This is Holy Moly, from Matthew E. White. You may not have heard of him; I barely have. He’s good.
I’ve been following the Silicon Valley story of Ellen Pao with interest. Pao is the former partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins who is now suing the firm, alleging sex discrimination. She claims that she was treated differently than male employees were; Kleiner claims, basically, that she wasn’t very good.
The case has attracted enormous interest in Silicon Valley as an avatar for discussion about gender imbalance in the tech world.
It’s certainly interesting, from that perspective. But I’ve been following it closely for another reason: Ellen Pao is married to a man whom I’ve written about in depth. His name is Buddy Fletcher, and and he has a history of filing dubious lawsuits inspired by perceived slights and financial desperation. In my opinion he is, at the very least, a scoundrel; the forces of law may yet prove him a criminal.
I wrote about Fletcher in Boston magazine; he’s a Harvard graduate, an African-American man, who went to Wall Street and tried to make a lot of money. He left his first job at the brokerage firm Kidder Peabody and promptly filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination. Like Ellen Pao, Fletcher charged that he was treated differently from the great majority of employees whose identity did not match his. In my article, I found that the grounds for that lawsuit were thin at best. Fletcher didn’t win it—in fact, he lost the ruling on whether he was discriminated against—but he was awarded back pay of about a million dollars. He claimed that as a victory, and the press played along. So when Fletcher opened a hedge fund that appeared to generate remarkable, almost unbelievable returns, the press proclaimed him a financial genius—an African-American who had taken lily-white Wall Street by storm.
He is broke now, because he is not a financial genius, and there is ample suggestion that he is broke even though he siphoned money from his hedge fund—including retirement money from Louisiana firefighters—to support a lavish lifestyle that included the ownership of three apartments at the Dakota, John Lennon’s old apartment building in New York. (If you don’t know it—it’s pricey.) That didn’t stop him, after he tried to buy a fourth and was rejected by the board after it scrutinized the state of his finances, from suing the apartment building for racial discrimination. That suit trudges endlessly on, even though Fletcher has gone through teams of lawyers because he consistently declines to pay them.
One other fact about Fletcher that’s worth knowing: Until he fled New York, married Ellen Pao and had a baby, he had lived his entire adult life as a gay man. Not bisexual—gay.
The judge in Pao’s case has ruled that none of this is admissible, and I think that’s the right decision; in court, Pao’s allegations should stand or fall on their own merits. The mainstream media seems to have decided that it’s sexist or something to write about her marriage, and so I haven’t seen a single smart article that really explores her relationship with Fletcher and whether it’s had any impact on her decision to sue Kleiner Perkins.
But I can’t help but think that her relationship with Fletcher is relevant, even if you can’t establish that legally. I’ll be honest: First, the fact that Pao married him makes me wonder about her, and not just because of his sexual orientation. It just wouldn’t take much digging to find out that Fletcher’s financial ethics are highly questionable. Either Pao didn’t care—not great—or didn’t know. In which case, you have to wonder what kind of a venture capitalist she is. If can’t do basic due diligence on a marital prospect about whom much has been written, how could you be trusted to give good advice on a company in which to invest millions?
It’s also hard not to wonder if the suit isn’t inspired by Fletcher in some way; until the past couple of years, he had made quite a lot of money off allegations of racism and the use of race as a marketing tool.
And the other way it could have been inspired by him, of course, is due to the fact that he needs the money. He is more than broke; he’s deeply in debt. I don’t know how many lawsuits he’s now defending himself against, but the latest was filed a day or so ago.
Ellen Pao could conceivably make tens of millions of dollars off her lawsuit—the jury is deliberating even as I write this—which probably wouldn’t resolve all of her husband’s financial issues, but would certainly help.
And that’s why Pao’s case, much as some people would like it to be a litmus test of sexism in Silicon Valley, is just a terrible way to air these issues. It—and Ellen Pao—are far too complicated for that.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Charlottesville, Virginia police announced today that they have found “no evidence” that Jackie, the primary figure in Rolling Stone’s story on campus sexual assault, was gang-raped, as that story proclaimed, at a UVa fraternity.
However, the cops said, that doesn’t mean that she wasn’t raped, “possibly somewhere else, on a different day.”
Rolling Stone now reports that, in the next Mission Impossible movie, Tom Cruise risks everything to try to track down Jackie’s attackers, then dies before succeeding.
Posted on March 23rd, 2015 in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »
CNN reports what readers of this blog already know: That we can expect Steve Coll’s report on Rolling Stone’s UVa fiasco within a week or so. You’re welcome, CNN, don’t worry about giving me credit. Just because Steve Coll already told me this on Twitter and then I posted on this blog…
Meantime, another Jann Wenner publication has published bogus material: Us Weekly printed a fake interview with Kendall Jenner. Oops. Did the fact-checking department there try to contact her first? One phone call, that’s all it would have taken…
More timely, this afternoon the Charlottesville police are going to release the results of their own investigation into the alleged gang rape at UVa.
I wonder what Sabrina Rubin Erdely is doing today.
