Sexual Harassment at Macmillan Publishing in 1989—A “Me Too” Account

October 25 Update: In another day of revelations about sexual harassment, the New York Times‘ Jennifer Schuessler reports that the former literary editor of The New Republic Leon Wieseltier, who was about to launch a new magazine, is stepping down from that position in the wake of his admission that he harassed women at TNR. Publishers Lunch’s coverage (subscription required) of Wieseltier prompted the editors of the book industry website to add a link to my post below about harassment when I worked at Macmillan. Here’s a screenshot of Publishers Lunch’s item next to my original post. 

Earlier this week, on the day of #WomenBoycottTwitter, I began writing about an episode of sexual harassment that I was close to, then put it aside as it didn’t seem quite apt then. Tonight with the “Me too” theme rapidly spreading on Facebook, now seems the moment:

       With these appalling daily revelations of abuse and manipulation of women by power-hungry men, I want to describe an incident from 1989 during the time I worked at Macmillan Publishing on 866 Third Avenue. It was two years before Anita Hill informed the world about Clarence Thomas. With another editor, I shared the work and time of a female editorial assistant. The other editor, a male, handled Macmillan’s list of religion titles. He had at one time been involved in Bible publishing at Oxford University Press. Among his authors at Macmillan was a Catholic priest whose parable-like novels sold hundreds of thousands of copies. A cigarette smoker with a southern accent and a moustache, he liked to work with his feet propped up on his desk, and edited those books for religiously observant readers.
      Our assistant came in to my office one day and closed the door. She sat down and told me that she was having a problem with our colleague, the other editor. I expressed concern and asked her to tell me more. She reported he was talking to her about her clothes, asking her to go out with him, suggesting he could help her publishing career, and making lewd, suggestive comments. I was shocked and disturbed and upset for her. I told her I was very sorry this was happening. She said she wanted it to stop. I said I could speak to our colleague and tell him to cut it out, but quickly realized instead that I should tell our boss, an idea that she endorsed. Within a few minutes of learning about the situation, I went down the hall to the corner office of our boss, Bill Rosen (sadly, in 2016, the late Bill Rosen). Bill was very angry when I told him what the editorial assistant had said to me. I left Bill and I heard him call the religion editor in to his office. The door closed behind them. Soon, that same afternoon, I saw the religion editor packing up his desk, fired for cause from the company.
     Word must have gotten around our floor, and the company, that the religion editor had been fired, but I don’t know if others knew why. I didn’t tell anyone at the time, and the assistant and I only spoke briefly about it again. She went on in her career, leaving  publishing, and the last time I knew anything she had moved to Los Angeles and was working in children’s TV. I was aware at the time that the religion editor knew that the assistant had talked with me, and that I had spoken to Bill. I was glad he knew we’d blown the whistle on his self-glorifying bullshit. I hope the religion editor stopped harassing women. I know he still edits books in religion, as I have seen his name on Goodreads. I thought of sharing his name here today, and had even typed it in above. However, because naming him would implicitly suggest the name of the assistant—who I am not in contact with, and whose permission to do so I do not have—I am going to refrain from naming him, at least today. It is definitely not to protect the religion editor or his privacy, and surely not because I don’t want him to know that I’d named him here. I certainly think it would be appropriate if he suffered reputational damage for his regressive behavior, even at this late date.
2 replies
    • Philip Turner says:

      Thanks, Mike. Bill was in this, and many things, a person of true rectitude. The same quality made him a perfectionist to have as a boss, but his demands produced good work. It was early in my career, and I’ve been glad ever since that I worked for him. He later became an author of historical books, and I’ve been meaning to read him. One is on steam and how it altered modern civilization. The obituary I linked to says he was born in LA, and went to UCLA, btw.

      Reply

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