Hugo Gurdon, the editor in chief of the Washington Examiner, a conservative information group primarily based out of Washington, DC, summoned staffers right into a convention room adjoining to the newsroom. 

Within the quick assembly, Gurdon introduced to staffers that the Examiner’s managing editor, Toby Harnden, was not with the corporate, based on individuals within the assembly. Gurdon didn’t provide a lot of a proof, however he invited staff with considerations to satisfy with him in non-public. He then discouraged workers from talking with the press concerning the matter.

The complete assembly lasted roughly 5 to 10 minutes. Later within the day, Harnden arrived on the workplace for his last go to. He packed up his belongings — after which he was gone. 

The sequence of occasions capped a tumultuous two-week interval for the Examiner. Harnden’s exit got here after an worker who had himself been fired in late January despatched the Examiner’s management screenshots of textual content messages and secret audio recordings wherein Harnden had made extremely inappropriate feedback, together with sexist and homophobic remarks, about staffers. 

Harnden, who didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark, referred to at least one feminine author as “Miss f**king tits and a**.” He mocked the load of one other feminine worker, referring to her as a “silly b*tch” who was a “fats f**king waste of meals.” And Harnden, the messages and recordings revealed, privately speculated concerning the intercourse lives of administration and disclosed the salaries of senior workers to the fired worker.

This story is predicated on these textual content messages and audio recordings, which had been obtained by CNN Enterprise. The story can also be primarily based on further emails obtained by CNN Enterprise and interviews with greater than a dozen present and former staffers, most of whom requested anonymity as a result of they weren’t approved to talk publicly. 

To find out the authenticity of the audio recordings, CNN Enterprise in contrast the audio to public interviews Harnden has given over time. Moreover, individuals aware of Harnden’s voice mentioned the voice on the recordings seemed like him. “That was him, no doubt,” mentioned one particular person. “That’s 100% Toby’s voice,” mentioned one other. And a few individuals mentioned that they had heard Harnden beforehand make related feedback to these captured on the audio recordings and made within the textual content messages. Lastly, when given repeated alternatives to dispute the authenticity of the messages, Harnden didn’t reply.

In an e mail despatched to workers Friday morning, after dealing with questions from CNN Enterprise concerning the Examiner’s office tradition, Gurdon introduced that the group’s father or mother firm was “enlisting a third-party to conduct an intensive investigation into the Washington Examiner’s tradition, insurance policies and actions to find out what, if any, further steps are wanted to make sure a secure and comfy work setting for all of our staff.”

“I totally assist this effort and hope you’ll be part of me in being clear and forthright because the investigation is carried out, and that additionally, you will be part of me in guaranteeing that every one of us work in an setting about which we may be proud,” Gurdon wrote workers in his Friday e mail.

Over the course of the previous two years, the Examiner has turn out to be a prime conservative information web site, usually posting internet site visitors good points month after month. The outlet publishes a few of the prime conservative columnists, together with Byron York, Michael Barone, Fred Barnes, and Timothy Carney. And President Donald Trump has tweeted lots of the Examiner’s tales, and praised writers like York. 

Howard Polskin, the president of The Righting, a web site that screens the net site visitors of conservative media organizations, went as far as to say that the Examiner was one of many “main success tales in conservative media” in 2019.

Gurdon offered a brief assertion to CNN Enterprise for this story, however declined to additional touch upon the report. The assertion mentioned, “We don’t tolerate unprofessional habits. Fostering an expert, humane, and efficient work setting is our highest precedence, and one thing we attempt to do always. We don’t touch upon particular person personnel points, however I can verify that Toby not works on the Washington Examiner.”

However for a lot of present and former Examiner staff, the remarks Harnden made weren’t terribly stunning. These individuals described a poisonous work setting wherein Harnden would verbally abuse workers. And, based on these present and former Examiner staff, Gurdon was conscious of Harnden’s brutish managing fashion.

“In the most effective of instances, working beneath Toby Harnden was tense and chaotic,” mentioned Reynolds Hutchins, a former senior internet producer who had complained about Harnden to Gurdon when he left the Examiner for a place at one other firm in June 2019. “And on the worst of instances, it was completely depressing.”

