There were many authors of the "Shitty Media Men List," and they may never be known. But as those whose names are on the list and countless others have now learned, the person who created it is Moira Donegan, recently of The New Republic. Donegan started the first version of the spreadsheet, set the initial criteria for men's inclusion, and shared it with other women in media. She has reported on her own authorship with an unforgettable essay in The Cut, scooping a forthcoming Harper's feature by Katie Roiphe—whose fact checker, Donegan writes, was the one to inform her that Roiphe's story would make her name public.
Roiphe launched her career in media feminism in the early 1990s, trading on her disbelief of women's accounts of sexual assault from a prestigious platform few feminists of her time would reach. This week, Roiphe returned to the perch, effectively lying to the New York Times, stating she did not know who created the list, and to the Washington Post, where she claimed, "I am not 'outing' anyone."
It's worth underlining twice that a fact checker was handed the task of collecting Donegan's confirmation or denial, according to emails quoted by both the New York Times and Donegan. In Donegan's account, Roiphe gave up after Donegan turned down her emailed invitation in December to comment on the "feminist moment." From this weak reporting effort, it is hard to believe Roiphe intended to give Donegan a fair hearing. It is not something she could accomplish if she is as incurious and incapable of picking up a telephone as she appears to be. (I did send an email to Roiphe and telephoned her agent, while seeking comment on the statements made in this paragraph. There has been no response.)
In The Cut, Donegan would tell the story of the list herself. What she launched accomplished two radical aims, she writes. First, "the spreadsheet did not ask how women responded to men's inappropriate behavior; it did not ask what you were wearing or whether you'd had anything to drink." And: "The spreadsheet only had the power to inform women of allegations that were being made and to trust them to judge the quality of that information for themselves and to make their own choices accordingly." The list did not survive online for much more than one day, becoming a victim of its own necessity.
Looking at the list, several people have since told me, was like looking behind the curtain. That's his deal? That's why she quit? I wondered why they hadn't published anything in a long time. It's also how I felt after opening the document, watching as names appeared in real-time. The list was a whisper network in spreadsheet form, but it was also a network map. It explained something about how power worked behind the scenes in media.
This is why the list was and will remain a scandal to some, despite its obvious purpose. Though it named names, they were stacked together, revealing a structure. Such a document has the power to illustrate what a system of male dominance at work looks like. It is not constructed of mixed signals and oversensitivity. The act of naming sexual harassment is not excessive. Harassment itself can be as dull and rote as updating an org chart.
Most powerfully, months on, the list suggests that there were more reasons than talent and chance to explain why certain assignments never made it to some writers, why some stories were still untold. In between the rows were writers who had been underestimated, rejected, and pushed out—even if their names were and remain unknown. It might be impossible to really account for all of those who have been harassed in media, along with the work they didn't get to do. The list was just a first draft.