May 22, 2024

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A woman wearing black stands next a river surrounded by trees.

Inside the Financial Times newsroom this winter, one of its star investigative reporters, Madison Marriage, had a potentially explosive scoop involving another newspaper.

A prominent left-wing columnist, Nick Cohen, had resigned from Guardian News & Media, and Ms. Marriage had evidence that his departure followed years of unwanted sexual advances and groping of female journalists.

Ms. Marriage specialized in such investigations. She won an award for exposing a handsy black-tie event for Britain’s business elite. A technology mogul got indicted on rape charges after another article.

But her investigation on Mr. Cohen, which she hoped would begin a broader look at sexual misconduct in the British news media, was never published. The Financial Times’ editor, Roula Khalaf, killed it, according to interviews with a dozen Financial Times journalists.

It was not spiked because of reporting problems. Two women were willing to speak openly, and Ms. Marriage had supporting documentation on others. Rather, Ms. Khalaf said that Mr. Cohen did not have a big enough business profile to make him an “F.T. story,” colleagues said.

Mr. Cohen’s departure and the death of Ms. Marriage’s article offer a window into the British news media’s complicated relationship with the #MeToo movement. Leading American newsrooms — Fox News, CNN, NBC, The New York Times and others — have confronted misconduct allegations. British journalism has seen no such reckoning.

For Lucy Siegle, the death of the Financial Times article hit especially hard. In 2018, she had reported Mr. Cohen to The Guardian for groping her in the newsroom, but nothing had happened. Now it seemed the whole industry was protecting itself.

“It just amplified this sense that #MeToo is nothing but a convenient hashtag for the British media,” Ms. Siegle said. “The silence on its own industry is just really conspicuous.”

The British news media is smaller and cozier than its American counterpart, with journalists often coming from the same elite schools. Stringent libel laws present another hurdle. And in a traditional newsroom culture of drinking and gender imbalances, many stories of misconduct go untold, or face a fight.

In July 2016, for example, The Daily Mail reported that a court had granted a domestic violence restraining order against a former Financial Times executive, Ben Hughes. The article vanished from the internet without explanation.

Then, in 2019, The Sun reported that a former Guardian executive, David Pemsel, had sent messages to a former employee, pestering her for a sexual relationship. After he complained, the newspaper apologized and, though it did not say the article was inaccurate, deleted it.

In an email, Ms. Marriage said she could not comment on “F.T. decision-making” and referred questions to a spokeswoman for the newspaper, who would not comment on internal discussions. “Some reporting leads to published stories,” the spokeswoman said, “and some not.” Ms. Khalaf did not respond to requests for comment.

A close-up portrait of a man.
Mr. Cohen was seen as someone with influence, former colleagues said.Credit…Marco Secchi/Getty Images

Mr. Cohen spent two decades as a columnist for The Observer, The Guardian’s Sunday sister paper. He won a prestigious award for writing about right-wing politics in the run-up to Brexit. His book “What’s Left” was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize, Britain’s top political journalism award. Inside the newsroom, he was seen as influential, colleagues said, someone who could help your career.

His resignation in January cited “health grounds.” Secretly, the newspaper group paid him a financial settlement for quitting and agreed to confidentiality, according to three colleagues and an editor with whom Mr. Cohen spoke.

In his farewell, editors praised his “brilliant” and “incisive” coverage.

Seven women told The New York Times that Mr. Cohen had groped them or made other unwanted sexual advances over nearly two decades. Four insisted on anonymity, fearing professional repercussions. In each case, The Times reviewed documents or otherwise corroborated their accounts.

Ms. Siegle recounted Mr. Cohen grabbing her bottom in the newsroom around 2001. Five other women described similar encounters at pubs from 2008 to 2015. One said Mr. Cohen had pressed his erection against her thigh and kissed her uninvited when they met to discuss her career. A seventh said Mr. Cohen had repeatedly offered to send her explicit photographs in 2018 while she worked as an unpaid copy editor for him.

