The Washington Post suspended reporter Joel Achenbach on Wednesday for what it called “inappropriate workplace conduct” involving current and former female colleagues.
Achenbach, a veteran reporter, is the first Post journalist to be disciplined for misconduct of this kind since a wave of sexual-harassment allegations began roiling through news outlets and other organizations in the wake of revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in early October.
The Post said Achenbach would be suspended for 90 days without pay, the most severe newsroom punishment the paper has handed out in recent years for violations of its workplace or journalistic standards. His suspension began immediately.
The paper’s top news managers declined to describe Achenbach’s misconduct in detail and said the investigation into his behavior took two months.
“We have investigated the allegations made against Joel, and based on the facts that The Post has gathered to date we have placed him on a 90-day disciplinary suspension for inappropriate workplace conduct,” Managing Editor Tracy Grant said in a statement. “The Washington Post is committed to providing a safe and respectful work environment for all employees. We will continue to investigate any allegations that come to light and will take further action if necessary.”
Grant declined to comment further, citing privacy reasons.
Achenbach also would not elaborate in an interview on Wednesday. He instead referred to a statement: “I’m very sorry to say that I’ve behaved badly and have been suspended by The Post for three months for inappropriate workplace conduct. I’ve said and done things that were unprofessional, and I apologize to the women affected by this and acknowledge their courage in speaking out.” He added that he found The Post’s disciplinary process fair and cooperated with it.
A memorandum Grant sent to Achenbach spelling out the terms of his suspension doesn’t include details of the allegations against him. It said, however, that the disciplinary action was based on interviews with current and former colleagues and with Achenbach himself. It also said he admitted engaging in the conduct in question and that he would face further punishment, including the possible termination of his employment, if new information or allegations arise.
A copy of the memo was sent to the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, Local 32035, which represents Post newsroom employees in labor-management negotiations.
Achenbach, 57, is one of The Post’s longest-serving and most versatile writers. He joined the paper in 1990 from the Miami Herald and has worked for the Style section, Sunday magazine, Outlook section and National staff. He started the paper’s first online-only column, called “Rough Draft,” and with “Achenblog” was among the paper’s earliest bloggers. For the past decade, he has covered science news and features. Achenbach has also written for National Geographic magazine and published several books, including an account of the BP oil spilled titled, “A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher.”
The Post has been among the leading publications in reporting on workplace harassment since the New York Times published its first exposé on Weinstein three months ago. The Post broke several stories about misconduct by public figures, most prominently Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican Senate candidate who was accused of sexually inappropriate behavior with teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Moore lost a special runoff election in December to Democrat Doug Jones.
A number of figures in journalism, government and entertainment have lost their careers and reputations in the wake of the Weinstein story, including TV hosts Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), political pundit Mark Halperin, actor Kevin Spacey and radio legend Garrison Keillor.
The Post’s decision to suspend rather than fire Achenbach mirrors the Times’s disciplinary action against its White House reporter, Glenn Thrush, who was suspended for two months and removed from covering the president following a lengthy investigation of misconduct that occurred when he was a reporter at Politico.