For a new journalist, landing a dream job by securing a high position at a reputable media outlet is a dream come true, but not something that happens very often. When it does, there’s serious cause for celebration.
When Phoebe was just 23, she landed a job that most people her age could only fantasize about. Even though she had no formal journalistic experience and was just fresh out of college, she made it to associate producer at Vice’s Los Angeles bureau…
Phoebe had always been the type to be passionate about everything she did. Having just obtained her master’s degree in journalism, she was on the market for a new job. But when she was offered a position at Vice, she was stoked, as were her family and friends.
Press Club Awards
Phoebe hadn’t even started working yet, but she certainly got the wrong vibe about the culture in the place she was about to start her job. By the end of the night, having made numerous sexually charged comments, Jason asked Phoebe for a lift home then promptly passed out drunk in the back seat.
First Few Weeks
Phoebe had studied hard in college, and all she wanted to do now was to get down to some reporting. Within the first few weeks on the job, Jason invited Phoebe to his Venice Beach home on more than on occasion, and as he was her boss, Phoebe obliged. When Jason showed up shirtless, Phoebe wasn’t sure what to think.
Phoebe said that things only got weirder over the course of the following weeks. Jason would touch her at work in unacceptable ways, sometimes on her bare thigh. Phoebe was hardly writing news articles, and instead was being asked to accompany her boss to parties in the Hollywood Hills.
“It felt like a threat,” Phoebe told reporters. “The way he looked at me, the way he grabbed my arm. I remember feeling scared.” But when she went to HR to formally complain about the incidents, she was told, “When it comes to talent, we can’t really tell them what to do. They bring in the money and attention, and you just have to deal with it.”
Phoebe claimed dozens of former Vice employees told various media outlets that the same kind of things happened to them when they worked at the company. Some claim “harassing behavior” while others claim “company indifference,” alluding to an unhealthy culture of sexual innuendo.
The allegations reached such epic proportions that Vice was forced to releases an official statement on the matter. Part of that statement said: “The nature of Vice’s content runs the gamut, from travelogues and news series to more provocative programming like our shows exploring drug culture, Weediquette and Bong Appétit.” They adding that, “A non-traditional workplace agreement is often used by companies to certify employees’ comfort with content that could be considered edgy.”
Vice went on to explain that were investigating each allegation of sexual misconduct: “However, it does not in any way sanction conduct that is disrespectful or biased, and we will investigate all allegations of such behavior, including any incidents where employees purportedly attempted to justify their conduct through the agreement. We have immediately begun reviewing this matter.”
During one day at work, Phoebe was conducting an editorial meeting with her team on the East Coast. She asked producers to pipe down as she couldn’t hear herself think from all the banter around. With that, Phoebe alleges, Jason grabbed her arm, saying, “If you’re going to get anywhere with Vice guys, you’re going to have to be a lot [tougher].”
Phoebe said, “I didn’t want my career to be built on how sweet I am to the men at Vice.” When a new manager stepped in and reached out to Phoebe asking what could be done to turn the L.A. office around, her response was unexpected.
Nothing Will Change
Phoebe and a colleague, another female employee who was experiencing similar issues, wrote, “As it stands we don’t think anything will change, but we’d like to AT LEAST have these things on the record. Phoebe doesn’t like it when Kaj [another employee] touches her at all. AT ALL.”
For these two women, facing another day at work was becoming a challenge. They noted in their email to the new boss that, “hostility due to sexism, racism, religionism, ageism, idk-what-ism makes us feel not only uncomfortable but unsafe and just plain dirty.” They added, “And yes, we’ve both already talked to HR about those uncomfortable comments and situations.”
Despite coming from humble beginnings, Vice is valued today at a staggering $5.7 billion thanks to huge investments from Disney and 21st Century Fox. Today’s bosses claim they have evolved from “ignorant, disrespectful and juvenile boors” to leaders of a clean empire, but that doesn’t appear to be the case…
No Free Speech
The bigwigs at Vice protected themselves ahead of time, tying their employees into complex non-disclosure agreements which they had to sign to receive their severance pay. They also had to sign notorious “Non-Traditional Workplace Agreements,” which is an internal document forbidding Vice employees from getting offended by anything at the office.
That internal document reads, in part: Although it is possible that some of the text, images, and information I will be exposed to throughout the course of my employment with Vice may be considered by some to be offensive, indecent, violent or disturbing. I do not find such text, images or information or the workplace environment at Vice to be offensive, indecent, violent or disturbing.
While numerous employees came forward, one former Vice worker who was there for two years alleged, “When older men, senior reporters, or managers would hook up with young female reporter after young female reporter, [my manager] would kind of a shrug and say, ‘Well, [it’s a] non-traditional workplace environment.’”
For her part, Phoebe couldn’t stand her work environment, claiming it was toxic and counterproductive, not to mention immoral. “The culture was that if you sleep with your boss, or with your producer, you’ll get more opportunities. That was real,” she said. “Women who were intimate with their superiors did better than women who weren’t. It created a toxic environment, where men could be abusive, and some women were manipulated into thinking that acquiescing to that abuse was the only way to advance.”
Following the numerous allegations, a Vice spokesperson attempted once again to defend the organization: “Vice has an employee handbook that spells out in no uncertain terms that we do not tolerate harassment, abusive behavior, assault or retaliation and that all accusations of this nature will be subject to an investigation and, as necessary, action will be taken.”
Phoebe was happy to hand in her notice, leaving Vice and moving on to bigger and better things. She said that she knows of worse stories than hers. “There’s really an endless list,” she said. But what’s most worrying of all, hers only “scratches the surface.”