Mr. Cohen’s reputation was widely known in the newsroom, according to 10 former colleagues, both male and female. One former colleague said she and other female journalists had used a different entrance to a pub to avoid being groped by him. Another woman said she had avoided the bar downstairs from the newsroom after Mr. Cohen grabbed her knee during work drinks.

“There is so much sexism in a lot of British newspapers, and it seems, unfortunately, that many women believed sexual harassment was something you just had to put up with,” said Heather Brooke, an investigative journalist who told The Times that Mr. Cohen had groped her at an awards ceremony in 2008, before she had a high profile.

Guardian News & Media did investigate Mr. Cohen, but only after Ms. Siegle wrote on Twitter in 2021 about her experience.

Even then, it was a story that few in the British news media wanted to tell. The Guardian signed a confidentiality agreement with Mr. Cohen. The Financial Times spiked its story. Even the investigative magazine Private Eye did not cover his departure. When a reader emailed asking why, the editor replied: “Coverage of Nick Cohen’s departure from The Observer is obviously more problematic for The Eye than the others that you mention due to the fact that he used to write a freelance column for the magazine.”

Mr. Cohen’s departure got a mention only in The Press Gazette, a media trade website.

In a phone interview, Mr. Cohen said he did not have the “faintest idea” about Ms. Siegle’s accusation and questioned why she had waited so long to report it. He said the conversation with the copy editor was “joking” among friends. He blamed their accusations on a campaign by his critics, including advocates for Russia and for transgender rights.

Informed that seven women had come forward with sexual misconduct complaints, Mr. Cohen exclaimed, “Oh, God.”

“I assume it’s stuff I was doing when I was drunk,” said Mr. Cohen, a recovering alcoholic.

In a subsequent email, Mr. Cohen did not respond to specific accusations. “I have written at length about my alcoholism. I went clean seven years ago in 2016,” he said. “I look back on my addicted life with deep shame.”

Many of the women and their colleagues were especially disappointed in The Guardian because of its extensive #MeToo reporting. One week before Ms. Siegle’s complaint in 2018, it solicited tips about workplace sexual harassment.

“We take all allegations of workplace harassment extremely seriously and aim to support victims in all circumstances,” a Guardian News & Media spokesman said in a statement. “We have processes which anyone can use to raise complaints so that they can be fully investigated.”

The company did not respond to specific instances identified by The Times. It said that only Ms. Siegle had complained to senior managers about Mr. Cohen, and that she had chosen not to pursue the complaint — something she denies. As soon as Ms. Siegle went public, the company said, it opened an investigation.

Mr. Cohen left the newspaper and told The Times that he had accepted a deal after considering the financial implications for his family, in particular his son who has autism.

“I’m the only person whose life is turned over because of this,” he said.

The #MeToo movement was sweeping through society on Feb. 1, 2018, when Ms. Siegle met with The Guardian’s managing editor, Jan Thompson, to report her experiences with Mr. Cohen.

Ms. Siegle had started at The Guardian around 2001 as an editorial assistant. She described standing at a photocopier when Mr. Cohen appeared behind her, cupped her bottom with both hands, grunted and breathed heavily into her ear.

Ms. Siegle remembers returning to her desk, humiliated. She never considered reporting him. “I’m literally the least powerful person in the entire newsroom,” she said.

For 14 years, as she advanced at The Observer, she said she avoided his desk and chaperoned interns “like a mother hen crossing a busy road.”

At the Feb. 1 meeting, Ms. Siegle said Ms. Thompson responded by talking about the abuse that Mr. Cohen faced for his political views, according to notes Ms. Siegle wrote afterward. She described the meeting as a “chaotic mess of defensiveness and attack.”

The Guardian spokesman said Ms. Siegle, who was by then a freelancer for the newspaper, had opted not to pursue her complaint. Ms. Siegle says an investigation was never offered. A week after the meeting, Ms. Thompson emailed to let Ms. Siegle know that she was “here if you want to discuss further.” Ms. Siegle declined.

