations about inappropriate workplace behavior. It is important to note that oftentimes, harassers in positions of power can continue to engage in sexual misconduct without consequence due to the complicity of those in their professional sphere. And that includes women. Harvey Weinstein, for instance, had women in his inner circle that enabled his behavior. But in those cases, these women were hindered by the disproportionate power dynamics, keeping the secret of their superior at the risk of losing their job or jeopardizing their career.

But you cant make the argument that Huffingtons job security was imperiled. She was at the top. By turning a blind eye, she bore ultimate responsibility for any issues that arose under her leadership. While she may proclaim herself afeminist, her failure to foster a safe work environment for women junior to her makes that proclamation empty and seemingly simply a tool to further her brand and her career. There is baffling hypocrisy in asserting that a healthy work environment is crucial when you have willfully ignored a toxic culture that thrived under your leadership. Huffington had the power to set an examplebut she didnt.

In May of 2014, Huffington sent a laudatory memo to her then staff at the Huffington Post about the promotion of one of her most trusted lieutenants Jimmy Soni, the then-managing editor at the Huffington Post and widely seen as her favorite among the editorial leadership team. Huffington announced to her employees that Soni would be leaving to launch HuffPost India in New Delhi, a surprising move since he had been promoted to managing editor in January 2012 with no direct background in editorial and after serving as Huffingtons chief of staff for just nine months.

Not publicly known at that time was why Soni was suddenly being sent abroad and away from the newsroom. A few months later Gawker revealed that the transfer was likely the result of an HR investigation into whether Soni was sexually harassing young women while he oversaw the newsroom.

Given Huffingtons new role as Ubers toxic culture clean-up consultant, Gizmodo spoke with nine Huffington Post employees, current and former, who spoke under the condition of anonymity because they continue to work in media and fear retaliation from Huffington.A former employee with direct knowledge of the investigation not only independently confirmed that the investigation was indeed the reason for Sonis transfer, but that Huffington 100 percent knew about Sonis actions before they were reported to HR. Another employee in a senior leadership role at that time also confirmed Huffingtons direct knowledge of Sonis harassing behavior before she sent out the memo, in which Huffington called it a dream of Jimmys, as both his parents were born and raised there. Huffington also noted in the memo that it was great for the company that Soni would be the one spearheading such a significant launch.

Gizmodo has also independently confirmed just what Huffington would likely have known regarding Sonis reputation in the newsroom and the ensuing allegations against him. Soni selected the individuals for HuffPosts Editorial Fellows program, and reportedly saw this program as a way to find a romantic partner. According to Gawker, when an editor reportedly pointed out to Soni that the group of fellows was predominantly white, blonde women, Soni reportedly responded in a semi-joking manner, Yeah, Im using it to find myself a wife.

One former staffer said that on one or two occasions while Soni was managing editor, he tried to kiss or make-out with her. She also added that when Soni took over as managing editor,s**t hit the fan, and that he created a toxic work environment, enforcing unrealistic goals and working everyone tirelessly. Allies became enemies, enemies became allies. It was a mess. She described Huffington as someone who may value portraying herself as a feminist, but ultimately prioritizes a ruthless work ethic over issues of sexual harassment, or what she believed Huffington viewed as the softer side of things. She added that Huffington thinks those things can be swept under the rug, but earnings cant be, noting that everything for her is about the optics. In response to Huffingtons recent Uber tour, she called Huffington a major hypocrite.

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