Former Atlantic editor describes working for Atlantic and NY Times editor James Bennet

You probably remember NY Times opinion editor James Bennet as the guy who was fired after he allowed Sen. Tom Cotton to write an opinion piece for the paper. You may also recall that prior to that, Bennet got in legal trouble over an editorial which stupidly suggested the Tuscon shooter had been inspired by Sarah Palin’s district targeting map. There was a detailed breakdown of how that happened in the Columbia Journalism Review last September. That piece makes it very clear that it was Bennet who bungled the facts.

Before he worked for (and was fired by) the NY Times, Bennet was a top editor at the Atlantic. Today another editor who worked for him at the Atlantic published a lengthy piece on Medium describing what it was like to work for him. Jennifer Barnett offers a lot of small incidents which add up to a pattern: Bennet yelled at people a lot and was especially tough on women:

My performance reviews were all excellent. I was really good at my job.

But my boss had a rage problem. And it was largely directed at women. He hated his assistant. It became so bad he literally stopped speaking to her. If she was walking his way, he’d turn the corner. He refused to acknowledge his own assistant in any way shape or form, except to yell at her in front of everyone. I spoke with him multiple times about the situation as it was untenable. He wasn’t capable of managing his own schedule or workload so having an assistant he couldn’t work with was a disaster. He refused to fire her or allow me to do it for him. He tortured her until she quit. The day she left we had coffee and she told me her stomach never stopped hurting.

There were a handful of editors, all men, who had carte blanche to walk into my boss’s office at any time, even with the most trivial of matters. But when I needed to see him for business crucial to the magazine, he’d yell at me. Loudly, and with rage. It wasn’t that I was doing anything differently than the men who wanted to see him, it’s just that he was comfortable yelling at me. I noticed he did the same thing to another woman who was on the digital side…

My boss and his counterpart on the digital side would patrol the office to see who was at their desk and took issue with an editor who had recently returned from maternity leave because she left by 5:30, but still continued to work from home carrying a heavy work load. Yet a man on the digital side, one of the golden boys as they were known, had previously been given permission to leave work early to act in a play…

A promising junior editor was promoted and given a pay raise but a man on the digital side wanted one too and my bosses didn’t want to give him one. Instead of denying the man the promotion, they retracted the woman’s. After they had already given it to her. My boss then accused her of being too immature and emotional for being upset about it and she nearly got fired.

You get the idea. All of this is just the prelude to the moment when Jennifer Barnett finally gave up and quit her job. When she saw Bennet shouting at another male employee she reported her boss to HR several times. Each time she was told that they were working behind the scenes to address it and that his behavior was unacceptable.

Then, in a shocking turn of events, the president quit to take another job and it became immediately obvious my boss was next in line to take his place.

I knew I was screwed.

And that’s pretty much what happened. The magazine was up for several awards at an annual dinner which Barnett describes as the Oscars for the magazine industry. Her boss made it clear she wasn’t expected to come. She wrote an email begging to be allowed to go and he relented but then treated her poorly at the event:

He gave a toast to the former managing editor saying she’d been the best in the publication’s history (even though I knew they’d had a rocky road). He clinked glasses with everyone but me. I’d seen this behavior time and time again. I knew it was over for me.

The following Monday I gave my notice.

All of that to say, he sounds like a real piece of work. Barnett writes that she wanted to tell the story because, “the same men who continually f**k up are still in charge of the media…Despite even major public failings, they keep coming back because they work behind the scenes to protect themselves and each other to stay in power and preserve the status quo.” Looking at Bennet’s screw up on the Sarah Palin piece, it’s hard to argue with that.