Emerson Collective, an organization run by the billionaire investor and philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, was to unveil Idea: A Journal of Politics and Culture on Oct. 31. (Emerson Collective acquired a majority share of The Atlantic in September.)
It wasn’t immediately clear how the allegations first reached Emerson Collective. Wieseltier was named—along with more than five dozen other men who work in journalism or publishing—on an anonymous spreadsheet titled “SHITTY MEDIA MEN” that quietly, and then less quietly, circulated in national media circles last week. (The Atlantic obtained a copy of the spreadsheet, but is not publishing it because the allegations are anonymous and unverified.) Anonymous charges against the men were wide-ranging, and spanned from acting “creepy af” in online conversation—“af” being an abbreviation for “as fuck”—to physical assault and rape. Wieseltier’s alleged misconduct, according to the unverified, anonymous spreadsheet, was “workplace harassment.” It’s not clear whether Emerson Collective saw the spreadsheet.
At the same time, a group of more than a dozen women who once worked at TNR started an email thread to discuss their experiences with Wieseltier—and to hatch a plan for how to make those experiences public.
Several women who worked with Wieseltier described him to me as intellectually seductive and charming—even charismatic. He’s long had a reputation for being genuinely interested in the journalistic work of young women, especially at a time when the industry was even more male dominated than it is today. He wasn’t just a leader of the magazine at TNR, but a cultural arbiter there—which meant his opinion of you mattered, several women said. It was dangerous, one former staffer told me, to get on his bad side.
Nearly a dozen journalists who have worked with Wieseltier told me they are unsurprised by the allegations against him. All of the women I talked to had their own “Leon stories,” which included everything from being called “sweetie” in the workplace to unwanted touching, kissing, groping, and other sexual advances.
My colleague Michelle Cottle, a former TNR senior editor who is now a contributing editor at The Atlantic, told me about the time Wieseltier suggested they get a drink at the bar of a well-known luxury hotel in New York City where he was staying, only to declare that it was too crowded. Instead, they could go to his room, and order a bottle of champagne, Wieseltier offered. He delights in making women sexually uncomfortable, she said.
At TNR, there was frequently talk of Wieseltier’s possible dalliances with young women writers, and he relished this kind of gossip, three separate acquaintances of Wieseltier told me. They described him as someone who bragged graphically about sexual encounters the way a teenaged boy might. Two former colleagues described him in separate conversations as “lecherous.”