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‘Media Men’ lawsuit ends in six-figure settlement

Stephen Elliott, above, sued Moira Donegan and others in 2018, seeking at least $1.5 million in damages for defamation. (Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images)
3 min

Author Stephen Elliott has agreed to a six-figure settlement in the “Media Men” defamation lawsuit he brought against columnist Moira Donegan and others in 2018. The suit arose from a notorious 2017 spreadsheet created by Donegan in the early #MeToo era that anonymously accused prominent men in the media industry of sexual misconduct.

“The Adderall Diaries” author filed the lawsuit through the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in October 2018, seeking at least $1.5 million in damages after an anonymous contributor accused him of rape, sexual harassment, coercion and unsolicited invitations to his apartment. The parties dismissed the case, which was the first known legal action pursued by a man named in the document, on Friday, according to court records.

“There’s some closure here,” Elliott wrote in an emailed statement to The Washington Post. “It’s enough money that it’s basically an admission of guilt and it feels like a victory.”

Elliott added that his life was “permanently changed” as a result of the rape accusation, which he said resulted in him being fired by his agent and not writing or teaching anymore, as well as losing most of the friends and connections he formed throughout his 20-plus-year career in the literary world.

The complaint against Donegan and up to 30 others who contributed to the list, identified as Jane Does 1-30, argued that the allegations that targeted Elliott were “unsubstantiated.” “The inflammatory false statements published in the List were abusive, vulgar, intentionally misleading as well as damning to the Plaintiff’s reputation and good name,” the complaint stated.

Elliott was one of more than 70 men named on the crowdsourced list, which went viral online in October 2017. The Google spreadsheet accused men from publications such as the New Yorker, BuzzFeed and the New York Times of a range of wrongdoings, from “creepy DMs,” or direct messages, to sexual harassment. The names of men accused of “physical sexual violence by multiple women” were highlighted in red.

“The anonymous, crowdsourced document was a first attempt at solving what has seemed like an intractable problem: how women can protect ourselves from sexual harassment and assault,” Donegan wrote in a Cut essay in which she identified herself as the maker of the list.

The list was meant to be private and “a place for women to share their stories of harassment and assault without being needlessly discredited or judged,” Donegan wrote, but within hours of its inception, “it spread much further and much faster than I ever anticipated.”

Donegan took down the list after 12 hours, but it had already been shared widely in media circles. It was posted on Reddit and publicly revealed in an Oct. 12, 2017, BuzzFeed article. (Donegan’s attorney, Gabrielle Tenzer, did not respond to a request for comment.)

Elliott, in his recent statement, called the list a “false accusation machine” and “inherently evil, and indefensible.”

Because the case was dismissed in the settlement, Elliott’s accuser’s identity hasn’t been revealed, but Elliott believes it was a woman he fired from the Rumpus, a literary journal he founded.

“I don’t really care who put me on the list. That wasn’t the point,” Elliott wrote. “I was suing Moira and she was the only person I meant to sue. Whoever put me on that list is deeply disturbed and Moira was taking advantage of people like that.”

“I am glad the lawsuit is over,” Elliott added. “I filed the lawsuit for moral reasons. I felt there was a moral obligation, and I don’t regret that at all.”