On Wednesday night, amid reports that much of the country was going into quarantine indefinitely, Truthdig’s staff received an email with the subject line “Re: Truthdig.” The email was to inform us that Truthdig LLC was being dissolved and that our positions at the publication had been terminated. Chris Hedges, the site’s most widely read columnist, was among those fired, despite the fact that he raised grant money to cover his own salary.
“Thank you for all you’ve done at Truthdig,” an attached form letter read. “We really appreciate your contributions. We did great work together. We wish you the best in your future endeavors. Be well and stay safe.”
Two weeks prior, we had begun a work stoppage at the website to protest unfair labor conditions, promising to return to work if Truthdig’s publisher, Zuade Kaufman, committed to negotiate with us in good faith. She did not. Instead, she opted to disable reader comments across the site and place Truthdig on “hiatus” during a global pandemic. Now we were learning that Kaufman planned to shutter the publication completely. Her goal, which she seems determined to pursue at any cost, is to eject co-owner and Editor in Chief Robert Scheer from the company without honoring the terms of their operating agreement.
The email was addressed from an anonymous sender listed only as “Truthdig HR.” Here it is worth noting that during Truthdig’s run of some 15 years, Kaufman failed to establish a human resources department in any functional sense, leaving her free to overstep her bounds and ignore the rights of others with impunity. This year, she began adding “CEO” to “Publisher” in her sign-off, and prior to our work stoppage, she was planning to appoint herself editor in chief—each act a further violation of her agreement with Scheer.
Before permanently suspending the site’s operations and laying off her workforce, Kaufman did manage to post a story titled “Open Letter from Truthdig’s Publisher & CEO: Breaking My Silence.” While we have previously addressed its many falsehoods, we feel compelled to acknowledge its profound cynicism in light of everything that has happened at Truthdig since its publication.
In language thick with innuendo, Kaufman suggests that she and other female employees have been victims of Scheer’s bullying and harassment. She offers neither specifics about his behavior nor any proof of his transgressions. She also neglects to mention that nine of the 15 Truthdig staffers and writers participating in our work stoppage are women, including several members of the copy desk, all of which joined in solidarity last week.
Kaufman asserts that it is her dream to create a “democratic culture and just society.” That dream appears to end at Truthdig’s doors. This is a publisher who has, on at least one occasion, falsified a female employee’s complaint without her knowledge as part of a legal effort to intimidate Scheer and assassinate his character. This is a CEO who has dismissed her employees without any kind of severance package in a last-ditch effort to seize absolute control of a website we have all poured our hearts into for years. She has done all of this while presenting herself as a subject of workplace abuse, disgracing the #MeToo movement she dishonestly invokes. Worse, she only adopted this stance after it became clear that the staff would not support her hostile takeover.
Truthdig’s demise ultimately reflects a crisis of liberalism the website has been documenting for years—one in which social justice is only worth pursuing so long as it doesn’t threaten the material interests of society’s true power brokers. Despite her claims of victimhood, Kaufman unequivocally falls into this category. But while she can retreat into her privilege amid an unprecedented public health crisis, the rest of us do not have that luxury. We have family to support, children to care for and sick parents to look after, now more than ever before. That is why we are calling on Truthdig to uphold its legal obligations and to ensure that a legacy built by dozens, if not hundreds, of contributors is not compromised by a single co-owner who has mistaken others’ talent and integrity for her own.
Natasha Hakimi Zapata