How does Kath Viner & Jonathan Freedland Square #MeToo with paying off Cohen and Penalising the Victims?

#MeToo in the media Good Law Project

As the old saying goes, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue and The Guardian’s hypocrisy is indeed a vice.

If there was an award for the most rabidly racist, war-mongering, anti-Corbyn ‘journalist’ the name of Nick Cohen would come high if not top of the list. Despite his name he isn’t Jewish though he began to claim that too with an article ‘Hatred is turning me into a Jew’.

Seven years later, as the anti-Corbyn campaign was getting going, Cohen penned an article Why I’m becoming a Jew and why you should, too. Clearly his conversion was taking a long time!

 ‘My name is Nick Cohen, and I think I’m turning into a Jew. Despite being called “Cohen”, I’ve never been Jewish before.

An open invitation from Nick Cohen for every racist troll to convert to Judaism

When anti-Semitism was a genuine form of racism, Jews were identified with the left and trade unionism. Zionism has managed to transform Jews into an object of admiration for the racist right.

Back in the early years of New Labour Cohen was a decent journalist, writing a weekly column on the back page of the Observer. His politics were Tribunite. He consistently attacked New Labour’s policies towards refugees. He even opposed the Blair government’s introduction of Holocaust Memorial Day.

My email to Jonathan Freedland, the Guardian’s Zionist Gatekeeper Goes Unanswered

Then 9/11 happened and with it the War on Terror. Cohen jack-knifed to the right, becoming an Islamaphobe and a supporter of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Thus was born the anti-Corbyn fiend and sexual predator that Freedland and Viner did their best to protect.

My favourite Cohen article is Don’t tell me you weren’t warned about Corbyn which he wrote just before Theresa May called a general election in April 2017. This latter-day Nostradamus predicted that:

On current polling, Labour will get around a quarter of the vote. Imagine, though, how the Labour party will fare in an election campaign when its leaders are Corbyn, John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott… The Tories have gone easy on Corbyn and his comrades to date for the transparently obvious reason that they want to keep them in charge of Labour.

In an election, they would tear them to pieces. They will expose the far left’s record of excusing the imperialism of Vladimir Putin’s gangster state, the oppressors of women and murderers of gays in Iran, the IRA, and every variety of inquisitorial and homicidal Islamist movement… Will there be 150, 125, 100 Labour MPs by the end of the flaying? My advice is to think of a number then halve it.

Cohen’s final paragraph to those supporting Corbyn was:

In my respectful opinion, your only honourable response will be to stop being a fucking fool by changing your fucking mind.

It is such sentiments that make Cohen an object of admiration for Hadley Freeman, Tanya Gold and all the other journalistic detritus.

This blog was alone in predicting Corbyn’s unexpected success in 2017

In the wake of the June 2017 election, when Labour – despite the sabotage of the right – gained 30 seats and the highest swing since 1945 – I wrote a blog Jeremy Corbyn and the Humiliation of Nick Cohen. Almost alone amongst commentators I predicted the outcome. With the polls showing a lead of over 20% I wrote:

… it was Harold Wilson who said that a week is a long time in politics. Seven weeks is a political eternity. Theresa May has taken a gamble that her 21% lead will hold. It is a gamble that she may yet come to regret.

There is only one direction that her lead can go, and that is down. Once her lead falls, then a snowball effect can take over. What is essential is that Labour marks out the key areas on which it is going to base its appeal. The danger is that Corbyn is going to continue with his ‘strategy’ of appeasing the right and appealing to all good men and women….

Theresa May is a cautious conservative. She is literally the product of her background – a conservative vicar’s daughter. Reactionary, parochial and small-minded, she is a bigot for all seasons.

On 3 June I wrote General Election – Is Labour on the threshold of victory? After the result I wrote to Kath Viner, offering to replace Nick Cohen at half his salary. For reasons which remain difficult to understand to this day Viner ignored my generous offer!

Nick Cohen Leaves The Guardian for ‘Health Reasons’

In January 2023 Cohen left The Guardian. According to The Telegraph Guardian News and Media (GNM)

did not mention that Cohen left the newspaper with a settlement following complaints of sexual harassment that spanned a period of 17 years

The Guardian said that Cohen’s departure was for ‘health’ reasons whereas the real reason was that he had had been a sexual predator, preying on young female journalists, some with mental health problems, others on temporary contracts.

The Guardian’s deception was only successful because other newspapers colluded with them. [See Nick Cohen, Phillip Schofield and British media’s own #MeToo reckoning, The Week, 1.6.23].