In interviews, former Observer and Guardian managers said they knew Mr. Cohen had a drinking problem but could not remember anyone reporting sexual misconduct. “In a way, I’m puzzled,” said Chris Elliott, a former managing editor of both papers. “Because I should have heard something about it on the grapevine.

Jean Hannah Edelstein, an assistant at The Observer from 2007 to 2009, said Mr. Cohen was not alone in his behavior. She recalled her editor hitting her with a sex whip as she walked by. Over one boozy lunch, she said, the same editor offered to help her career and suggested that she pose naked to promote her book.

Several journalists said Mr. Cohen’s reputation for groping was far from secret, and five women said he had groped them after work at pubs, including one who said he had groped her “five or six” times in 2008.

Another woman, a freelance journalist who had recently been homeless and had depression, said she had met Mr. Cohen at a pub in 2010 to discuss her career. As they chatted, she said, he suddenly kissed her on the mouth and pressed his erection against her thigh. She said she fled.

“I just remember walking along Waterloo Bridge and thinking, ‘I can’t go to The Guardian with this. Who would they believe?’” she said. “He was one of their stars, and I was a freelance journalist with mental health issues.”

Ms. Brooke, the investigative journalist, said she had initially dismissed her encounter with Mr. Cohen at the 2008 awards ceremony as “a one-off drunken mistake and didn’t take it further.” (“Nick Cohen got drunk and slapped my ass … ugh!” she wrote in her diary the next day.)

But she said that “now I know that this is a pattern of behavior over 20 years. I think it’s really important to speak out.”

A woman sits at a desk with two screens in a room with dark blue walls and strands of white Christmas lights.
Rebecca Watson, a writer and commentator, at her home in Oakland, Calif. Ms. Watson said that Mr. Cohen groped her at a book party in 2009.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Rebecca Watson, a writer and commentator, said Mr. Cohen had grabbed her bottom at a book party in 2009. Her now-former husband said he had witnessed it but did not confront Mr. Cohen because he did not want to cause a scene.

“To sexually assault a stranger at a book launch, to be one of the more prominent people there, and to just assume there will be no comeuppance,” Ms. Watson said.

Not long after Ms. Siegle lodged her 2018 complaint with The Guardian, records show that Mr. Cohen began working with a freelance copy editor, a single mother with autism.

She worked remotely for Mr. Cohen, unpaid. On June 29, 2018, a work conversation over direct messages on Twitter became punctuated with mutually flirtatious jokes. Mr. Cohen offered to send an explicit photograph. The woman declined. Mr. Cohen persisted and she deflected again.

In the following days, the copy editor said, Mr. Cohen turned cold. In messages, she apologized if she had misread the situation. Eventually, she told him continuing to work together “would be at a cost too high for my own mental health.”

Mr. Cohen, in his email to The Times, said this was the only accusation to surface since he quit drinking and said it had been misrepresented. “It involves a friendship with a woman I never met that, sadly, went badly wrong,” he said.

In 2019, the copy editor asked The Guardian’s human resources team about the process for raising sexual misconduct claims, emails show. She described the incident without naming Mr. Cohen, saying she felt “huge pressure” to go along with his “banter.”

Because she was not a Guardian employee, the copy editor said she was told that she would not be informed of the investigation’s outcome. Being frozen out of the process terrified her, so she backed off.

In fall 2021, Ms. Siegle wrote on Twitter about her experience. Her lawyer, Jolyon Maugham, began making noise. Ms. Thompson immediately emailed.

“Given that you have now tweeted publicly,” Ms. Thompson wrote, “I hope that it means that your position has now changed, and that you would be willing to provide further information so that we can investigate the matter fully.”

Ms. Siegle said that was misleading, that The Guardian had not offered to investigate in 2018.

Eventually, Mr. Cohen was suspended and The Guardian hired a law firm to carry out an independent inquiry. Neither Ms. Siegle nor the copy editor agreed to participate.

