What accountability looks like

is this a one-off, or is there change coming?

Accountability matters, and it shouldn’t be striking when companies do the right thing. 

On Monday night, ESPN reported that the New York Mets’ new general manager, Jared Porter, sent inappropriate and explicit pictures of his penis to a female reporter while he was the director of professional scouting for the Chicago Cubs. 

On Tuesday morning, Steve Cohen, billionaire hedge fund manager who bought the New York Metropolitans last year, “terminated” Porter.

This is how you set a company culture; from the top down. There wasn’t a protracted investigation, there was no turning the other cheek saying ‘boys will be boys’ or it was just ‘locker room talk,’ and the decision to fire Porter was done swiftly and unequivocally. This is leadership, and something companies across the board need to be better at. (Also, and I can’t believe this has to be said: don’t send dick pics.)

(Image via Marc Levine/NY Mets)

These types of accountability decisions appear to be new to Cohen, who made his fortunes as a hedge fund manager, settled a $135 million insider trading allegation with his now-defunct hedge fund SAC Capital, and had a gender discrimination lawsuit filed against him in 2019. 

From a January 5 New York Times report:

But at his hedge funds, Cohen has long been known for a mercurial nature that has prompted him to lash out at traders he believes are not making him enough money. Now a recently unsealed gender discrimination complaint filed by a former top manager for Cohen offers a glimpse into his volatile temper and what some women have said is an openly sexist and hostile culture at his Point72 Asset Management hedge fund company, which is based in Stamford, Connecticut.

In the complaint, Sara Vavra, who led a trading group at Point72, said Cohen stopped by her office in July 2019 and began “an abusive, expletive-ridden tirade” in which he said her work “sucked” and she was “stupid.” She said in the complaint that beyond dropping a few generic expletives Cohen also used a derogatory word for a woman’s genitals.

This lawsuit came a year after another lawsuit alleged Cohen’s Point72 as a toxic workplace for women (Cohen was not accused of inappropriate behavior).

But against the backdrop of the final full-day in office for President Trump, who has essentially been the negative of leadership, Cohen’s move is perhaps a glimmer of hope of how industries can be responsible corporate citizens. How they can lead.

For starters, it shows that perhaps a leopard can change its spots. Or at the very least, when you move from the murky and opaque world like hedge funds into a fishbowl-like existence as the owner of a sports franchise in the nation’s largest and best city. Of course, this logic will inevitably lead some to ask: “If Cohen deserves a second chance, why not Porter?” 

We are four years from the rise of the MeToo movement, and some (though not enough) companies have realized that men behaving poorly isn’t done in a vacuum. There are systems designed to help men perpetuate these behaviors, and the only way to move forward is to address, dismantle and rebuild those systems. 

Cohen’s decision to fire Porter is a step in this process. The expediency of Cohen’s decision is something brands, as well as media companies, can emulate.

For example, going to HR with a complaint that a male top editor sexually harasses younger female reporters, only to have HR over several months sweep those allegations under the rug to protect both the editor and the C-level executives who encourage this behavior, is not the answer.  

Juxtapose Cohen’s decision and the implication that he wants to change the systems, with that of the president, who rose to power by abusing these systems. However, once the clock hits 12:01 pm tomorrow, Donald Trump becomes an ordinary citizen again, shedding the protections of the power of the presidency. The systems that Trump both hid behind and created are about to topple; the lawsuits are coming. 

It also shows, though, how if you don’t back your talk with actions, your words mean nothing. As Cohen mentioned in his tweet, in his first press conference as the new Mets’ owner, he talked about the “Mets way” after a reporter asked: “You mentioned building a Mets way and a Mets culture. What if you could describe that in, in brief, basically? What, what do you want the Mets culture to be?”

“I want professionalism. I want integrity. I’m not gonna put up with the type of stuff that that’s happened in other places. I want to hire the best and brightest. I want to create a great farm system, develop our players and provide an environment, you know, let’s not forget the fans, provide a product. When they interact with me at the stadium or on our media platforms, wherever that their experience is is extraordinary.”

Today he stress-tested this. “Stuff that’s happened in other places,” he showed today, doesn’t belong in his company. 

Change happens slowly, they say, then all at once. Companies of all shapes and sizes in every industry are starting to talk the talk. 

Companies are trying to distance themselves from all things Trump, as they continue to stop contributing to PACs to representatives and elected officials who are out to destroy democracy. As Popular Info reports today, companies are even “expanding their donation freeze to members of Pennsylvania’s legislature.”

Or, as the NYT reports, a memo written by a ‘private advisory committee to JP Morgan Chase’ pushes a radical perspective of accountability. The memo says that:

“Business leaders must realize that they not only have a moral obligation but also a commercial stake in advocating for a fairer, more equitable system. Unless and until the core problem of inequality is addressed, all other overarching objectives and desires will remain elusive.”

And the Wall Street Journal reports that some shareholders are even pushing to see companies’ roles in spreading disinformation and hate:

New shareholder resolutions call upon advertiser Home Depot Inc. and agency group Omnicom Group Inc. to investigate whether their advertising policies inadvertently contribute to “violations of civil or human rights” by funding platforms that spread inappropriate content, according to copies of the proposals filed in late 2020.

In other words, businesses have to be accountable. After years of watching leaders (both public and private) skirt issues of accountability, seeing a sports club owner address accountability is refreshing. Now all we need is for other companies to start behaving better. (And guys to stop sending dick pics. )

Thank you for allowing me into your inbox, today and every day. If you have tips, or thoughts on the newsletter, send me an email. Or you can follow me on Twitter. If you arrived here through social media or a colleague, please consider signing up. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you tomorrow!

Janis Joplin, “To Love Somebody”

Some interesting links:

For data on how we consume media these days:

  • Time Spent With Ad-Supported Media Hits All-Time Low, Despite Gains In Total Media Use (MediaPost)

For the next phase of Fox News:

  • At Fox News, a post-election shake-up brings more opinion at the expense of news (WaPo)

For platforms:

  • Silicon Valley braces for tougher regulation in Biden’s new Washington (WaPo)

  • Behind a Secret Deal Between Google and Facebook (NYT)

  • This week in TikTok: Get me out of sea shanty TikTok (Vox)

  • ‘I Am Not Sad. I Am Really Not Sad’: Trump’s Twitter Reply-Guys Reckon With a Post-Trump Era (One Zero)

  • Facebook may take 7% revenue hit from Apple privacy changes (Mobile Dev Memo)

For content recommendation getting into ‘stories’

  • Taboola Gets Into the Stories Game With Beta Release of Taboola Stories (Adweek)

For podcasting:

For privacy:

  • What you should know before leaking a Zoom meeting (The Intercept)

For publishers trying to hold on:

  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to drop Friday print edition (Post-Gazette)

For media criticism:

  • Trump couldn’t have incited sedition without the help of Fox News (WaPo)

  • The New York Times needs to stop coddling the Trump mob (Press Run)