Kath Viner got rid of its cartoonist of 40 years standing, Steve Bell, the only decent journalist left on the paper – Viner ruled that the appearance of Razan Al Najar – the 21 year old Palestinian medic killed by Netanyahu’s snipers in Gaza, in Theresa May’s fireplace was ‘antisemitic’

My email to Guardian editor Kath Viner also goes unanswered

In a puff to gullible readers who are asked to fund Kath Viner’s half a million pound salary, The Guardian commits itself to delivering

fearless, investigative journalism – giving a voice to the powerless and holding power to account.”

Novara Media on Nick Cohen cover up

Except, it seems, when the powerless happen to be young, female journalists in its newsroom.

The Guardian Investigates Cohen or Does It?

In January 2018 Lucy Siegle reported Cohen for groping her. Siegle started at The Guardian around 2001 as an editorial assistant. She described standing at a photocopier when Cohen appeared behind her, cupped her bottom with both hands, grunted and breathed heavily into her ear.

Siegle remembers returning to her desk, humiliated. She never considered reporting him. “I’m literally the least powerful person in the entire newsroom.”. For 14 years she avoided his desk and chaperoned interns “like a mother hen crossing a busy road.”

The #MeToo movement was sweeping through society on Feb. 1, 2018, when Siegle met with Guardian Managing Editor Jan Thompson. Siegle described what happened next.

The meeting began with me. I described why I was there, and went on to tell the senior executive about Nick Cohen’s assault on me. There was not much response at this point, just a blank stare which I felt to be slightly hostile. But when I mentioned that I was aware there had been another allegation, the senior executive became animated.

They set me straight (“That sort of Twitter allegation would not be investigated in that way ever…”) and pulled a face of disgust at the very idea of that allegation. The executive also denied any knowledge about any allegation.

The meeting continued and the exec pointed out a number of times that it would be difficult for me to proceed with my complaint anonymously and made it sound as if I will have to go head-to-head with “Nick”. He was called by his first name throughout, and there was lengthy speculation from the exec about what he might say and how he might be affected by such an allegation.

The main concern of Thompson was about the possibility that Siegle would write about what happened. Thompson’s main concern was the alleged abuse that Cohen faced for his political views, according to notes Siegle wrote afterward. She described the meeting as a “chaotic mess of defensiveness and attack.”

The exec then told me that Nick Cohen was frequently targeted for abuse because of his political standpoint. They sounded like they were defending a very precious asset, their star striker. I could not understand why this was remotely relevant, but my brain began to compute that this conversation was not welcome….

By the time the meeting finished, I felt like I had been in a laundry cycle, but also a bit like I’d been beaten up. As happens with these things, you pore over them afterwards to make sure that you haven’t been over-sensitive or misread.

Because of this hostile reaction, Siegle decided not to pursue the complaint within GNM.

You might think The Guardian’s response was strange given that in its Leader The Guardian view on #MeToo: what comes next? they wrote:

No woman should suffer socially, economically or professionally for challenging her abuser. But how much harder it is to speak out when the cost may be not only your career, but the ability to pay the rent or feed your children. And how much more likely you are to be targeted when predatory men know that…

Even now, women are paying a price for speaking out. Much discussion has skipped past the primary question – how women should be treated in the workplace – to fixate on how perpetrators should be treated, without pausing to acknowledge the penalties that victims have already paid.

The Guardian was keen to hear from victims of sexual harassment everywhere but the Guardian!

One week before Siegle’s complaint The Guardian solicited tips about workplace sexual harassment. They said:

We take all allegations of workplace harassment extremely seriously and aim to support victims in all circumstances. We have processes which anyone can use to raise complaints so that they can be fully investigated.

Siegle wrote of how she was aware of several other women who had also been “discouraged” by The Guardian from taking forward their complaints.

New York Times Breaks the story that the British press, including Private Eye, Wouldn’t Touch

On 30 May the New York Times [NYT] ran British Reporter Had a Big #MeToo Scoop. Her Editor Killed It about what had happened at The Guardian and the Financial Times [FT]. It spoke of 7 women who had made allegations against Cohen but no paper would touch it because ‘Britain’s news media has a complicated relationship with outing its own.’

Lucy Siegle is one of multiple women to accuse the British columnist Nick Cohen of unwanted sexual advances and groping.Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

The NYT revealed that FT journalist Madison Marriage secured a “potentially explosive scoop” on the real reason behind Cohen’s departure but her story was spiked by Editor Roula Khalaf. Marriage had evidence that his departure followed years of unwanted sexual advances and groping of female journalists.

The FT’s explanation was that “Some reporting leads to published stories and some not.”