A red-brick building with an ornate entrance.
The Financial Times building in London. The newspaper spiked an investigation into Nick Cohen, a columnist at The Observer. Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Mr. Cohen confirmed that he signed an agreement to leave the newspaper, but would not discuss the terms.

Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, said he had discussed the terms of The Guardian’s deal with Mr. Cohen, who no longer writes for Private Eye. “Instead of any conclusion,” Mr. Hislop said of the Guardian investigation, “it ended up with a secret agreement and a big cash payment.”

In December 2022, the Financial Times editor, Ms. Khalaf, emailed the newsroom about the coming year’s priorities. Among them were Ms. Marriage’s investigations into abuses of power.

Publicly, the newspaper had declared “no topic or scandal off limits.” Privately, there were limits.

Ms. Marriage had already begun investigating Mr. Cohen and sexual misconduct across the British news media, but Ms. Khalaf shackled the investigation, telling Ms. Marriage not to contact any new sources, according to two colleagues with whom Ms. Marriage spoke. Her team had already interviewed five of Mr. Cohen’s accusers.

In February, Ms. Khalaf said she would not run the investigation as a news article, several journalists recalled, and suggested that Ms. Marriage file it as an opinion piece. She did, but it still did not run.

A half-dozen Financial Times journalists said they saw it as part of a wider reluctance to expose bad behavior within its industry.

The Financial Times, like others, has wrestled with gender issues. In June 2020, 56 female staff members wrote to Ms. Khalaf about a “bro culture” that excluded women from decision-making.

People walk across a quad lined with trees and buildings.The prominent art history professor and his student had finished dinner and were strolling along the river in Kyoto, Japan’s picturesque former capital, when they stopped at a bar.

For months, they had been spending a lot of time together, and the professor had already kissed her once in a park in Tokyo. Now, after drinks, he invited her to his hotel, where they had a sexual encounter that she said was against her will. He said it was consensual.

From that conflicted beginning, they embarked on a clandestine, decade-long relationship that included furtive meetings, volleys of amorous notes and several trips overseas.

Over time, the student came to believe that the professor had taken advantage of the power imbalance between them, and that she had never truly consented to any of it.

When she finally broke off the relationship, she made an official complaint to the university and sued the professor for sexual harassment. Her argument: that he had exploited his position as her supervisor when she was 23 to groom her for sex, assault her and then fundamentally hold her under his sway for years.

But in a twist, she also found herself sued by the professor’s wife, accused of adultery and causing mental distress under Japan’s civil code, which views extramarital relationships as an infringement of the marriage contract.

In the end, the wife won nearly $20,000. The professor was fired last year for, the university said, conducting an “inappropriate relationship.” But the young woman lost her case when the court ruled that the professor had never forced her to do anything against her will.

The story of Meiko Sano, now 38; her professor, Michio Hayashi, 63; and his wife, Machiko, 74, highlights the tangled state of sexual power dynamics in Japan, where women rarely bring — much less win — cases for sexual harassment, and where the #MeToo movement has yet to take hold as it has in the West.

Ms. Sano knew her sexual harassment suit against Mr. Hayashi was a long shot. But she went through with it, she said in several interviews, to show how she had experienced “psychological abuse like grooming and gaslighting that Japanese are really not sure about.”

Although the case received muted attention in the Japanese news media, it roiled the Japanese art world and academic community, where, unlike in the United States, few universities prohibit relationships between professors and students. At the same time, rigid age and status hierarchies are culturally pervasive, making it difficult for subordinates — especially women — to say no to their superiors, experts say.

“Within Japan there is this culture where we should all try to get along,” said Yukiko Sato, the director of Spring, a nonprofit advocacy group for sexual assault survivors. “So if you are asked to have sex, you might find it difficult to say no.”

