June 28th, 2014
I’m going to be blunt, because I don’t want to spend another hour on this, let alone another day.
Over the past few days, following my decision to terminate (a horrible word, I know, but the correct one) two members of our editorial team, Pando has been the target of a smear campaign, the intensity of which I’ve never experienced before. The campaign began with a post on Gawker which falsely claimed, without a shred of evidence, that I had been ordered to make the staffing changes by Pando’s CEO — my best friend and business partner, Sarah Lacy — on orders from her investors.
After that, the conspiracy theories began:
I’m not going to get too deeply into the actual reasons for the firings, because I told both employees I wouldn’t comment on them publicly. I’m also not going to comment on specific severance payments or notice periods, except to say that reports the departing employees received neither are flatly untrue.
I will say this: As editorial director of a startup publication, I often have to make the difficult call to let go talented writers and reporters who, for one reason or another, are not a good fit at Pando. I have never been ordered (or even asked nicely) to fire someone, by anyone else at Pando, by any investor, by any lawyer, by any advertiser, by any subject of a story, government agency, man in black, or leprechaun. If I fire someone, it’s because I have decided — myself — that they are no longer right for Pando. That’s never an easy call to make, and we’ve had to say goodbye to some phenomenal reporters and writers. But if I learned anything from the failure of NSFWCORP, it’s that failing to make tough decisions at the right time can tank a company very, very quickly.
I understand why that reality is hard to accept for someone who has lost their job. It’s strangely more comforting to think that your dismissal was ordered by powerful, unseen forces. I also understand an attempt to stir up drama to secure new gigs. That’s fine, we’ve all done that.
What isn’t fine, and needs to stop immediately, is the lie that Sarah, not me, is secretly responsible for the recent editorial staffing changes — and the vile abuse that is stemming from that lie. I’ve said on dozens of occasions that I’m the only one to “blame” here: That both of the writers who are leaving the company were managed by me, and it was me who negotiated the terms of their employment, and termination. Sarah’s only involvement in the firing came when I told her what I intended to do. Her reply, verbatim: “It’s your newsroom, it’s your decision.” Any writer who has actually worked with Sarah at Pando will confirm her unwavering support of our editorial team.
I have been watching, utterly dumbfounded, for three days, while someone (or a group of someones?) spreads a lie that I am utterly blameless in the recent firings and that Sarah is the real villain who must be brought to justice in the court of social media.
I watched that narrative spread by anonymous sources, Twitter trolls and even — far more hurtfully — by one of those former employees, a person who I agreed to hire at Pando a very short while ago on the strict understanding that he was very likely not a perfect fit but that I was willing to take a risk so long as either of us could decide to end the arrangement at any time. The employee in question has spoken to Sarah a total of twice: once when I flew him to San Francisco at Pando’s expense to meet her in person and once when we flew him to our Southland conference to hang out with the rest of the team.
I’ve contacted him privately to ask why he is angry at Sarah and not me, but he hasn’t responded to the question. On Twitter he said he was not interested in discussing the subject, publicly or privately.
By email (after termination):
But on Twitter:
I’ve asked friends and colleagues if they can help me understand what is going on. If the object is to smear Pando, why not turn both barrels on me? A narrative about us being corrupted by investors works just as well against me, doesn’t it? Especially when I’ve attacked publications like First Look for their clear conflicts.
What more do I have to say to make clear what happened here? Why are others so willing to repeat the lies about Sarah as fact? I feel like a kid brother with a mouth covered in chocolate, watching his sister be screamed at for stealing the cookie. Except in this case, Sarah isn’t just getting screamed at, she is being called a “whore” by anonymous Gawker commenters.
It took me until late last night to come to a conclusion, and it’s not one I share lightly. The Internet is often far too quick to suggest that gender and misogyny plays a part in disagreements which actually have nothing to do with either. In this case, however, I’m struggling to think of any other explanation for what’s happening here.
The fact is, I’m getting a total pass for something I have repeatedly said was my responsibility, while my female business partner is receiving the full blame. It seems to me that either the person or persons spreading the smears about Pando has decided that a female employer is deserving of abuse and scorn in a way that a male boss isn’t, or they’ve cynically concluded that a female boss presents a much easier target for an Internet hate campaign.
I don’t meaningfully care which of those two possibilities is correct. All I know is I feel angry, and sick to the soles of my feet, watching it play out. And it’s made all the more sick that someone who I brought into our company — and about whom Sarah trusted my decision, as she has done with all of my hires — is one of the people helping to lob the grenades.
In the past 72 hours, I’ve come to truly realize what female founders and CEOs in our industry deal with every day of their lives. That it took me this long to understand is another of my many failings.
The ugliness has to stop.