She’s doing yet another paid speech, for the nonprofit American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey, which is reportedly paying her up to $200, 000 for the privilege of hearing her say, I’m quite sure, not much.
It’s a convergence of facts that raises several questions.
The American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey…exists? (Can you imagine going camping in New Jersey? Yikes.)
And has the money to pay HRC a six-figure speaking fee?
And, most important, why does Hillary continue to give these speeches, which really are unseemly for a woman who’s about to run for president? She can’t need the money. And if it’s for the Clinton Global Initiative, why not just say so?
There comes a point where it’s awfully hard not to think of these speeches as influence-buying; Hillary should stop giving them. I can’t imagine any other presumptive party nominee who wouldn’t. That Hillary won’t just adds to the sense that she holds herself above the rules normal politicians adhere to.
One of you readers tweeted something about my post below, and Steve Coll did respond; he wrote that his investigation of the Rolling Stone story on gang rape at UVA would be “coming soon—weeks not months exact date TK.”
TK is journalistic shorthand for “information to come.” (Long story.)
I appreciate that Coll did in fact take the time to respond. And frankly, I can’t wait for this report; it should be fascinating.
She’s supposed to be unstoppable, but so far her imminent candidacy has been an utter train wreck. The use of private email at the State Department is a serious issue, and yesterday at the United Nations she didn’t have anything near a good explanation for it. Plus, there are a number of points where Hillary asks us to simply take her on faith on matters where there’s absolutely no reason to give her the benefit of the doubt. Such as:
1) She says that of the 60,000 emails she apparently wrote using her personal email, only one was to a foreign official, and he was British. Uh-huh.
2) Clinton says that of the 62, 230 emails she wrote, 31,830 were “private,” meaning personal. I don’t know about you, but I’d be in serious trouble at my workplace if over 50 percent of the email I wrote was personal.
3) Clinton says that she’s turning over everything that’s relevant, and not emails about things like Chelsea’s wedding. Why on earth should we believe her? She also admits to deleting a significant amount of email, so we’ll probably never know the truth.
4) A note on technology: Clinton says maybe she should have used two phones with separate email accounts. Just so you know, Mrs. Clinton, you could have more than one email account on a single phone. (Since you’re so interested in “convenience.”)
5) Clinton says there were “no security breaches” on her server, which is, apparently, in her home in Chappaqua. How would she know—has she brought in a security expert to check? (Answer: She couldn’t know.)
Here’s the main thing about this: If Clinton’s motive for using her personal email really was “convenience,” how arrogant of her to think that she can ignore rules for which there are actually good reasons to exist just because she finds them inconvenient. And that’s the best possible explanation. An equally possible one is that she’s secretive and wanted to control what emails were preserved for history, and that she holds herself above the law.
There is a great opportunity for another Democratic candidate to get in the race here. Can you imagine the amount of free media the person would receive?
But for the Democrats, I think, it’s more than an opportunity—it’s a need. If they don’t have a Hillary Clinton insurance policy, they might just be handing the presidency over to the Republican party.
Just so you know: I emailed Steve Coll, the dean of the Columbia School of Journalism and the man in charge on investigating Rolling Stone’s infamous story on rape at the University of Virginia, to ask him when his report might be finished.
He never responded.
Frankly, I didn’t expect him to answer my question, but I am surprised that he didn’t bother to reply. I’m always surprised when journalists do this. How can we expect other people to talk to us when we deny others even the courtesy of a reply?
That’s why I always try to be courteous and responsive to other journalists, even if for some reason I can’t answer their questions. It only seems fair.
In its pages, reviewer Alex Morris writes glowingly of the campus rape doc, “The Hunting Ground.”
So glowingly—and with such utter credulity—it’s as if the magazine has learned nothing from its experience with Sabrina Rubin Erdely, Jackie and the University of Virginia.
The film is, Morris says, a “stunning documentary” that “shows how universities cover up sexual assault cases”—something that Sabrina Rubin Erdely tried and failed to prove in her bogus article, “A Rape on Campus.”
(“Alex”, by the way, appears to be short for Alexandra.)
And then there’s this:
At the heart of The Hunting Ground are the stories of the survivors, each of which is hauntingly similar in its salient points: sexual violence followed by callous dismissal at the hands of a much-trusted institution.
There is not a single cautionary word here to suggest that, in addition to “the stories of the survivors,” there is at least one other side to these cases to hear and consider. Rolling Stone, of all magazines, should know this; should have learned that lesson by now. But…no.
Simply put, ignoring or undermining survivors keeps rape stats low, which not only helps maintain the school’s brand but also protects fundraising (a large percentage of which comes from Greek alums or is tied to the performance of sports programs)….
This idea that university administrators across the country consistently sweep accusations of rape under the carpet “in order to keep rape stats low” and not harm fundraising is just a paranoid fantasy. An incident here or there, perhaps if it involves a star athlete—certainly possible. But a nationwide cover-up? To maintain the flow of donations from Greek alums, even though they are allegedly the perpretrators of these campus assaults?