The Examiner’s historical past 

The Examiner was based in 2005 as a every day newspaper serving the Washington, DC, space. It’s operated by Readability Media Group, which is owned by the billionaire Philip Anschutz. Whereas it had — and continues to have — a conservative bent, the newspaper grew to become identified in its early days for excelling in protection of native information.
However in 2013, the Examiner announced a “main shift” in its enterprise mannequin. The outlet mentioned that it will turn out to be a digital information group and scale back its print schedule to as soon as per week. Moreover, the Examiner mentioned on the time, its weekly print copy can be “targeted on political information and thought management.”
That shift in enterprise technique set the stage for Gurdon’s hiring in 2014. Gurdon was poached from The Hill, one other DC-based publication that has each a print publication and web site. Whereas at The Hill, Gurdon helped steer the outlet in a digital path. He was introduced aboard the Examiner initially because the outlet’s editorial director. 

Gurdon, based on present and former staff, introduced with him a mode much like that of The Hill, which is thought for publishing a excessive quantity of politics tales shortly, generally to the detriment of their high quality, in a bid to attain internet site visitors.

In 2018, Gurdon hired Harnden because the Examiner’s managing editor. Earlier to the Examiner, Harnden had served because the Washington bureau chief of The Sunday Instances of London, and government editor of the US model of the Each day Mail. He additionally authored two books, considered one of which received the Orwell Prize.

One in every of Harnden’s most important — and eyebrow elevating — strikes was his rent for breaking information editor: Jon Nicosia.

Nicosia has a colourful historical past in media. He beforehand served because the managing editor of Mediaite, an outlet largely identified for posting clips of cable information segments on-line, and of the Impartial Journal Evaluation, which was at one level a millennial-focused conservative information web site. 

Whereas at Mediaite, Nicosia revealed in a first-person 2014 essay that he was a former felon who had been “convicted of a number of counts of financial institution fraud and larceny” for which he “served 5 years in state jail.” He mentioned that he had reformed his methods and adopted a brand new identify beneath which to cowl media. 

On the Examiner, Nicosia seemed to be a hardworking worker, present and former staff mentioned. Underneath his management, web site site visitors grew. And whereas some have characterised him as a bit unusual, present and former staff mentioned he was additionally very cordial. 

“He was one of many nicest guys,” one present worker instructed CNN Enterprise. 

Throughout Nicosia’s 10-month tenure on the Examiner, former staff mentioned he appeared to have developed a detailed relationship with Harnden. Harnden would speak in confidence to Nicosia, hold him abreast of his plans for the outlet, and complain to him in brazen phrases about occasions and personnel contained in the workplace, based on the audio recordings and textual content messages obtained by CNN Enterprise.

However, regardless of his relationship with Harnden, and his function serving to site visitors develop, Nicosia’s standing inside the Examiner modified when he shared a video in Slack late final month.

‘I am afraid … your employment wants to come back to an finish’

Nicosia was referred to as into Gurdon’s workplace on January 31. Throughout a short assembly, wherein Harnden was additionally current, Gurdon knowledgeable Nicosia that Readability Media Group executives in Denver had decided he wanted to be fired.

The rationale? A video he shared the day earlier than in a non-public Examiner breaking information channel on Slack, a well-liked prompt message utility utilized by firms to permit staff to speak with one another. The video, seen by CNN Enterprise, appeared to indicate members of the armed forces on a base gathered round a intercourse toy as one carried out a sexually suggestive act on it. 

“I am afraid Denver has determined that your employment wants to come back to an finish instantly,” Gurdon mentioned, based on an audio recording of the assembly made by Nicosia and obtained by CNN Enterprise. “It’s my responsibility to let you know that, but it surely’s a transparent abuse of firm coverage on [inaudible] communications.” 

“It is not received something to do with — it is not due to the work you do,” Gurdon added within the assembly.

Nicosia objected within the assembly to having his employment terminated over the video, telling Gurdon that he shared it within the Slack channel as a result of he thought it would go viral on-line, fire up an argument, and turn out to be a information story. The video in the end ended up receiving greater than 6,500 retweets and 25,000 likes on Twitter. 

“That was a information story floating round,” Nicosia mentioned within the assembly. “A bunch of Marines doing inappropriate issues is a information story. I did not put it in there to make a remark as a homosexual man. It is simply that what was in it was one thing that I’d have most likely even pitched.”

“I feel that is so fallacious on a number of ranges that I am unable to say,” Nicosia added of his firing, based on the audio.

Harnden chimed in to say he was “sorry” it had come to this, however that his and Gurdon’s palms had been “tied.” 

