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Ellen DeGeneres’s cringe-worthy farewell tour

May 14, 2021, 1:07 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Jacinda Ardern wants to boost New Zealand-U.S. trade, a teachers’ union head calls for a full return to the classroom, and we’re cringing through Ellen DeGeneres’s farewell tour. Have a restful weekend.

– Ellen’s last dance. As we reported earlier this week, Ellen DeGeneres has announced that the upcoming 19th season of her daytime talk show will be its last.

The news comes after a pair of Buzzfeed stories reporting that the show was a toxic place to work, with current and former employees making various reports of sexual misconduct, harassment, and racist behavior. While none of those allegations were leveled at DeGeneres herself, many staffers felt that she was ultimately responsible for what happened at the show that bears her name. An investigation ensued; DeGeneres apologized on air and three top producers were fired.

Watching this all unfold has been complicated. DeGeneres has defined her talk show persona as the “Be Kind Lady” (such a mainstream, unobjectionable idea that it’s hard to remember what a big, shocking deal it was when she came out to the world back in 1997). And there’s a thread in the reporting around her that seems unhealthily fixated on proving that she wasn’t so kind after all.

Consider this, from one of Buzzfeed’s latest stories on the topic:

“In April 2020, beauty YouTuber Nikkie de Jager accused DeGeneres of being ‘cold and distant’ when she appeared on her show months earlier. DeGeneres’s bodyguard at the 2014 Academy Awards also spoke out about how unfriendly she was.”

Frankly, even when you’re talking about someone who created a brand around being nice, the idea that she might really be cold, distant, or unfriendly —and that that would be surprising or unforgivable—strikes me as weirdly naïve in terms of how celebrity culture works, and yes, misogynistic. Our society has little tolerance for “unlikeable” women, and lumping accusations of “diva-like” behavior with very real and very serious allegations about a toxic work environment does no one any favors.

Now, before you chide me for being too soft on DeGeneres, let’s talk about how she’s handled her farewell media tour, which has included both a stop at TODAY and a chat with Oprah. Throughout, she has denied that the accusations factored into her decision to end the show and, most egregiously, backpedaled furiously on taking any real responsibility for the situation. Professing her ignorance of the situation to TODAY, she said:

“I don’t know how I could have known when there’s 255 employees here and there are a lot of different buildings, unless I literally stay here until the last person goes home at night. It is my name on the show, so clearly it affects me and I have to be the one to stand up and say, ‘This can’t be tolerated.’ But I do wish somebody would have come to me and said, ‘Hey, something’s going on that you should know about.’”

Yes, keeping track of what’s happening at a 255-person enterprise is hard work (just ask a CEO!). But that’s the job. And assuming it’s the responsibility of that unnamed “somebody” to bring problems to her attention suggests a real disconnect with what it means to be in charge.

Elsewhere on her media tour, DeGeneres said that she too smells some misogyny in the mix, noting that in addition to being the Be Kind Lady, “I’m also a woman and I’m a boss.”

So, in this situation, what does it mean to be a boss? I’d say it means being as cold and unlikeable as you want—just take responsibility for your employees and the culture you create while you’re doing it.

Kristen Bellstrom
kristen.bellstrom@fortune.com
@kayelbee

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Award-winning journalism. Fortune took home four honors in this year's Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing awards—all won by our staff's women writers. Maria Aspan won for her feature, "The risky business of implants," about breast implants that put millions of women at risk of cancer; Beth Kowitt earned an honor for her feature "Fertility Inc.," the story of the booming fertility industry; Karen Yuan won for her piece "How Chinese American restaurants are ensuring their future;" and the Broadsheet's own Claire Zillman won for her profile of Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser, "The first lady of Wall Street." Fortune

- That's the tradeoffNew Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is seeking to deepen her country's trade relationship with the U.S. Her pitch? "We are seen as COVID-free, safe and stable, astute crisis managers and enjoying a strong recovery. This is compelling to business and investors." Bloomberg

- Back to school. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, is calling for a full reopening of schools next academic year. "In person. Five days a week," she says. New York Times

- The Kavanaugh mystery. Almost three years after his confirmation hearings, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh "remains a mystery," this story argues. It also asks: will holding a grudge over how his hearings handled the allegations of sexual assault brought against him by Christine Blasey Ford (which he has strenuously denied) influence the way he decides cases for the rest of his lifetime appointment? The Atlantic

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Creator economy startup Lumanu hired Annie Wang as CMO. Agency Socialfly named Kirsten Abramo managing director. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Running to remember. Kim Leadbeater is the sister of Jo Cox, the British MP who was murdered by a far-right terrorist in 2016. Now Leadbeater is planning to run as the Labour candidate for her sister's former constituency. "This community picked me up when I needed it most and I will be forever grateful," she says. Guardian

- Next up. On the latest episode of Fortune's Leadership Next podcast, Stitch Fix founder and outgoing CEO Katrina Lake reflects on making the decision to step down during "the most challenging year of my leadership period." Listen here: Fortune

- Common ground. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Josh Hawley both have new books out about technology. Although the Democrat and Republican are very different politicians, in their new books they both agree that lawmakers must regulate Big Tech. New York Times

ON MY RADAR

Antidepressants almost cost this Olympian her career New York Times

A $5,000 baby bonus? Here’s what tax credits await parents with kids born this year Fortune

China’s feminists protest against wave of online abuse with ‘Internet violence museum’ Guardian

Apple employees circulate petition demanding investigation into ‘misogynistic’ new hire The Verge

PARTING WORDS

"You breathe differently when you aren't the only one." 

-Kathleen Carroll, the former executive editor of the Associated Press. She's reflecting on the women now running several national newsrooms, including her AP successor Sally Buzbee's move to the Washington Post

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