Creator of ‘Media Men’ List Reveals Her Identity in First-Person Essay

Posted January 11, 2018 11:03 a.m. EST

It started with a tweet on Tuesday afternoon.

By Wednesday 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 the name of the woman who first assembled a Google spreadsheet listing men in the media industry accused of sexually inappropriate behavior.

And by Wednesday night, after hours of debate about the matter on social media, there was a surprising turn: The woman whose identity the campaign had sought to protect revealed herself in a first-person essay on New York magazine’s website The Cut.

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 the article would reveal the identity of a person who had created the 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 the names of 70 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 since it was first shared.

In an email interview Tuesday, Roiphe said her article did not name the woman who started 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.”

But in an article posted online Wednesday night, the author of the list revealed herself to be a writer named Moira Donegan. And the concern over naming names seemed almost moot.

The article was a first-person essay under the headline “I Started the Media Men List: My Name Is Moira Donegan.”

Donegan, who wrote that she had graduated from college in 2013, began by explaining that she was the person who had first “collected a range of rumors and allegations of sexual misconduct, much of it violent, by men in magazines and publishing.”

She added, “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.”

After acknowledging that the list had its pitfalls and made many people uncomfortable, she explained that she had never expected it to gain the attention of people beyond the group of women in media who were its intended audience.

But as more and more women added their own names and descriptions of inappropriate behavior to it, the list began to circulate far and wide. It was mentioned in an article on BuzzFeed and a version was posted on Reddit.

“I had imagined a document that would assemble the collective, unspoken knowledge of sexual misconduct that was shared by the women in my circles: What I got instead was a much broader reckoning with abuses of power that spanned an industry,” Donegan wrote.

It is likely that the Harper’s article, which had yet to reach its final version Wednesday, will be revised to reflect Donegan’s revealing herself as the person who created what became an important document at a time when powerful men in the media and other fields have been called out and punished not only for instances of alleged rape and sexual assault but also for modes of behavior that seemed acceptable in workplaces just a decade ago.

Hours before the publication of Donegan’s story on The Cut, Roiphe said that she herself did not know the identity of the person who had 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. 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 had written on video games, said she decided to join the effort because she feared similar repercussions for the creator of the media men list.

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. Part of the social media reaction to the planned Harper’s article most likely has something to do with its author. Roiphe, 49, is a divisive figure among feminists who first drew 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 Harper’s article appeared Tuesday afternoon, Roiphe has undergone something of a trial by Twitter, with numerous insults hurled her way.

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

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

Given the speed of media in the age of social platforms, the subject of the article she has been working on for Harper’s underwent a substantive change just hours after she spoke those words.