men explaining things

Harper’s Publisher Gives Absolutely Baffling Interview About Sexual Harassment

The October issue of Harper’s.
The October issue of Harper’s. Photo: Harper’s Magazine

Mere months after receiving considerable backlash over the publication of Katie Roiphe’s essay criticizing #MeToo and the Shitty Men in Media List, Harper’s again found itself in hot water: this time, over an essay written by disgraced public-radio icon John Hockenberry. On Tuesday, Harper’s publisher and president Rick MacArthur appeared on CBC Radio’s “The Current” to defend the essay — and the interview was absolutely bizarre.

“The Current” invited MacArthur on for a segment discussing not only Hockenberry’s essay, but also a recent New York Review of Books piece written by Jian Ghomeshi, a Canadian radio personality brought down by sexual-assault allegations. To discuss Ghomeshi, host Anna Maria Tremonti brought on the Cut’s senior editor Ruth Spencer, who spoke of her reaction to the essay (which she wrote about here) as well as the Cut’s coverage of Hockenberry. MacArthur’s interview began after Spencer signed off.

That’s when things went haywire.

Tremonti began by asking MacArthur why he would defend Hockenberry’s essay (in which the former host of WNYC’s “The Takeaway” wrote of being a misunderstood romantic and the victim of an overcorrection of the #MeToo movement). “Before we go there …” MacArthur said. “Hockenberry is in a wheelchair. He is a paraplegic, so that does inform the piece immensely.” The Harper’s publisher then added that the piece was edited by a woman — all before answering Tremonti’s question.

MacArthur went on to call the essay “kind of a sequel to the Katie Roiphe piece,” before explaining the #MeToo movement to Tremonti. He said, in part:

“The #MeToo movement has had an unfortunate tendency to lump together everybody from Harvey Weinstein to the guy who looked at you funny at the lunch room at the office cantine or who maybe sent you a suggestive message. There is a distinction to be made, and the response in many cases has been disproportionate.”

He went on to tell Tremonti that “contrary to what the writer from the Cut said,” Hockenberry’s essay is a “complicated mix of atonement, regret, and an attempt to explore sexual relations between men and women in the modern age.” MacArthur also criticized those who have said that the essay — which is around 7,000 words — is too long. “We’re running into a kind of buzzsaw of illiberalism, refusal to see another point of view at the same time that we don’t have the patience to read and consider,” MacArthur said.

At this point, Tremonti was finally able to get another question in. She asked MacArthur what Hockenberry being parapalegic has anything to do with the allegations against him — to which MacArthur laughed and said, “It’s hard to get out of a wheelchair and attack somebody.”

Tremonti then attempted to inform MacArthur that sexual harassment doesn’t just entail physical assaults. He, in turn, interrupted her to say that he believes #MeToo must distinguish between criminal acts and workplace sexual harassment. He also accused Tremonti and Spencer of both taking “Soviet-style” tones about the subject. (Tremonti asked in response, “Have you ever worked in the Soviet Union? Because I have.”)

The remainder of the interview goes back and forth between Tremonti attempting to raise the point that workplace sexual harassment is a fireable offense, and MacArthur attempting to belittle what she has to say and stand up for his own take on the subject (he even uses the fact that Harper’s fired someone for sexual harassment “eight, nine years” ago as an example of the magazine being “ahead of the curve”). The interview can be heard here.

Harper’s Publisher’s Defense of Hockenberry Is Baffling