In October, a spreadsheet made its way into the inboxes of women in the media industry. The list of names, titled “S‑‑‑ty Media Men,” provided a disclaimer: “This document is only a collection of misconduct allegations and rumors.”
“Take everything with a grain of salt,” it added. “If you see a man you’re friends with, don’t freak out.”
On the list were men from major newspapers, publishing companies and literary magazines. The allegations against them ranged from “flirting,” to “weird lunch ‘dates’,” to accusations of drugging, sexual assault and rape. Circulated about a week after the New York Times revealed decades of allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein, the media men list was intended as a whisper network, an alternative outlet for women to report inappropriate behavior — and warn others in the same circles.
Women could edit the list anonymously and were told never to share the document with a man. The list’s creator never meant for it to go public. But inevitably, it did. It was described in a BuzzFeed article, and later posted in full on Reddit. It was attacked in commentaries as irresponsible. Soon enough, the list — more so than the accusations — became the story.
For months, the creator of the controversial list remained a mystery to the general public. Then, this week, writers and editors on Twitter advised that Harper’s magazine was planning to reveal her identity in an upcoming article. Women in the industry rushed to try to protect the creator, worried she would become endangered by threats if she were outed.
Then, late Wednesday night, a lengthy piece was published in New York magazine’s the Cut website.
“I Started the Media Men List,” the essay’s title reads. “My name is Moira Donegan.”
Donegan, a former editor at the New Republic, wrote that she created the list for women to share their accounts of workplace misconduct “without being needlessly discredited or judged.” Many of the women who used the spreadsheet were, like Donegan, vulnerable — young and new to the industry.
Moira Donegan was hired at the New Republic in April as an assistant editor for cultural coverage. Before that, she was an associate editor for the literary magazine n+1. Her work has appeared in the New Republic, the London Review of Books and the New Yorker.
“Without legal authority or professional power, it offered an impartial, rather than adversarial, tool to those who used it,” Donegan wrote about the list. “It was intended specifically not to inflict consequences, not to be a weapon — and yet, once it became public, many people immediately saw it as exactly that.”
The list spread “much further and much faster than I ever anticipated,” Donegan said, adding that she was “naive” in thinking it wouldn’t go viral. She took the document offline after about 12 hours, when she learned that a BuzzFeed article would be making its existence public.
“I had imagined a document that would assemble the collective, unspoken knowledge of sexual misconduct that was shared by the women in my circles,” she wrote. “What I got instead was a much broader reckoning with abuses of power that spanned an industry.”
Donegan acknowledged that the spreadsheet was “vulnerable to false accusations, a concern I took seriously.”
The spreadsheet led to a number of investigations in news outlets, and even some firings of men listed. It also created drastic changes in Donegan’s life, she wrote. She lost friends. She also lost her job, she said.
“The fear of being exposed, and of the harassment that will inevitably follow, has dominated my life since,” Donegan wrote. “I’ve learned that protecting women is a position that comes with few protections itself.”
She decided to out herself after she learned writer Katie Roiphe would be publishing her name in the March issue of Harper’s. Donegan said Roiphe had emailed her in December requesting a comment for a story she was writing, but did not reveal that she knew Donegan was the creator of the list. Donegan declined.
This week, she received an email from a fact-checker who said Roiphe identifies her “as a woman widely believed to be one of the creators” of the spreadsheet, and asked for a response. On Tuesday, Roiphe’s intention to write the article was made public on Twitter.
Dayna Tortorici, the editor of n+1 magazine, tweeted that she had learned a “legacy print magazine” was planning to publish an article revealing the identity of the creator.
“All I can say is: don’t,” Tortorici said. “The risk of doxing is high. It’s not the right thing to do.”
Then, writer Nicole Cliffe tweeted that she learned the piece would be written by Roiphe for Harper’s. If this were true, she said, “the backlash is well and truly here and it will NOT be pretty.” She urged writers with an upcoming piece in Harper’s to pull their work from the magazine in an act of protest. She even offered to pay the writers the amount of money they would lose.
By Wednesday afternoon, Cliffe had pledged to pay more than $19,000 to writers who pulled their stories from Harper’s, the New York Times reported. Five writers were said to have pulled stories slotted for upcoming issues of the magazine, according to the Times.
The writer Jessica Valenti tweeted she was one of the dozens of women who contributed to the list. “If someone comes for the woman who started the list,” she said, “they better be ready to come for us all.”
In a statement to the Times and the Atlantic, Roiphe said she would not be revealing the identity of the list’s creator.
“I am looking forward to talking about what is actually in the piece when it actually comes out,” Roiphe said. “I am not ‘outing’ anyone. I have to say it’s a little disturbing that anyone besides Trump views Twitter as a reliable news source.”
A spokeswoman for Harper’s told the Times that just because a fact-checker reached out to Donegan did not mean her name was ever going to be included in the final version.
Roiphe has previously provoked controversy among feminists for her writing, particularly for her 1993 piece in the New York Times Magazine pushing back against the feminist portrait of the “so-called rape epidemic” on college campuses.
After Donegan unveiled her identity Wednesday night, women rallied around her on social media, describing her efforts as courageous and validating.
Still, others wrote that the controversy over Donegan’s list provided evidence of a backlash against the “#MeToo” movement.
An essay by Daphne Merkin in the New York Times last week said many women, including “long-standing feminists,” share private misgivings about the “unnuanced sense of outrage” over the flood of accusations against men. On Tuesday, 100 prominent French women — including the actress Catherine Deneuve — signed an commentary saying that they have had enough with France’s version of the #MeToo campaign.
The Harper’s controversy, Megan Garber wrote in the Atlantic, serves as “yet another reminder of the fragility of the current iteration of #MeToo.”
It is “One more reminder that there’s a difference between an American culture that professes a general appreciation for women and their voices, and one that is fully ready to hear what those women have to say,” Garber said.
The task ahead, Donegan wrote, “might be more rudimentary than I assumed.”
“The experience of making the spreadsheet has shown me that it is still explosive, radical, and productively dangerous for women to say what we mean,” Donegan wrote.
More from Morning Mix: