Sex And The Smoking Gun

You know what? Let's do have a trial by media. Definitely -- so we can watch in astonishment as the corporate defendant demonstrates its guilt by the very way in which it is defending itself. In its answer to sexual harassment charges, WPP is either employing cynical lawyering of the most loathsome kind or evincing cluelessness on a mythic scale.

By now you are most likely familiar with the sexual-harassment lawsuit by former JWT chief communications officer Erin Johnson against the company, its WPP parent and her former boss Gustavo Martinez. The essential allegation is that Martinez created a hostile workplace environment through inappropriate joking, inappropriate touching, racist and anti-Semitic comments and so on.

He seems particularly fond of rape jokes, and really, who can get enough of them?

At issue is not the words or deeds but the intent behind them. To his defenders, Martinez was making harmless quips, promoting a culture of informality and intimacy and generally just being his unstuffed-shirt charming self. A likable, approachable leader, in other words. And therefore, anybody who would seize on his spasms of political incorrectness was either wildly misconstruing him or a radical misfit looking for trouble, along David Mamet “Oleanna” lines.



Which is precisely the motivation imputed to Johnson by WPP’s legal team. This is from its latest filing for dismissal:

  “…it is clear that every move on Plaintiff’s part, starting with the filing of a Complaint with allegations that are in part irrelevant to her, distorted and fabricated, was designed to make a splash with the media.”

My instinct tells me this is sleazy corporate lawyers doing what is in their nature, accusing a shooting victim of trespass for interfering with the innocent shooter’s bullet. Another possibility is that they are simply morons, too tragically thick to grasp the dynamics of power in the workplace. The most generous interpretation is of a defendant corporation utterly divorced from reality. If lack of self-awareness were a felony, these people would be behind bars. 

More from the filing:

Just 10 days before JWT Chief Communications Officer Erin Johnson began her sex harassment and retaliation lawsuit against former agency CEO Gustavo Martinez in March, Johnson wrote a text message to Martinez to tell him that she had decided to reject a job offer from another company, “because I am loyal to you and what you are doing.” She added: “I felt like we had a good year together. So I hope I wasn’t wrong to stay. Lol.” 

This oddly cheerful email is presented to impeach Johnson’s allegations from the lawsuits, as reported by MediaPost in early March:

She recounted one incident that occurred last May at the company’s New York offices where Martinez approached Johnson’s desk and told her “to come to him so he could ‘rape’ [her] in the bathroom,” that was nearby. “He then grabbed Johnson around the neck with an arm and began laughing.”  

Later that day, the complaint alleges, “Martinez interrupted a meeting among multiple female employees, including Johnson. Martinez asked Johnson in front of the other women which female staff member he could rape.” 

The emailed loyalty pledge is WPP’s smoking gun of a feminist shakedown -- again raising the question of whether they are just mounting a dishonest defense or are actually nincompoops. It’s as if we are reliving the Anita Hill debacle, when first Republican Sen. Arlen Specter and then Republican Senator Alan K. Simpson expressed incredulity that Hill would maintain any kind of relationship with Clarence Thomas after he serially harassed her.

“If what you say this man said to you occurred,” Simpson asked Hill, “why in God’s name, when he left his position of power or status or authority over you…why in God’s name would you ever speak to a man like that the rest of your life?”

Because, duh, the victimization might well have continued and mutated to career destruction.  She, and untold women like her, bit her lip so as not to jeopardize their livelihoods. You don’t need God to explain the fundamental fact that employees -- especially female employees of male bosses -- do not have the luxury of calling out individual transgressions, let alone accumulating ones, lest they put their jobs and future jobs at risk.

I don’t really know Erin Johnson. I have no idea why she turned down another job offer to stay at JWT, or what episode may have triggered her lawsuit so soon after that decision. What’s striking is that WPP makes the same incendiary and illogical allegation as the attackers of Anita Hill: that after years of suffering in silence (and quietly building the global reputation of JWT) she decided to expose herself to humiliation and personal vilification just to get her name in the paper.

Come to think of it, nobody’s that stupid. There can be only one verdict: these people are repulsive.

13 comments about " Sex And The Smoking Gun".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, May 23, 2016 at 10:34 a.m.

    You can choose Anita Hill if you want, but I was reminded of the attacks suffered by the women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual misdeeds. Not exactly Cosby-sized numbers, but many more than one.

  2. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc., May 23, 2016 at 12:11 p.m.

    Bob - every week, as soon as I see you posted something new, I rush to read it because I know that even at your most acrid, you always manage to provide some gems. This time I have to say I am disturbed and disappointed. I should have known from your opening line: "Let's do have a trial by media." Is this your idea of journalism?