Students on the campus of Sophia University last year. Michio Hayashi was fired by the university for conducting an “inappropriate relationship.”Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

In court, Ms. Sano repeatedly made that argument. But Japan’s laws on sexual assault do not mention consent, reflecting skepticism that anyone can be forced into sex without violence.

“In terms of sexual assault, there has to be a great threat and the victim has to fight back,” said Mizuki Kawamoto, a lawyer who reviewed possible amendments to the country’s sex crimes laws. The current law, she said, does not protect people who “were coerced psychologically into saying yes.”

By contrast, laws in the United States and some European countries take into account that a victim may not be able to consent because of illness or intoxication, or that an offender could exploit a situation of authority.

In court filings, Ms. Sano said that after the first sexual encounter with Mr. Hayashi, “since she wasn’t covered in bruises, she didn’t think of herself as a sexual abuse victim.”

The judge’s ruling, in March, acknowledged a gray zone between coercion and consent, deeming it “suitable” that Mr. Hayashi had been fired. But in tearful remarks, Ms. Sano said the judgment did not take “into account what someone who is in a higher position than you can actually do to your psyche.”

Although Ms. Sano lost the case, the court ordered the professor to pay her 1.28 million yen, close to $9,800, to take responsibility for his share of the penalties imposed on her in his wife’s lawsuit.

Tomoe Yatagawa, who lectures on gender law at universities in Tokyo, said Mrs. Hayashi’s suit might seem “a bit strange” when the marital contract was between husband and wife, yet Ms. Sano was held responsible for breaking it. But experts say these cases are not rare.

Mrs. Hayashi, who declined to comment for this article, said in court filings that she resented her husband for committing adultery but that she did not believe he was guilty of sexual harassment. She accused Ms. Sano of “pushing all the responsibility of their relationship onto my husband, as if she is wholeheartedly the victim.”

Ms. Sano met the professor in 2004, when she was an undergraduate at Tokyo’s Sophia University, and enrolled in Mr. Hayashi’s art history course. He was a well-known specialist in modern Japanese art, with outspoken views on feminism and free speech.

For a long time, their relationship was strictly academic. They discussed her graduate school ambitions. He offered to write her a recommendation and helped her secure an internship.

The summer and fall before she began her graduate studies in 2007, the boundaries between them began to blur as Mr. Hayashi started grooming her, she said, for a romantic relationship. He invited her to regular teas. She felt she could not refuse.

“He would make suggestions for reading or study sessions for grad school, and it felt like he had expectations for me,” Ms. Sano said. “And I felt like I couldn’t betray that.”

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A man in a blue button-up shirt and glasses sits behind a desk, holding a microphone he is speaking into.
Mr. Hayashi, an expert on contemporary Japanese art, was Ms. Sano’s supervisor. Credit…Ujin Matsuo

Some advocates say Japanese institutions like Sophia need clearer guidance about relationships between students and professors. The government recently called on universities to provide more information about counseling services for sexual harassment and violence, and to disclose when disciplinary actions are taken.

“Any relationship between a supervisor or professor and a student is by definition harassment” because of “the desire to please someone in power,” said Kazue Muta, a professor of sociology and gender studies at Osaka University.

Mr. Hayashi, who declined to comment for this article, admitted in testimony that the relationship had been “inappropriate” because he was married and was Ms. Sano’s supervisor. But he said Ms. Sano had consented to, and even encouraged, it.

One of his primary pieces of evidence was a thank you card she and other students sent him after they joined him on a museum tour around central Japan the summer before Ms. Sano began graduate school. On the card, which she wrote in English, she addressed him as “Dearest Professor H” and signed her message “xox,” a flourish not commonly used in Japan.

“To be addressed as ‘dearest,’ in a message from a student to a professor, there is a familiarity there that is not quite normal,” Mr. Hayashi testified.

Ms. Sano said she meant the note merely to show “gratitude and thanks.”

Mr. Hayashi said he and Ms. Sano “grew closer” as they spent time together, according to the court record. Ms. Sano confided in Mr. Hayashi that she felt like an outsider in Japan after spending much of her childhood in England; he assured her he understood because of his experience abroad.

