The Women’s March, the organization behind the mass-demonstrations that have taken place around the world since Trump’s inauguration, has had a difficult week. On Monday, Tablet magazine published a 10,000-plus-word investigation detailing allegations of antisemitism and mismanagement, and since then, the organization’s attempt to do damage control — by sending emails to journalists who shared the story on social media — appears to have only intensified the backlash.
The Tablet exposé, written by journalists Leah McSweeney and Jacob Siegel, focused on the group of women who run the organization — notably, co-chairs Carmen Perez and Tamika Mallory, who are accused in the investigation of making egregious anti-Semitic statements on multiple occasions.
According to several sources in the piece, the first incident took place during an informal meeting in mid-November 2016, when the two women made a generalized statement about how Jewish people were exploiters of black and brown people. On a separate occasion after the inaugural march in 2017, Evvie Harmon, one of the original March organizers, told Tablet that Perez and Mallory were “berating” another early organizer, Vanessa Wruble, for being Jewish. While Wruble did not comment on this interaction in the original Tablet piece, she confirmed it in a follow-up report published Thursday, saying, “I know what took place.” The Women’s March told Tablet that it “[denounces] anti-semitism, and there should be no confusion about that.”
This exposé is not the organization’s first controversy. In early January 2017, the organization was criticized for retracting solidarity with sex workers on their website, and has recently come under fire for its lack of financial transparency. The organization also created another problem for itself following Tablet’s report: Its PR agency contacted reporters who praised the publication’s meticulously reported feature on Twitter, requesting that they cooperate in an “off the record” fact-check so Tablet could issue corrections.
The email, which Mediate reports came from PR firm Megaphone Strategies, read as following:
“Before we share the fact-check: Can you confirm that what I am sending you is off the record, and will not be published? If you are interested in publishing any parts of the fact-checks below that you will contact us first to secure our agreement? You will let us know if you intend to delete your tweet pushing an article that includes sources/allegations, which were not vetted properly and in line with journalistic ethics? Once I receive your reply, I’ll send over the corrections. Please note that we are sending this to a number of reporters who shared this article.”
Many journalists ignored the warning and posted a screenshot of the email to Twitter.
One such person who received the email was HuffPost journalist Jason Cherkis, who told the Cut that he originally thought it was “creepy spam.”
“I didn’t know what to make of it,” he said. “It felt weird that they were attacking me, and why were they talking to me and not to the reporters? There was nothing in the email that supported anything they were saying — they were making allegations about other reporters who had spent months on this story, did their due diligence, and got people on the record, and they were attacking them by spamming other journalists. It was overly aggressive.”
(Neither the Women’s March nor Megaphone Strategies responded to the Cut’s request for comment.)
In response to the organization’s protests, Tablet did issue a few minor corrections, but none substantively changed the report. Some say that this failed attempt at damage control only reinforced the findings of the story — that the Women’s March is in disarray. (The organization’s website, however, is still promoting the 2019 Women’s March on Washington, scheduled for January 19.)
“It drew way more attention to the story, and then it created other stories about journalists being attacked,” Cherkis told the Cut. “It was a disaster for them.”