Harper’s Writer Undergoes Trial by Twitter Over Article

Posted January 10, 2018 7:27 p.m. EST
Updated January 10, 2018 7:30 p.m. EST

It started with a tweet on Tuesday afternoon. By the next morning, five writers were said to have pulled stories planned for future issues of Harper’s Magazine — an effort to pressure the magazine not to reveal one of the creators of a list of men in the media industry accused of sexually inappropriate behavior.

At issue was an article Harper’s had scheduled for the March edition written by essayist Katie Roiphe. Writers and editors posted on Twitter that Roiphe’s article would reveal the identity of a person who had created the anonymous Google spreadsheet, first circulated in October, that identified men who were said to have acted in a predatory manner toward women.

The spreadsheet, called Shitty Media Men, lists men in the industry along with allegations against them ranging from questionable behavior to rape.

The list comes with a disclaimer advising readers to take its contents with a grain of salt, since some of the material was described as “rumors.” The document includes the names of some men who have been fired from media jobs since it was first shared.

In an email interview on Tuesday, Roiphe said her article did not name a creator of the list.

“I am looking forward to talking about what is actually in the piece when it actually comes out,” she 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.”

In a later interview, Roiphe said that she herself did not know the identity of the person who started the list and added, “I would never put in the creator of the list if they didn’t want to be named.”

Giulia Melucci, a spokeswoman for Harper’s, said, “We’re not going to tell the steps of the editing process.” Through a spokeswoman, James Marcus, the editor of Harper’s, declined to comment.

An email exchange obtained by The New York Times shows that, during the editing process, a Harper’s fact checker contacted a person said to be a creator of the list and said the article identified her as someone “widely believed” to be one of the people behind it.

Harper’s said that the fact-checking email exchange did not mean the name was ever meant to be included in the final version. “Fact-checking is part of reporting,” Melucci said.

Roiphe added, “I would not have mentioned it without her approval. I want to be clear on that.”

Claims that Roiphe’s article would identify someone behind the list appeared on social media around 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, when Dayna Tortorici, the editor of n+1 magazine, tweeted that “a legacy print magazine is planning to publish a piece ‘outing’ the woman.” Tortorici went on to encourage the publication, which she did not identify, not to publish names.

“The risk of doxxing is high,” Tortorici wrote, referring to the practice of online critics publishing people’s personal, private information against their ideological opponents without their consent. “It’s not the right thing to do.”

Soon afterward, Nicole Cliffe, the founding co-editor of the now defunct feminist blog The Toast, retweeted Tortorici’s post. Cliffe added, in later Twitter posts of her own, that Roiphe was writing her article for the March issue of Harper’s and implored magazine writers to pull their work from the general interest monthly as a protest. She said on Twitter that she would pay the writers the amount they were owed for their articles and help shepherd them toward other publications.

By Wednesday afternoon, Cliffe, who declined to comment for this article, had pledged to pay more than $19,000 to reporters who had pulled their stories from Harper’s, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Brianna Wu, a video game developer who is a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Massachusetts, latched on to Cliffe’s offer. “Count me in for 1/2 that cost,” she wrote on Twitter.

Wu, who said she had experienced online death and rape threats because of articles she has written on video games, said she decided to join the effort because she feared similar repercussions for the creator of the media men list.

“As a former journalist, I don’t like the optics of paying journalists to kill stories in a magazine — it concerns me,” Wu said in an interview. “But I think the greater good there is in the ethics of outing someone.” She added that if she knew the name would not appear in the article, it would “conclude my interest in this.”

Melucci, the Harper’s spokeswoman, said she had no knowledge of writers pulling stories from the magazine. Roiphe, 49, first drew public attention for her writing in 1993, when she was a graduate student at Princeton and wrote an article, published in The New York Times Magazine, with the headline “Date Rape’s Other Victim.” In it, she argued that campus feminists had inflated the number of women who had been raped and questioned how the definition of rape was changing.

The next year, she published her first book, “The Morning After: Fear, Sex and Feminism,” for which she received death threats, according to an interview with The Guardian in 2013. “I get under people’s skin,” she said in the interview.

She has continued writing in a contrarian vein, publishing five nonfiction books, a novel and articles in Slate, Vogue, Dissent and other publications.

Since the first social media posts about the article appeared on Tuesday afternoon, Roiphe has undergone something of a trial by Twitter.

Among dozens of posts, Elissa Schappell, a writer and editor at large for Tin House, wrote, “The way Katie Roiphe is behaving — doxing these women, previously blaming the victims of college rape, betrays her disgust for her sex, it’s perverse.” Mike Drucker, a television writer whose credits include “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” said in a post, “The name ‘Katie Roiphe’ sounds exactly like someone who does what Katie Roiphe does.”

Roiphe said she was not surprised by how people were responding to her on social media.

“It’s a little ironic, because I do address in the piece exactly the sort of Twitter hysteria that we are seeing here,” she said.