Leon Wieseltier, who served for three showy decades as the literary editor of the New Republic, recently apologized for mistreating women during his time at the thought magazine. “For my offenses against some of my colleagues in the past I offer a shaken apology and ask for their forgiveness. The women with whom I worked are smart and good people. I am ashamed to know that I made any of them feel demeaned and disrespected. I assure them I will not waste this reckoning,” said Wieseltier, whose about-to-launch literary magazine was killed by Laurene Powell Jobs’s Emerson Collective over his past.
Former New Republic staffer Michelle Cottle added a great deal of reporting to Wieseltier’s awfulness, with a first-person piece that included the experience of others who’d been hunted by the New Republic’s eminence blanche. “A common refrain I’ve heard as women have been dragged back into their memories: Whatever else he was aiming for, Leon delighted in making young women sexually uncomfortable,” wrote Cottle.
Now we are learning more. Sarah Wildman, who worked at the New Republic in her mid-20s as an assistant editor, has written a first-person account of a Wieseltier outrage. After work, at a bar, Wieseltier “cornered me, alone by the bathroom, and put his mouth on mine. I clapped my hand over my mouth in surprise. ‘I’ve always known you’d do that,’ I recall he said,” writes Wildman of the 2002 incident.
Compare that shameful action with the disgraceful inaction that followed. She at the time told editor Peter Beinart, who issued this statement to Vox:
Fifteen years ago, Sarah Wildman brought a deeply troubling incident regarding Leon Wieseltier to my attention. I was not Leon’s boss. We both served under Marty Peretz, the owner and editor in chief. Feeling I had a legal obligation to report the incident, I informed Marty and insisted that he come to Washington to tell Leon that such behavior was unacceptable. The three of us met but Marty did not take meaningful action. I am not saying this to exonerate myself. I should have done far more. I was complicit in an institutional culture that lacked professional procedures regarding sexual harassment, and which victimized women, including women I considered friends. I will always be ashamed of that, and will ensure that I am never similarly complicit again.
Peretz, who is no longer the magazine’s owner, denies that Beinart reported the incident to him. And he said, “I don’t remember Sarah Wildman.”
Prepare to boil over as you read the details in Wildman’s piece, especially the part where someone — maybe Beinart — advises her to tell Wieseltier about her complaint, “lest he be caught unaware.” Here’s how that went: “It proved an awful idea. Wieseltier was cold. He wanted to know why. As in: Why would I have said anything? In my recollection, he told me that I was acting like a child. In the moment, I felt like one. I had spoken, I said feebly, because I had felt uncomfortable,” writes Wildman.
The first-person account resists abridgment; read it. To the credit of Wildman and Vox, it combines the power of a first-person essay with the reportorial rigor required of a story presenting allegations regarding the conduct of journalists. And it gloriously targets the round of shocked reactions from New Republic types when the Wieseltier story broke. This is still a developing story.