Harper’s finds itself enduring a torrent of criticism today related to speculation over an article the magazine says nobody has read yet.
The firestorm began yesterday afternoon, when Dayna Tortorici, editor of literary mag n+1, tweeted that a “legacy print magazine” was planning to publish a piece outing the identity of the woman who put together the “Shitty Media Men” list—an online spreadsheet naming men in the media industry alleged to have engaged in harassment or other misconduct, which raced around media circles in October and November (several of the men listed have since resigned or been removed from their posts, while others have denied wrongdoing).
Tortorici later named the publication as Harper’s, and others quickly deduced that the writer of the upcoming article is Katie Roiphe, an author perhaps most notable for her polarizing 1993 book, “The Morning After,” concerning date rape on college campuses. In correspondence with reporters, Roiphe claims that the article will not name anyone who participated in creating the spreadsheet.
Regardless, Twitter took Harper’s’ refusal to comment on the content of an unpublished piece as tantamount to confirmation of the rumors, and by Tuesday evening calls for a boycott of the magazine had reached other writers slated to contribute to the title’s upcoming issues, several of whom pledged to withdraw their pieces should the speculation surrounding Roiphe’s piece prove to be true.
“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,” a Harper’s rep tells Folio:. “We look forward to talking about what is and is not in the piece when it is published.”
The rep did not respond to a follow up question about whether Harper’s intended to address the criticism any further or whether it could confirm or deny that the piece will indeed identify anyone involved in creating the list.
Call it a decidedly 21st-century controversy for the 167-year-old monthly publication. Revealing the identities of those behind the spreadsheet would be an unequivocally irresponsible move—one which could endanger not only their careers, but possibly even their wellbeing. Unless, of course, those behind the spreadsheet are actively cooperating with Roiphe’s piece. That’s sort of the thing about pre-emptive social media firestorms—there is so much that we simply don’t know.
But if the piece does not turn out to be the salacious revelation it’s rumored to be, it’s still understandable why Harper’s would be reluctant to break the near-universal precedent of magazines not commenting on pieces before they’re published. Sticking to that policy, however, could mean leaving the title defenseless to weeks of round-the-clock criticism until the article actually goes to press.
For now, it seems any further revelations about the story’s content will have to come from Roiphe, herself. Until then, we’ll just have to wait and see; the March issue of Harper’s hits newsstands February 27th.
Update: Wednesday evening, writer and editor Moira Donegan revealed herself as the creator of the “Shitty Media Men” list. In an essay on NY Mag‘s The Cut, Donegan writes:
This escalated when I learned Katie Roiphe would be publishing my name in a forthcoming piece in Harper’s magazine. In early December, Roiphe had emailed me to ask if I wanted to comment for a Harper’s story she was writing on the “feminist moment.” She did not say that she knew I had created the spreadsheet. I declined and heard nothing more from Roiphe or Harper’s until I received an email from a fact checker with questions about Roiphe’s piece. “Katie identifies you as a woman widely believed to be one of the creators of the Shitty Men in Media List,” the fact checker wrote. “Were you involved in creating the list? If not, how would you respond to this allegation?” The next day, a controversy ensued on Twitter after Roiphe’s intention to reveal my identity was made public. People who opposed the decision by Harper’s speculated about what would happen to me as a result of being identified. They feared that I would be threatened, stalked, raped, or killed. The outrage made it seem inevitable that my identity would be exposed even before the Roiphe piece ran. All of this was terrifying. I still don’t know what kind of future awaits me now that I’ve stopped hiding.
Harper’s has also said more, telling WWD among others that Roiphe’s piece “is not outing anyone.” It’s worth noting that, thanks to Donegan’s post, it seems there is no one left to out.