In the fall, when she began graduate school with Mr. Hayashi as her supervisor, she took a walk with him in a Tokyo park. He kissed her.

“Saying no and making him look bad was out of the question,” she said.

In court filings and testimony, Mr. Hayashi, then 48, said he believed he and Ms. Sano, then 23, were dating.

Ms. Sano accompanied him on the trip to Kyoto that fall, where he was lecturing at an art symposium. She testified that when he asked her to join him in his hotel room, she refused him multiple times and said she should return to her own room. He said the decision to go to his room was mutual.

Both testified that Mr. Hayashi performed oral sex on Ms. Sano, but she portrayed it as unwelcome. She said she asked him repeatedly to wait — signaling resistance, she told the court. “But he kept saying, ‘It’s OK, it’s OK,’” Ms. Sano said.

Over the next 10 years, they regularly met in Tokyo at so-called love hotels, with a mixing of academic discussion and sex. Mr. Hayashi reviewed Ms. Sano’s thesis at one of these hotels, the court filings said.

Ms. Sano sent him affectionate notes and accompanied him on trips to France, Italy and Spain, both while she was under his supervision and after graduation. Mr. Hayashi said such behavior again proved the relationship was consensual, although he acknowledged he wanted to keep it secret.

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A woman in a white top and black pants sits on a couch, looking into the distance.
Ms. Sano said she was coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and working on recovering her ability “to say no.” Credit…Noriko Hayashi for The New York Times

She said that her behavior was a sign of indoctrination, and that she was afraid to be “rude” to her supervisor, who had authority over her future career.

When she would try to end the relationship, she said in court filings, Mr. Hayashi would accuse her of being “paranoid” or tell her she would never be able to date anyone else. She said Mr. Hayashi told her: “You can sue me for sexual harassment if you wanted to. But you won’t because you’re not that kind of girl.”

Mr. Hayashi said in court filings that he never made those remarks or coerced Ms. Sano and that they were simply “adults enjoying a ‘free love’ relationship.”

“I understand that I was way too naïve, and I still hate myself for it,” Ms. Sano said. “There were so many times where I could have just said, ‘No,’ and run away.”

By the spring of 2018, Ms. Sano was working at an art gallery in Tokyo and broke off the relationship for good. She slowly began to tell her family and a small circle of friends about it — and grappled with an overwhelming sense of shame. She said she began cutting herself and considered suicide.

Shusaku Sano, Ms. Sano’s eldest brother, said his sister told him she had been brainwashed. “I knew for sure that she was hurt,” he said.

Haruko Kumakura, an assistant curator at a museum in Tokyo who collaborated with Ms. Sano on an exhibit, said she was “disgusted” when Ms. Sano told her about Mr. Hayashi, a figure of respect in the art world.

Early the next year, Ms. Sano contacted Mr. Hayashi’s wife. “I just felt like I had to tell her the truth of what had happened and that I was sorry,” Ms. Sano said. Ms. Sano also wanted his wife to know that she felt Mr. Hayashi had manipulated her.

According to court filings, Mr. Hayashi confessed the relationship to his wife, who filed her suit against Ms. Sano.

In an email that was part of the court record, Mrs. Hayashi, through her lawyer, wrote to Ms. Sano, “If the relationship was coerced by my husband, you could have easily filed a complaint with the university” from the start.

Experts in sexual harassment say it will take more than legal action to change the culture.

“The commonly accepted view is that if a woman accepts a kiss or goes on a date then it’s consensual,” said Ms. Muta of Osaka University, who advocates university policies barring romantic relationships between professors and students. “We are struggling to change the climate, but we are not so successful yet.”

Ms. Sano said she was now in therapy, coping with post-traumatic stress disorder. She lives with her parents and has not been able to work full time since she left the art gallery in 2019.

One of her primary goals, she said, is to recover “my ability to say no.”