October 27, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

How an email sparked ‘Reply All’ Bon Appetit series scandal

Host PJ Vogt and senior reporter Sruthi Pinnamaneni will be stepping away from the popular Gimlet Media podcast “Reply All,” according to an internal email by managing director Lydia Polgreen, after a former Gimlet staffer accused the pair of creating a “toxic dynamic” at the company in a Twitter thread that went viral.

“Reflecting on my behavior, I find it humiliating,” Vogt said in a statement tweeted Wednesday evening. “I’m sorry to everyone I’ve disappointed.”

Earlier this month, “Reply All,” which explores stories about technology, launched a miniseries called “The Test Kitchen,” presented by Pinnamaneni instead of usual hosts Vogt, Alex Goldman and recent addition Emmanuel Dzotsi. Using its deep-reporting skills, the series uncovers how Bon Appétit became a toxic workplace for its employees of color, creating an environment marked by racial bias. That culture burst into the public eye last summer, when Editor in Chief Adam Rapoport resigned after a photo surfaced of him wearing a racist costume.

Amid the fallout, Business Insider published an expose in which current and former employees of color at the food magazine said they did not have the same professional opportunities as their white peers. The magazine issued a lengthy apology that stated, in part, “we have continued to tokenize many BIPOC staffers and contributors in our videos and on our pages.” In the months that followed the apology, the magazine’s popular video series lost three employees of color.

“The Test Kitchen” is framed as a follow-up to that very public scandal, tracing its roots to Rapoport’s installation as Bon Appétit’s top editor in 2010 and relating the painful stories of the staffers of color he and the magazine’s other, mostly white, editors overlooked.

Adam Rapoport, at a 2018 event in Las Vegas, resigned as editor in chief of Bon Appétit last June.

(Ethan Miller / Getty Images for Vegas Uncork’d )

But Gimlet employees had their own stories to tell.

Eric Eddings, who hosted the Gimlet Media podcast “The Nod” with Brittany Luse until October 2020 and was the author of the viral thread, told The Times he had been putting off listening to “The Test Kitchen.” He was about to get married, and also hadn’t fully processed his experiences at Gimlet.

But on Feb. 6, the very day he tied the knot, Eddings received an email from Pinnamaneni. In the note, which has been reviewed by The Times, Pinnamaneni explains that she is reporting on media companies that fumble diversity efforts and cause damage to employees of color for an episode of “The Test Kitchen” to be released the following week. Pinnamaneni says she will also talk about Gimlet, and that she has spent time thinking about her part in the company’s issues. She says that if Eddings is open to it, she would like to call him and tell him what she plans on saying. (The episode in question, the second in the series, debuted on Feb. 12.)

“It was upsetting just because it really actually brought up a lot,” Eddings said, in a conversation that took place before the announcements about changes at “Reply All.” “It’s been frankly about two years at this point since all these things went down. [She] had plenty of time to reach out to me. Doing it in this context felt really disingenuous.

“I probably wouldn’t have talked to her regardless, but I would have expected her to reach out knowing that she owed me an apology,” he added. “And so when those things weren’t there, I was pretty upset.”

Eddings didn’t reply to Pinnamaneni’s email, but he did decide to listen to the series, in which he heard “stories that literally could have been days out of my life.” He felt that those interviewed for “The Test Kitchen” exposé on Bon Appétit didn’t know enough about the workplace at Gimlet. “I didn’t feel confident that the sources knew everything that happened before they shared,” he said. “It felt like I had context that people didn’t, and that if I was in their situation — which I was — I would want that context.”

In Pinnamaneni’s description, from the end of Episode 2, she says that “Gimlet had its own version of these problems,” which ultimately resulted in a unionization drive she did not support, which began ahead of Spotify buying the company in 2019: “To the extent I talked about it, I talked about the way that their fight was stepping on my toes.

“It took eight months of reporting on Bon Appétit for me to see how wrong I was about all of that,” she continues. “And if I’m honest, I’m still processing the anger that I feel toward myself. I wish I’d made different choices, but I also think that ideally employees shouldn’t have to make those kinds of choices at all. Choices like that end up defining our jobs when the people in charge have not done theirs — because, after all, they are the ones with the real power.”

Eddings said he wrote and rewrote the viral Feb. 16 Twitter thread in which he spoke out about his experiences at Gimlet four times before finally posting it. (The thread has since received over 18,000 likes.) “The truth is [‘Reply All’] and specifically PJ and Sruthi contributed to a near identical toxic dynamic at Gimlet,” he wrote. “It’s damaging to have that reporting and storytelling come from two people who have actively and AGGRESSIVELY worked against multiple efforts to diversify Gimlet’s staff & content.”

Eddings’ “The Nod” cohost Brittany Luse echoed his criticisms of “The Test Kitchen”: “A finer point I want to hit on as this thread is resurrected is that some of the people working on the Reply All Bon Appetit series (people with both soft and hard power) chose to be silent or complicit as their POC and pro-union Gimlet colleagues struggled beside them every day,” she wrote on Twitter.

Starlee Kine, who was behind the Gimlet podcast “Mystery Show,” tweeted, in part: “I’ve been telling you guys @Gimletmedia is toxic for a long time. I’m glad others are speaking out. I know it’s hard. Podcasting didn’t have to be like this.” Gimlet’s union tweeted in support of Eddings and said the group continued to fight for “guaranteed salary increases, proposals around diversity & inclusion, IP & derivative works and more.”

Vogt’s and Pinnamaneni’s departures were announced Wednesday evening. Alex Goldman, Emmanuel Dzotsi and the rest of the “Reply All” team will continue on the podcast. The team will meet with Polgreen to discuss the future of “The Test Kitchen” in the days ahead, according to an internal email by Polgreen. Vogt, Goldman, Pinnamaneni and Gimlet did not respond to requests for comment from The Times.

In his statement, Vogt said he failed to be an ally during the unionization effort at Gimlet. He said that although he was supportive now, “at the time, I was a baby and a jerk about it in myriad ways.” He said he “should have reflected on what it meant to not be on the same side of a movement largely led by young producers of color at my company. I did not.”

Pinnamaneni wrote: “My conduct around the diversity and union organization efforts at Gimlet was ill-informed, ignorant, and hurtful.” She said she “did not pay enough attention to the people of color with less power at Gimlet and I should have used my power to support and elevate them further.”

Since publishing his thread, Eddings told The Times that as of Wednesday afternoon no one in Gimlet management had reached out to him. He has advice for those who work in the media and are hoping to avoid these problems — advice that might well apply to other industries, too.

“If you’re in the workplace, pay attention to the structures of power,” Eddings said. “If someone comes to you and talks to you and says, ‘You know, I’m struggling, I’m wondering what to do about this,’ listen, and offer them support. That would fix so much. The actual empathy, the compassion like that — there needs to be more of it.”

As for Gimlet, Eddings said: “I wish them the best on their future endeavors.”