Jane Bradley interviewed more than 35 journalists at The Guardian and FT to examine sexual misconduct in Britain’s news media.

Marriage had already begun investigating Cohen but Roula Khalaf halted the investigation, telling Marriage not to contact any new sources. Her team had already interviewed five of Cohen’s accusers.

Two women were willing to speak openly, and Marriage had supporting documentation on others. Khalaf said that Cohen did not have a big enough business profile to make him an “F.T. story”. Publicly, the FT had declared “no topic or scandal off limits.”

In February Khalaf said she would not run the investigation as a news article, several journalists recalled, and suggested that Marriage file it as an opinion piece. She did, but it still did not run.

The Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf during an appearance last year on the BBC. Credit…James Manning/PA Images, via Getty Images

A native of Lebanon, Khalaf is not a British media insider. Colleagues described her as a cautious editor, and some said the Cohen article had fallen victim to an institutional conflict between the newspaper’s investigative aspirations and its conservative, business roots.

The spiking of the FT article hit Siegle especially hard. ‘Now it seemed the whole industry was protecting itself.’ She described how the response to the story showed

“#MeToo is nothing but a convenient hashtag for the British media. The silence on its own industry is just really conspicuous.”

Cohen was seen as someone with influence, former colleagues said. Credit…Marco Secchi/Getty Images

Cohen however was unrepentant. He told the NYT that it wasn’t the women he abused who were the victims: He was the “only person whose life is turned over because of this”. 

A GNM spokesperson told The Telegraph that the organisation “instigated our own HR investigations” in 2018, but the group said the victim “did not wish to pursue the complaint”. Siegle asked

If Britain’s most stridently liberal newspaper fails to deal with claims of sexual harassment by one of its leading writers, what does it say about the supposed progress of the #MeToo movement

On October 6 2021 Siegle posted on Twitter describing her experience at The Guardian.

“I don’t normally read Nick Cohen’s column in the Observer. Ever since he ‘groped’ me at the photocopier (zero marks for originality) at work when I was an admin assistant in my early 20s I have avoided being anywhere near him. But I do think he is a total creep…. lurking in the shadows to lay your hands on an underling (or anyone) is not to my mind compatible with the position he presents.”

It was through going public that she heard from other victims of Cohen, as did the Good Law Project [GLP]. The experiences of Women 1-5, as the GLP refers to the complainants (Siegle is W2) featured in a thread posted by Jolyon Maugham. Many more have come forward since.

GNM turned down a request for an independent inquiry into its complaint processes and handling of the complaints. Siegle told how

Nick Cohen is now co-operating with GNM on an investigation and his column has been “paused”. He has previously denied allegations as “vile and untrue”. I am sure that if Jolyon, myself, and the other Ws had not pushed and posted threads it would still be business as usual in Guardian HQ.

On 4 August 2022 Siegle wrote, not in The Guardian but the New European that

It was during this time as an admin assistant that I was assaulted by Nick Cohen, a prominent and highly-regarded journalist and, until this week when his column was “paused” as he is investigated by the company, still a star columnist on The Observer, as well as other publications including The Spectator and Private Eye.

Cohen spent two decades as a columnist for The Observer. ‘Inside the newsroom, he was seen as influential, colleagues said, someone who could help your career.’

His resignation in January cited “health grounds.” Secretly, the newspaper group paid him a financial settlement for quitting and agreed to confidentiality, according to three colleagues and an editor with whom Mr. Cohen spoke.

This cartoon was also deemed ‘antisemitic’ by Freedland’s witchhunters

In his farewell, editors praised his “brilliant” and “incisive” coverage. Seven women told the NYT that Cohen had groped them or made other unwanted sexual advances over nearly two decades. Four insisted on anonymity, fearing professional repercussions.

Siegle recounted Cohen grabbing her bottom in the newsroom around 2001. Five other women described similar encounters at pubs from 2008 to 2015. One said Mr. Cohen had pressed his erection against her thigh and kissed her uninvited when they met to discuss her career. A seventh said Mr. Cohen had repeatedly offered to send her explicit photographs in 2018 while she worked as an unpaid copy editor for him.

This cartoon too was deemed ‘antisemitic’ by Freedland’s witchhunters

Cohen’s reputation was widely known in the newsroom, according to 10 former colleagues. Five women said he had groped them after work at pubs, including one who said he had groped her “five or six” times in 2008. One said she and other female journalists had used a different entrance to a pub to avoid being groped by him. Another woman said she had avoided the bar downstairs from the newsroom after Mr. Cohen grabbed her knee during work drinks.