    I don't know the parties directly involved with this litigation, and I have pretty good record of supporting diversity in the workplace and in society at large. The kind of vitriolic garbage you just produced is counterproductive, because it just creates hatred and polarization, and is a breeding ground for bigotry and prejudice.

    It is clear that there is somehting going on, and that this situation deserves to be investigated, if nothing else because of its impact on the lives of several people. It should be equally clear that, especially when forced into the media spotlight, any defendant will attempt to discredit the plaintiff.

    Shame on you for using such a delicate topic to create sensationalism. Your insensitivity is painful to those of us who truly care about these issues.

  3. Anglyn Hays from Free Lance Writer Hire Me!, May 23, 2016 at 12:14 p.m.

    The author (charmingly I suppose) makes the same mistake as Martinez.  Why are rape jokes classified under the rubic "unstuffed charm?"  Who is being charmed?  Who enjoys the joke and why?  How do charming rape jokes improve employee performance, and so on?  Once the questions being asked change, gosh, the answers change, too.  I hope this is helpful to you all.

  4. Garrett Donaldson from JKR Advertising & Marketing, May 23, 2016 at 2:38 p.m.

    You really really need to brush-up on the Anita Hill story. Why oh why did she leave one federal position to follow Justice Thomas to another? And this, even after the alleged harassment took place?

    Sometimes I wish we had a similar law as they have in the UK, whereas standing parties are prohibited from commenting  about cases that have yet to be tried, or are currently in littigation. It's probably best described as a general gag order.

    J'accuse, J'accuse! is all it takes these days.

  5. larry towers from nyu replied, May 23, 2016 at 5:39 p.m.

    "Why oh why did she leave one federal position to follow Justice Thomas to another? And this, even after the alleged harassment took place?"

    She wasn't the first person to put career before self respect.

  6. Chuck Lantz from, network, May 23, 2016 at 6:11 p.m.

    "She wasn't the first person to put career before self respect." - Larry Towers.

    Nothing I write can improve upon that comment. 

  7. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, May 23, 2016 at 9 p.m.

    She wasn't the first person to put career before self respect.

    Pretty easy to be self righteous when nobody is hitting on you or generally giving you thee creeps.

  8. JD Norman from Digitas, May 24, 2016 at 8:33 a.m.

    I recall one comment attributed to Martinez from the Miami meeting that was something like, "I was afraid of being raped, and not in a good way." I wonder, what's the good way to be raped?

    Maybe his alleged comments to Ms. Johnson and others were about "good rape" and that's why they shouldn't be considered unacceptable. 

  9. Anglyn Hays from Free Lance Writer Hire Me! replied, May 24, 2016 at 5:21 p.m.

    Good rape is like a good deadly assault, or a good atomic bomb drop. It's what someone with a basic literary background would call an oxymoron. Oxymorons of this type are common used in double speak, political correct/political incorrectness or double ententre situations where meaning is implied by including its opposite. Jokes are usually advanced as a cover for expressing archaic or barbaric views that might be unacceptable if phrased another way. Jokes invoking oxymorons and playing around with the sexual conventions of a prior era allow the educated man like Martinez to voice is otherwise unacceptable views. It is remarkably easy to unpack.

  10. Chuck Lantz from, network replied, May 24, 2016 at 5:33 p.m.

    Bob: I hope the replies are being taken the right way. My reply was intended as direct opposition to this one; "You really really need to brush-up on the Anita Hill story. Why oh why did she leave one federal position to follow Justice Thomas to another? And this, even after the alleged harassment took place?"

  11. Chuck Lantz from, network, May 25, 2016 at 5:40 p.m.

    "Jokes invoking oxymorons and playing around with the sexual conventions of a prior era allow the educated man like Martinez to voice his otherwise unacceptable views" - Anglyn Hays

    Exactly.  And the only (slight) plus side to those types of "jokes" is that they are like hitting the switch on a bright neon sign over the head of the teller, announcing to anyone with a functioning brain that the teller is a secret misogynist; racist; ageist, etc.

    One interesting way that I've seen those sorts of joke-tellers dealt with  is to casually ask them what nationality they are after they've finished telling their offensive joke. After a second or two, the teller will inevitably ask why you want to know their nationality. You then reply that you were now trying to recall a "really funny" joke you heard recently about whatever nationality they mentioned.  For added spice, you can mention that, after thinking about it, the joke shouldn't be retold because it's far too insulting and vulgar. And if even that doesn't register with them, the only solution is to push them down the stairs. 

  12. David Ross from dave ross , May 28, 2016 at 10:35 a.m.

    Rape is never a joke. Never funny. Period.

  13. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 12, 2016 at 8:16 p.m.

    Maybe it was like a lightening strike and Ms. Johnson told herself that it was the last straw and it didn't matter what the consequences were, she was putting a stop to it. it was is called, a wake up call, third strike. Ever have one of those ?

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