Troy Young, who beat out internal rivals to become president of Hearst Corp.’s magazine division in 2018, has presided over a “toxic” culture and made numerous sexist and lewd remarks, The New York Times reported.
The Times story on Wednesday followed outrage about Hearst’s magazine operation that has surfaced on social media in recent weeks. The article detailed multiple offensive episodes over several years, including comments Young made at a company offices and at events.
At a Cosmopolitan holiday party in 2013, in an account supported by multiple named witnesses, Young offered a jarring suggestion to a young staff member who mentioned having gone on an unpleasant date. At issue was the date’s complaints about an ex-girlfriend’s odor. Young allegedly told the woman that she should have inserted her fingers into herself and asked her date if he liked the way she smelled. The Times did not identify the woman but said she was “shocked by his comment and walked away.”
He also allegedly emailed pornography to former Esquire and Town & Country editor Jay Fielden, who reported to the company having received it. He left the company last year and did not comment on the matter to the Times, though multiple internal sources confirmed the account.
The atmosphere inside New York’s Hearst Tower, home of brands like Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Marie Claire, directly conflicts with the empowerment and uplift promised on the covers of the company’s magazines, the article asserts. It is rife with retrograde behavior in terms of gender as well as tokenism and blind spots on matters of race and inclusion. Similar charges have swept across the entire media business of late, at companies like Condé Nast, Refinery29, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times during weeks of upheaval and protests against racism.
Hearst is a privately held company whose early roots in newspapers were put down in the late-19th century by founder William Randolph Hearst. In the decades since, it has expanded into magazines, local TV and the digital arena as well as making strategic investments in TV properties. It still owns a chunk of ESPN, a bet from the network’s early days that has paid off many times over, and it is joint venture partners in A+E Networks with Disney-ABC Television Group.
In a statement provided to the Times, Young said allegations “raised by my detractors are either untrue, greatly exaggerated or taken out of context. The pace of evolving our business and the strength of my commitment is ambitious, and I sincerely regret the toll it has taken on some in our organization.” In a separate statement to the paper regarding the holiday party, he said, “Candid conversations about sex defined the Cosmo brand for decades, and those who worked there discussed it openly.”
A Hearst Corp. spokesman contacted by Deadline referred the inquiry to a spokesperson for the magazine unit, who did not immediately respond.
Another key figure in the article is Jessica Pels, who was named editor of Cosmopolitan in a series of reorganizations. The restructuring was engineered by Young, who rose to his position by spearheading the fast-rising digital efforts of the magazine unit.
Jazmin Jones, who had worked under Pels as a video editor at Marie Claire, went public with charges against Pels on social media last month. She said she was made uncomfortable by comments on Slack (an intra-office communications platform) made by Pels and others. In screen shots supplied to the Times, a Slack user identified as Pels is shown insulting the hair and makeup of a staff member of color during an on-camera appearance for a Marie Claire video. Pels also added that she was likely violating company policy by making the complaint. “Hearst doesn’t care about you if you’re not a skinny white lady,” Jones, who is Black, concluded in an interview with the Times.
Prachi Gupta, who covered politics for Cosmopolitan‘s website, criticized the company’s culture on Twitter last month. “From the get-go, I was tokenized,” tweeted Gupta, who is Indian-American. “A white P.R. person at Hearst told me that it would be easy to book me for media appearances because my look was ‘very on trend,’ and it was clear she meant that I wasn’t white.”
In a series of tweets Wednesday after the article came out, Gupta said it “just scratches the surface.” In one tweet, she wrote, “Interesting how white men like Troy are actually PROMOTED despite multiple complaints from the ppl they manage I hope ppl see the ripple effects of this. When you protect & promote bad behavior, you have to silence anything that challenges or pushes against that, at every level.”
Gupta, who is now freelancing, said she has not been contacted by the company since she went public with the complaints. Quoting from reports of Pels’ apologetic reaction during a staff videoconference last month about the allegations, she tweeted that if Pels is “still looking for ways to ‘correct imbalances,’ I am available to hire for a consultation.”
In a statement to the Times, Pels called diversity a “career-long priority.” She said she has been working with colleagues on “making real changes and having extensive, honest and passionate discussions about the progress that needs to be made, and the work I can do as a leader to actively facilitate it.”