Variety's TV critic goes public with alleged assault by male TV executive
A prominent television critic is going public about being groped and assaulted by an executive in the TV industry.
Sh also described taking a leave of absence amid seeming lack of concern by either his or her own employer at the time.
Maureen Ryan, TV critic for Variety and former critic for Huffington Post and the Chicago Tribune, makes clear that the context for her disclosure is the dramatic coverage of Harvey Weinstein. As she writes Wednesday:
"Harvey Weinstein, it is clear, is a monster, a sociopathic ogre, and I applaud the journalists who dragged the full scope of his reign of terror into the light of day, and survivors who have spoken out will have my heart forever. I send my love and deep admiration to them all."
"But Harvey is not the whole story. There are many Harveys, with varying amounts of influence, at every level in this industry."
Ryan does not give all the details, even about her employer, but it's clear (and she later confirmed to me) that it was Huffington Post, where she was TV critic after a long career at the Chicago Tribune (where we were colleagues) and before she moved to Variety.
"I told a lie in 2015," she writes. "A lie to save my life." She cites a post she wrote in May of that year — again, she doesn't make it clear but she wrote the post at Huffington — telling readers she was taking a leave to deal with family issues. Her dad had passed away and her mother was dying. But, she conceded in a Variety piece Wednesday, "My parents’ illnesses and deaths didn’t break me. The television executive who sexually assaulted me in 2014 broke me."
She notes how survivors of assault can descend into silence. "F---k that," she now writes.
"I can’t name my attacker for legal reasons. But I won’t be silent any more. A television executive assaulted me, and the specific power dynamics of this industry aid and abet men like him."
"The television executive who assaulted me was the boyfriend of someone I’d known in the industry for some time. I did not think the boyfriend of someone I knew would assault me. I did not think he would do it at an industry-adjacent event. I did not think he would make a sexually crude, harassing remark about me in front of dozens of people, which was extremely embarrassing."
She continues, "I did not think that, a short time later, he would put his hands on me and say utterly disgusting things. I did not think he would come after me again, and then, when I’d moved away, grope me again, and hiss more even more crude, humiliating things into my ear. He came after me three times in total. He hunted me. The word predator works on so many levels."
Ryan was as hard-working and honest a colleague as I've known. She was part of the Tribune's features section when I ran it. She says that she reported the man to his employer and had to hire her own lawyer. (Again, she doesn't name Huffington, and only says that her employer "did not help me beyond saying, more or less, 'Wow, that’s awful.'")
She ridicules as "a joke" the “investigation” by his company’s human resources department. His line, she says, was that he was drunk, or couldn't remember and "Everyone was handsy that night.”
"At one point, I had to endure something akin to a deposition, involving lawyers, HR people, and what felt like 17 hours of questions. One query: 'Could anything you did have been construed as flirting?'”
She writes, "Could you imagine being autopsied while you’re still alive?"
Near the end of her piece, she writes, "Enough about me. Here’s who I care about: The women who join the TV and film business every day. The assistants, the junior writers, the crew members, the PAs, the young women — and men — who begin ascending the ladder every year. I’ve seen their bright, eager faces on sets, in offices, at events. How can I look them in the eye and tell them to keep going if I know that some of these young people are undoubtedly going to endure abuse and harassment and more? And worse yet, that others around their abusers will cover it up or let it go?"
I tracked down Ryan Wednesday afternoon. Our back and forth included this:
"At the time of the incident, I was the TV critic at the Huffington Post. The incident occurred in the fall of 2014, I reported him in the early spring of 2015, and I took June and July of 2015 to figure out whether I wanted to continue in the industry. I decided that I did want to continue, and luckily enough, Variety approached me in August of 2015, and I officially joined as chief TV critic there in October 2015."
"The following year, I told my boss, executive TV editor Debra Birnbaum about the assault, and she was as fully supportive as a human being and boss could be. Last year and this year, we talked a few different times about when might be the right time for me to share my story. And last week, it became obvious that now was the time. She and Claudia Eller and Andrew Wallenstein, the co-editors in chief, were incredibly supportive of me telling my story, and let me do it on my terms (but they of course supplied some excellent editing). I feel really lucky to work where I do, and I have no ill will toward the Huffington Post. I was really glad to work there, I met a lot of great people through that publication. And when I moved on in 2015, it was just the right time for the next chapter."
She says her only confrontation with the man's employer was through regular reporting channels at the unidentified major company. "I first brought the complaint to the attention of the head of the network, and then that person referred my complaint to their HR office, which, in the main, handled the complaint/investigation process through that company's HR office (with some assistance from their legal team)."
She notes in the piece, she hired her own lawyer. "I will never be able to forget the day of the main conference call, which was the thing I described as being akin to a deposition. There I am, on a conference call at my lawyer's office outside Chicago. I'm there with this very nice lawyer dressed in khakis and a button-down shirt, this kind man whom I hardly know, really, describing awful things being done to my body. It was ... an experience. "
She has not seen the man since that night. But, "One thing I will say is, I have shaken with fear every time I thought he might be at a professional event that I might also attend. I never know if he will be at an event, conference or party that I want to attend or have to attend for professional reasons. I think not, probably — I have never seen him at anything; I think his department doesn't often get involved in the kind of events that I attend."
"But for a while, I tended to avoid events, gatherings and conferences featuring the network where he now works," Ryan told me. "The first time I got the courage to go to an event that that particular network was part of, I had two friends with me, one on either side. They were my wing-women, so to speak. We have known each other for a long time, and you know I'm a pretty robust, tall person. But imagine me shaking with fear, walking into a hotel ballroom for a professional event. Or crying in the bathroom beforehand, needing a friend to hold my hand."
"Those are just some of the ways in which this kind of thing stays with you, not just psychologically, but physically and professionally. "