(You can’t really have it both ways, can you? Saying that frat members commit most sexual assaults but that frat alums are so concerned about sexual assault statistics that they’ll stop writing checks.)
What a lost opportunity this is for the magazine to show that it has considered the lessons of Sabrina Rubin Erdeley’s fabricated article and integrated them into its coverage of this issue.
The debate about sexual assault on campus has grown considerably more nuanced and thoughtful since Rolling Stone’s false article came out. How weird that Rolling Stone doesn’t seem to notice. Perhaps they’re the ones making money off stories of campus sexual assault…
I have two young children, so I don’t get out to the movies much anymore, so I haven’t yet had a chance to see “The Hunting Ground,” the documentary about sexual assault that has been generating a lot of buzz. It’s playing in a handful of art theaters around the country. I’ll watch it when it airs on CNN. Judging from the alarmist title and the hysterically ominous trailer—I’ve seen Saw trailers that were more subtle—I think I’ll have some things to say about the film. But the early reviews are telling—both about the film and about the media.
Jezebel’s review of the film is, frankly, idiotic; so great is the reviewer’s credulity, you might as well have hired a parrot to type with its beak. Every statistic is gospel truth; ever interview subject is exactly right; every allegation, both against alleged rapists and universities in general, is assumed to be true.
The documentary underscores the most persuasive reason for the dearth of campus rape convictions: college is a business. Universities, the documentary explains, rely on the powerful networks of sororities and fraternities, and on the “multibillion dollar” college football industry for profit. If a school—from big public universities like UNC to small liberal arts colleges like Occidental College to religious institutions like the University of Notre Dame—is labeled as dangerous, it’s assumed their profits will suffer.
This is, frankly, nonsense. There are certainly reasons why university bureaucrats don’t like to talk about sexual assault on campus, and some of those may not be good reasons. Others have to do with federal law and the importance of discretion when handling sensitive matters—for all the parties involved, not just the alleged victim. But universities, with the possible exception of some with big time sports programs, do not think of “profits.” The sources of their revenue—tuition, alumni giving, federal grants, some money from science research, and returns on endowment investing—would not significantly be affected by the disclosure of a sexual assault on campus. In fact, the opposite is far more likely to be true; the cover-up of a rape on campus and its subsequent disclosure would likely be far more damaging to alumni giving and federal grant making than the mere disclosure of an incident.
But no, The Hunting Ground and Jezebel insist: If a school—from big public universities like UNC to small liberal arts colleges like Occidental College to religious institutions like the University of Notre Dame—is labeled as dangerous, it’s assumed their profits will suffer.
Oh, for God’s sake. I used to get this paranoid when I smoked pot (not very much, just for the record) in high school. And claims like that would seem credible under those circumstances.
The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis is a little more skeptical of the film, but primarily because of its, shall we say, creative journalistic techniques. The gist of her review is this:
As Ms. Pino, Ms. Clark and the other interviewees share their lives on camera, their voices underscore that publicly talking about rape isn’t just an act of political radicalism, but also a way for survivors to reclaim their lives. By speaking out, they are asserting that they, rather than their assailants, are the narrators of their own stories, the agents of their destinies. Mr. Dick doesn’t specifically address this openness, but it’s impossible not to think — as woman after woman speaks — that it is female empowerment itself that is driving some of the backlash directed at rape activists. Mr. Dick addresses that backlash rather obliquely, as in a section in which interviewees swat away the issue of false rape claims.
Alas, this too is silly, just with a slightly more sophisticated veneer. I’ll grant that there are probably some men who are made uncomfortable by all the attention women (mostly) are bringing to this issue. But there are a lot of people, male and female, who don’t believe that there is an “epidemic” of campus sexual assault and worry about the trampling on individual rights that’s taking place in the name of eradicating a bogus epidemic.
And, to be fair, Dargis does then write, “It’s too bad that [director Kirby Dick] doesn’t dig into whether the new guidelines to protect (mostly) women are infringing on the civil rights of men, as Emily Yoffe argued in Slate last December.”
Which brings us to Emily Yoffe’s review in Slate.
Yoffe, who has written so smartly about sexual assault, is far more skeptical about The Hunting Ground.
The Hunting Ground, Yoffe writes,
… is a polemic that—as its title suggests—portrays young women as prey, frequently assaulted and frequently ignored by their universities and law enforcement when they try to bring charges. The movie, from director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering, features numerous interviews with women who describe horrific experiences, and their testimony has raw, emotional power. But good policy about the lives of young people—female and male—needs to be based on prudent assessment. The film traffics in alarmist statistics and terrifying assertions, but fails to acknowledge both the recent changes in the way the government and universities approach sexual assault charges and the critiques that those changes go too far. By refusing to engage the current conversation about this issue, the film does its subjects—and us all—a disservice.
I have to get on a plane to San Francisco in a couple of hours—work trip—so I’m going to leave it at that. Except to say that I hope Yoffe’s review has some impact. This film is going to be shown on campuses all over the country, and it probably will have some impact. I doubt it’s going to be constructive.