Private Eye too did not cover his departure. When a reader emailed asking why, Editor Ian Hislop replied:

“Coverage of Nick Cohen’s departure from The Observer is obviously more problematic for The Eye than the others that you mention due to the fact that he used to write a freelance column for the magazine.”

Hislop said he had discussed the terms of The Guardian’s deal with Cohen. “Instead of any conclusion,” Hislop said of The Guardian investigation, “it ended up with a secret agreement and a big cash payment.”

In the end the ratbiter was bitten where it hurts most but Ian Hislop joined the Street of Shame in not telling the Eye’s readers why

Cohen’s column in Private Eye was called Ratbiter, which regularly defamed Corbyn supporters including Greg Hadfield and myself. It was a litany of lies but Private Eye supported Cohen’s false ‘anti-Semitism’ accusations. Cohen’s departure from the Eye was mentioned only in The Press Gazette, a media trade website.

In a phone interview with the NYT, Cohen said he did not have the “faintest idea” about Siegle’s accusation and questioned why she had waited so long to report it. He said the conversation with the copy editor was “joking” among friends. He blamed the accusations on a campaign by supporters of Russia and transgender rights!

Steve Bell – the only honest journalist on the Guardian was sacked by Kath Viner

Informed that seven women had complained Cohen exclaimed, “Oh, God. I assume it’s stuff I was doing when I was drunk”. In a subsequent email, Cohen did not respond to specific accusations.

“I have written at length about my alcoholism. I went clean seven years ago in 2016. I look back on my addicted life with deep shame.

Jean Hannah Edelstein, an assistant at The Observer from 2007 to 2009, said Cohen was not alone in his behaviour. She recalled her editor hitting her with a sex whip as she walked by. Over one boozy lunch, she said, the same editor offered to help her career and suggested that she pose naked to promote her book.

Another woman, a freelancer who had recently been homeless and had depression, said she had met Cohen at a pub in 2010 to discuss her career. As they chatted, she said, he suddenly kissed her on the mouth and pressed his erection against her thigh. She said she fled.

“I just remember walking along Waterloo Bridge and thinking, ‘I can’t go to The Guardian with this. Who would they believe? He was one of their stars, and I was a freelance journalist with mental health issues.”

Heather Brooke, an investigative journalist, said she had initially dismissed her encounter with Mr. Cohen at the 2008 awards ceremony as “a one-off drunken mistake and didn’t take it further.” (“Nick Cohen got drunk and slapped my ass … ugh!” she wrote in her diary the next day.)

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson, a writer and commentator, said Cohen had grabbed her bottom at a book party in 2009.

“To sexually assault a stranger at a book launch, to be one of the more prominent people there, and to just assume there will be no comeuppance,”

Not long after Siegle lodged her 2018 complaint records show that Cohen began working with a freelance copy editor, a single mother with autism.

She worked remotely for Cohen, unpaid. On June 29 2018, a work conversation on Twitter became punctuated with mutually flirtatious jokes. Cohen offered to send an explicit photograph. The woman declined. Cohen persisted and she deflected again.

In the following days, the copy editor said, Cohen turned cold. In messages, she apologised if she had misread the situation. Eventually, she told him continuing to work together “would be at a cost too high for my own mental health.”

Cohen, in an email to the NYT, said this was the only accusation to surface since he quit drinking and said it had been misrepresented.

It involves a friendship with a woman I never met that, sadly, went badly wrong.

In 2019, the copy editor asked The Guardian’s HR team about the process for raising sexual misconduct claims. She described the incident without naming Cohen, saying she felt “huge pressure” to go along with his “banter.”

Because she was not an employee, the copy editor said she was told that she would not be informed of the investigation’s outcome. Being frozen out of the process terrified her, so she backed off. This is almost certainly unlawful and someone personally contracting to do work is covered by discrimination legislation.

In the autumn of 2021, Siegle wrote on Twitter about her experience. Her lawyer, Jolyon Maugham, began making noises. Jan Thompson immediately emailed Siegle offering an investigation and accusing her of turning down a previous offer in 2018, which Siegle denied.

Eventually Cohen was suspended and The Guardian hired a law firm to carry out an independent inquiry. Neither Siegle nor the copy editor agreed to participate.

Suffice to say The Guardian has not offered Lucy Siegle or any other woman journalist the opportunity to put their side of the story. Freedom of the press and #MeToo  has its limits, after all!

Tony Greenstein

The Financial Times building in London. The newspaper spiked an investigation into Nick Cohen, a columnist at The Observer. Credit…Andrew Testa for The NYT