Nicosia instructed CNN Enterprise on Wednesday that he believed he was fired as a result of he “wasn’t going alongside” with Harnden anymore.

“I used to be pushing again about his insurance policies,” Nicosia mentioned. “He was treating individuals poorly. He was treating younger individuals as if they weren’t studying. He was treating individuals like that they had been within the enterprise for 25 years.”

Nicosia mentioned after he was fired he went house and considered his firing. He mentioned he was “extra shocked than stewing.”

However, Nicosia mentioned, he grew upset when he was contacted by Betsy Rothstein, a reporter at The Each day Caller, who was inquiring about his firing. That is when Nicosia mentioned he drafted an e mail to Gurdon and CC’d Ryan McKibben, the Readability Media Group government to whom Gurdon reviews.

In that e mail, Nicosia revealed that he had been recording numerous non-public conversations he had whereas on the Examiner, and had captured Harnden making plenty of inappropriate feedback. He wrote within the e mail that Harnden had “fostered and created an setting of sexism, retribution, and concern.” 

When requested why he recorded Harnden, Nicosia instructed CNN Enterprise he had finished it for his personal “safety.” He mentioned he noticed a “sample” of abuse and predicted Harden would possibly finally activate him.

“As soon as I noticed the stuff he was saying about individuals behind their backs, it started to daybreak on me that he might be doing the identical factor to me,” Nicosia mentioned. “And I am much more weak.” 

‘Tyrannical’

Nicosia’s e mail to Gurdon and McKibben contained a cache of audio recordings and textual content message display pictures that appeared to assist the allegations made concerning the abusive work setting cultivated by Harnden. 

One audio recording revealed that Harnden had referred to a younger feminine worker as “Miss f**king tits and a**.” When the audio was turned over to Examiner management, the worker to whom Harnden had been referring was given a heads-up “that the corporate was dealing with undisclosed disparaging remarks” about her in case they went public, based on an individual with direct information of the matter.

In a textual content message to Nicosia, Harnden unloaded on one other worker over her look.

“F**king bitter, silly b*tch,” the textual content message mentioned. “F**okay her. If she hasn’t stop inside per week, I’ll inform Hugo she must be canned. No, [redacted] you fats f**king waste of meals, some individuals heave pleasure of their work and wish their group to enhance. Others are lazy, ineffective whiners who simply leech off the individuals who do work exhausting.” 

One other audio recording made by Nicosia captured Harnden speculating concerning the intercourse lives of these in administration. And one more piece of audio recorded by Nicosia captured Harnden disclosing details about the salaries of senior staff to Nicosia. 

The textual content messages exchanged with Nicosia additionally confirmed Harden discussing plans to eliminate sure staff. He boasted that there can be a “corridor of ghosts.”

“We’ll be like, Keep in mind [redacted]? What about depressing [redacted.] Jesus, f**king [redacted]. And That little p***y [redacted.]”

However Harnden’s habits was not simply restricted to what was captured within the audio recordings and textual content messages. Present and former staff described an abusive work setting wherein Harnden usually unloaded on staff. These present and former staff described Harnden as a supervisor who significantly focused marginalized staff. 

“He had an aggressive perspective towards nearly anybody within the workplace,” Hutchins instructed CNN Enterprise. “Significantly, anybody who was a girl, particular person of colour, or who was homosexual.”

Hutchins mentioned that with girls, Harnden would largely house in on their bodily appearances. Hutchins, who’s homosexual, mentioned Harnden would characterize homosexual males as “p***ies who victimized themselves.” 

When he stop, Hutchins wrote Gurdon a prolonged e mail, which was seen by CNN Enterprise, documenting the hostile work setting beneath Harnden. Hutchins instructed CNN Enterprise that “on the time” he believed it “was going to have an effect on some change,” however later realized it did not have an effect. 

Different present and former staff who spoke to CNN Enterprise supported the declare that Harnden went after girls. 

“I feel he was triggered by feminine staff on the whole,” one former staffer mentioned. “It actually appeared like he would … he was exhausting on all people, however females who weren’t afraid to face as much as him, or who he could not management, he was bothered by that.” 

One other former worker mentioned there “had been quite a lot of conditions the place girls who labored there have been yelled at.”

In a single explicit occasion, recounted to CNN Enterprise by two individuals aware of the occasions, Harnden was mentioned to have been upset by an opinion piece written by a feminine commentary author. Harnden, based on the 2 individuals aware of the occasions, shocked staffers when he publicly scolded her within the newsroom for the opinion piece.

