A former Esquire magazine writer isn’t done calling out Hearst Magazine executives for their purported decision to earlier this year “kill” an investigative piece on alleged sexual misconduct and abuse by a major movie director.
Alex French, on Esquire’s masthead for two years as a writer at large, meaning he was essentially a freelancer who only wrote for Esquire, took to Twitter on Tuesday to express his grievances with two executives now running Hearst Magazines — president Troy Young and chief content officer Kate Lewis — who he characterized as having “very little journalistic experience (Ms. Lewis) to zero journalism experience (Mr. Young).” Both Young and Lewis took up the top spots at Hearst Magazines last year, after spending the bulk of their respective careers in digital advertising and as a managing editor (typically an oversight role) within Condé Nast.
French started off by refuting a claim in the New York Post that he was cut from his position at Esquire amid a shifting masthead following the departure of editor in chief Jay Fielden, a move first reported by WWD, clarifying that he in fact quit. But French’s posts turned into an all-out dressing down of Hearst executives, whom he claims were behind a decision early this year to not run in any form a story he and Maximillian Potter reported on for Esquire regarding extensive sexual abuse and misconduct allegations against the movie director Bryan Singer. Singer has publicly denied the allegations.
A Hearst spokeswoman could not be reached for comment. Reached by phone, French said he essentially expressed what he wanted in his tweets, a platform he does not use extensively. He did note that his motivation goes beyond simply being disgruntled, seeing as the Singer story was ultimately published by The Atlantic. He sees the issue as a lack of understanding for investigative journalism, especially that around abuse, by Hearst Magazines leadership.
“You’d think that such [journalistic] experience and faith would be a prerequisite for running one of the largest publishing (allegedly journalism) companies on earth,” French said in a tweet, referring to Hearst Corp. as a whole. “Far as I’m concerned, Ms. Lewis and Mr. Young betrayed journalism and the pursuit of truth.”
The experience with the Singer story caused him to stop reporting on another piece for Esquire on gang violence in Los Angeles and ultimately leave the publication (which he had nothing but good things to say about) “largely because my trust in the editorial process at Hearst had disintegrated.”
“When the story was killed, Potter and I were told the top executive at Hearst, Steven Swartz [chief executive officer of Hearst], did not so much as consult the editor in chief, Jay Fielden,” French wrote.
“I have been left wondering what, if anything, William Randolph Hearst 3rd, chairman of the Hearst board, has to say about this,” French added. “He’s the grandson of William Randolph Hearst and he sits on the board of the Center for Investigative Reporting.”
A spokeswoman for the center, a non-profit that also operates a news site, declined to comment.
French, along with Potter, in late February spoke to Columbia Journalism Review about their experience with Hearst and the Singer story, explaining that Lewis took issue with the backgrounds of some of the victims included in the story and the fact that some of the sex acts appeared to be consensual, even though many were teenagers at the time. While French and Potter told CJR of the “confusing” days of back and forth between Lewis and Fielden, who planned to have the story for the February issue, and its ultimate publication in another magazine, they did not get into the aftermath.
A couple of months on, the result of the imbroglio may be clear. Most, if not all, of the people at Esquire involved directly in urging the publication of the Singer story no longer work there.
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