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Vice’s Vice

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Gambling is a vice, and Vice’s founder is a gambler. And then there are many other vices that are commonplace in the organization too, including groping and forced kisses.

More than two dozen women have reported experiencing or witnessing sexual harassment at the company first hand.

The Sexual Harassment Incidents

One woman said that while she was riding a Ferris wheel at Coney Island after a company event, a co-worker suddenly took her hand and put it on his crotch.

Another complained that she was fired because she rejected the sexual advances of a male colleague.

A third said that she was subjected to forced kissing.

Such are the horror stories from Vice.

These sexual mistreatments are part of a larger problem looming at the media organization. In December 2017, The New York Times interviewed multiple women who lamented being grossly underpaid compared to their male colleagues.

I would have considered the groping and the sexual advances as mere lone wolf incidents, but the fact that women were being treated as lesser mortals as part of the company culture is something that I find hard to digest. It goes on to show that an organization that prides itself as being a subculture phenomenon is actually a motley group of sexual predators.  “There is a toxic environment where men can say the most disgusting things, joke about sex openly, and overall a toxic environment where women are treated far inferior than men,” former Vice employee Sandra Miller told the Times.

From what is till now known, there have been at least four settlements that have involved allegations of sexual harassment or defamation against Vice employees, including the then president Andrew Creighton. A New York Times exposé revealed that the company paid $135,000 on his behalf to settle a legal dispute with a former employee who claimed she’d been fired after declining sex with him.

In another incident, Vice reached a $24,000 settlement with Joanna Fuertes-Knight, a former journalist, who claimed that she had been the victim of sexual harassment, racial and gender discrimination and bullying at Vice. Among Ms. Fuertes-Knight’s various allegations are that Rhys James, a producer at Vice, made racist and sexist comments to her, including asking her the color of her nipples and whether she enjoyed sleeping with black men.

Mike Germano, Vice’s chief digital officer, was suspended after being accused of two counts of sexual misconduct.

In 2003 Vice reached a $25,000 settlement with freelance writer Jessica Hopper. According to Ms. Hooper, the deal was in connection to an interview of rapper Murs which she conducted, and was published in the February 2003 edition of the magazine. During the interview, Murs asked Ms. Hopper if he could have sex with her to which she declined saying an emphatic ‘NO’ and included the conversation in her article.

However, before the article got published, the magazine changed her response to ‘YES’ and printed it under the headline, “I Got Laid But Murs Didn’t.”

Petrified and feeling cheated, Ms. Hooper hired lawyers. Both sides struck a settlement that, in addition to a payout, required Vice to print a retraction and a formal apology.

Helen Donahue, a former employee, reported that during a company holiday party Mr. Mojica, the former head of Vice News, grabbed her breasts and buttocks.

Why Did Many More Employees Not Complain?

According to many employees, the reason why they did not come forth was because the executives erected a wall of silence around the company. Employees were forced to sign a confidentiality agreement when they joined Vice, stating that during and after their employment they would not publicly disparage the company.

Until recently, Vice also required employees to sign a nontraditional workplace agreement acknowledging that they would be exposed to explicit, potentially disturbing material but that they did not find such content or “the workplace environment” to be offensive or disturbing.

Many employees said that while joining they took the agreement by word, but later realized that it was a means to shield the sexual predators at the organization.

“The misogyny might look different than you would have expected it to in the 1950s, but it was still there, it was still ingrained,” said Kayla Ruble, a journalist who worked at Vice from 2014 to 2016. “This is a wakeup call.”

Women at Vice are made to feel scared. They are made to understand that rejecting sexual advances from bosses could result in reassignments or even firing. Yet, when the courageous few did report problems, executives downplayed the allegations. Employees were told that they lacked the financial might to fight a legal case against a media behemoth like Vice, and that Vice would retaliate and derail their career if they took the legal route.

What more can be expected of a company whose founder Shane Smith, recalling the early days of the company said: “I would be at the party and would just want to get wasted, take coke and have sex with girls in the bathroom.” 

The Company is in Shambles, and Shane Smith Gambles

According to a New York Post report, Smith is a regular to Sin City. He is flown free of charge on jets provided by The Mansion at MGM, where he gambles in private rooms with $25,000 chips known as 'pumpkins' because of their orange color.

And why would any business house decide to fly anyone free of charge? Certainly, because it makes more money from him than it spends in flying him in and makes a profit by having him at their place.

Smith is infamous not only for gambling big but also for tipping big, handing out as much as $100,000 after a successful outing from his chips or stacks of shrink-wrapped cash. 

According to reports that emerged in 2015, Smith dropped $300,000 on steak and sushi at Bellagio's Prime Steakhouse in Vegas for the company's board of directors after winning $100,000 on blackjack.

When asked about that claim, Smith boasted by stating: “It wasn’t a $300,000 dinner. It was three eighty, plus tip. I broke the Vegas tip record.”

Unlike other “whales,” who brought certified checks or used wire transfers, Smith arrived with stacks of shrink-wrapped cash, said an informant, who also admitted that Smith once lost a stash of cash which was later found near the swimming pool. Smith, however, was least concerned by the loss.

A spokeswoman for Vice admitted, “He goes to Vegas. He’s a high roller.” But she denied that he carries around stacks of hundred-dollar bills or that he ever misplaced the cash, saying, “Those are fabrications.”

But we aren’t novices; we know what a high-roller in Vegas means. He certainly does not go their empty-handed, nor does he go there to see others gambling. And then he has himself boasted about the extravagant spending and tipping.

Shamefully all of this flamboyance and decadent spending is happening at a time when Vice is preparing to announce $50 million in losses and is going to lay off 10 percent of its staff. It is a matter of ‘Shame for Shane.’ A former Vice staffer lamented, “It’s disheartening. While Vice burns, Smith seems to be fiddling in Vegas.”

Author: Pradeep Banerjee