It was significantly stunning, the individuals aware of the matter mentioned, as a result of Harnden didn’t oversee the opinion desk and, thus, the commentary author didn’t report back to him. 

The matter was later delivered to the eye of Gurdon, based on a 3rd particular person with information of the matter, who was mentioned to have investigated the incident and handled it. It is unclear how the matter was addressed, and the particular person whom Harnden scolded didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark. 

One other behavior of Harnden that bothered staffers was his stealth enhancing of tales after that they had been revealed. Present and former staffers mentioned that Harnden would usually edit tales with out notifying the reporters whose bylines had been on the items. Harnden, the staffers mentioned, would play up the drama of their tales in ways in which would make them really feel uncomfortable having their byline hooked up to the article.

“We might write the story, it will undergo one of many editors, the editors would edit it and approve it for placement, and it will get positioned,” defined one former staffer. “After which in a single day … Harnden would go into the already revealed story, utterly rewrite it from prime to backside, including all this sensationalist stuff — particulars I used to be very uncomfortable with.” 

Present and former staffers instructed CNN Enterprise that Gurdon was properly conscious of the best way Harnden managed the newsroom. Hutchins and one other former staffer mentioned they each complained to him as they exited. One present worker described how Harnden would rip into staff throughout editor conferences with Gurdon current. 

“Toby would pounce on a reporter by way of the reporter’s editor,” defined the present worker. “He simply blasts some reporter for being too sluggish, not productive, incapable. After which the editor simply sits there and says, ‘OK, I am going to discuss to them.'”

“After which Toby would rip, ‘That is not an excuse!’ And it was simply tyrannical — sadly actual stuff,” the present worker continued. “And after some time the editor stops defending the reporter and asks, ‘What would you like me to do?’ After which Toby switches gears and begins ranting about journalism, insulting individuals — you identify it. Toby is mouthing off. And Hugo is simply sitting there listening to this.” 

A few of the present and former staff mentioned they believed Harnden’s habits was tolerated due to the site visitors increase. The Righting noted in January that the year-over-year guests to the Examiner “rose 42% in November 2019, making it the 11th straight month of site visitors will increase.” 

“It is secure to say that it was clicks at any price by way of getting site visitors,” mentioned one former Examiner worker. “The issue with that’s that there was a tough ambiance related to it.” 

“The upper-ups tolerated a extremely toxic setting if the web site received site visitors,” the previous worker added. 

‘Let’s not be distracted by this disappointing state of affairs’ 

The complaints about Harnden have continued into this week. In a Monday e mail obtained by CNN Enterprise, an worker wrote to Gurdon and McKibben, saying Harnden “created a local weather of nonstop office terror and bullying.” 

Some editors had been referred to as into Gurdon’s workplace to debate the current occasions. In response to one particular person, Gurdon inspired staffers to “say good issues” if members of the press attain out to them.

McKibben, the Readability Media Group government who oversees the Examiner, mentioned in a Friday assertion to CNN Enterprise, “Over the past two weeks, we obtained reviews about unacceptable habits allegedly engaged in by two Washington Examiner staffers. We instantly investigated these  allegations. The staffers that had been the themes of these reviews are not employed by the Washington Examiner.”

“The actions and habits of these two former staff don’t mirror the tradition that we demand on the Washington Examiner,” McKibben added. “We’re initiating an inner investigation by way of an impartial third get together to find out what, if any, further actions are wanted to make sure that our tradition, insurance policies and actions appropriately assist all of our staff.”

In his e mail on Friday to workers, Gurdon mentioned, “What we’re going by way of now’s regrettable however short-term, however our dedication to the longer term is long run. A part of that future is my private dedication to every of you that we are going to not enable any of our staff to be subjected to unacceptable, unsupportive, or unprofessional habits.”

Gurdon reiterated that if staff had been to “witness or expertise any habits you discover unacceptable,” to inform him or Kathy Schaffhauser, the Examiner’s chief monetary officer who staff mentioned duals because the de-facto human sources particular person.

“Now we have created one thing particular right here on the Washington Examiner,” Gurdon concluded. “Our work is business main. That may be a direct results of the exhausting work, dedication and expertise that every of you convey to work daily. Let’s not be distracted by this disappointing state of affairs, and hold transferring ahead to new heights.”



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