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Vice Says It ‘Failed’ Employees as Misconduct Incidents Emerge

December 24, 2017, 9:39 PM UTC Launch Party
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 15: Shane Smith, Founder of VICE speaks during the Launch Party at Skylight One Hanson on September 15, 2011 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
Astrid Stawiarz—Getty Images

Vice Media Inc.’s co-founders told employees the company had “failed” them, in a letter that emerged as the New York Times published a story describing more than a dozen cases of sexual misconduct and legal settlements paid to four women.

“We have failed as a company to create a safe and inclusive workplace where everyone, especially women, can feel respected and thrive,’’ Vice co-founders Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi said in the letter, which was dated Saturday.

A “boy’s club” culture held over from its early days allowed inappropriate behavior to permeate throughout the company, they wrote. “It happened on our watch, and ultimately we let far too many people down.”

Vice, which has raised money from some of the world’s largest media companies, has fired three staffers, hired a new head of human resources, and revamped its training process for employees, the pair said. It has also named a new chief operating officer and pledged to pay women the same as men by the end of 2018.

Smith and Alvi said they will no longer require employees to sign waivers saying they understood that Vice was a “nontraditional workplace” in which they may be exposed to sexually provocative images, video and audio.

Nude Tour

The Times story portrayed a culture rife with inappropriate behavior, while not pinning any specific incidents of harassment on Smith, 48, whose cultivation of a bad-boy image included once giving a virtual tour of Vice’s offices without clothes on.

Vice has grown from its founding by Smith, Alvi and Gavin McInnes as an alternative magazine in Montreal to the highest ranks in media, earning a valuation of nearly $6 billion, by positioning itself as the Rolling Stone of the 21st Century. The company blended award-winning news reporting about Islamic terrorists and white nationalists with shows that included “F*** That’s Delicious” and “Weediquette.”

While predicting doom for his competitors, Smith also tapped them for financing and sold TV shows to them. Time Warner Inc. pays Vice to produce shows for the premium-cable network HBO, while 21st Century Fox Inc. and Walt Disney Inc. own stakes in the company.

String of Firings

Fox, Disney and HBO didn’t immediately respond to to requests for comment. Nor did A+E Networks, with whom Vice operates the Viceland cable channel in the U.S.

Accusations of sexual harassment have felled several of the most powerful men in media this year, including movie producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, and TV anchors Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose. Media companies have distanced themselves from the accused harassers, often after ignoring past complaints.

Vice in November fired Jason Mojica, the head of its documentary division, after allegations of sexual harassment appeared in The Daily Beast. Vice then held a “state of the union” meeting that left many employees even more frustrated.

Vice fell short of its sales forecast for 2017, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, and viewership of Viceland has been minuscule. Smith has discussed selling the company to Disney, among many others, but also teased the idea of filing for an initial public offering.