Jane Hamsher with ex-boyfriend Andy Stern
Update: Firedoglake’s Michael Whitney just sent a threatening email to Mike Elk, author of this article: “Good luck getting hired again.” For the entire email exchange between Whitney and Elk, see the bottom of this article.
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Yesterday I confronted Jane Hamsher, founder of Firedoglake, over her refusal to honor a labor boycott against the Huffington Post that two major writers unions, The Newspaper Guild (TNG-CWA) and National Writers Union (NWU), have called for.
Here’s some background: HuffPo’s legions of bloggers are organizing a sort of electronic picket line of the Huffington Post in response to Arianna Huffington’s announcement that she earned millions in her sale of HuffPo to AOL, profits everyone knows were made off a site that relies mainly on unpaid labor. Huffinginton added salt to the wounds with her dismissive, arrogant attitude towards those who felt fleeced. When she refused to meet with the heads of these two unions to discuss their grievances, the two unions decided to call for a picket line, or boycott, of contributing by unpaid bloggers of the Huffington Post.
(The HuffPo’s exploitation of unpaid bloggers reached absurd proportions when I was actually “fired” from the HuffPo–where I blogged for free– because I dared to upset a meeting of the Mortgage Bankers Association.)
AFL CIO President Richard Trumka and the heads of nearly all the major unions have honored the picket line and refused to blog at the Huffington Post. These union leaders have been sacrificing badly-needed publicity for their labor causes in order to show their solidarity for writers like me who work in an industry with low pay and practically no job security.
Meanwhile, people like Jane Hamsher–who already have well-funded sites with huge traffic volume– have continued writing on the Huffington Post, promoting their already high profiles without giving thought to the damage they cause to struggling writers and bloggers.
But Hamsher wasn’t satisfied merely crossing the picket line: She went on the offensive against boycott organizers.
In an email exchange with several members of the labor movement, Hamsher jeered the writers’ union organizers, mocking their organizing efforts, taking much the same stance as Arianna Huffington.
In response to Hamsher’s outrageous anti-labor attacks, I wrote to one of these listserv groups on which both Hamsher and I were members: “Jane Hamsher the last person I would ever want to have as my shop steward”. (A shop steward, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is a union representative who stands up and fights for workers’ rights in a workplace.)
Some objected to my questioning of her commitment to workers’ rights. However, as I pointed out to the crowd involved in the email exchange, this was not the first time Hamsher has taken a position hostile to workers’ rights and labor. Hamsher may dish out all sorts of rhetoric against the DC “veal pen” which refrains from questioning the political elite, yet as many labor activists know, Hamsher has deep personal ties to two members of the political elite who have been criticized for their anti-labor practices: her ex-boyfriend, former SEIU President Andy Stern, and Arianna Huffington, with whom Hamsher has deep personal ties and a professional alliance.
While Hamsher was dating and living with former SEIU President Andy Stern, he was leading a vicious campaign to force members of California’s United Health Care West, a local of SEIU, to agree to concessions and secret contracts that union members themselves would not be able to see or vet in-advance. When local members resisted this outrageous demand by Stern, Stern essentially dissolved and took over their union by placing it under trusteeship, and he booted the nearly 200 elected shop stewards out of office. Some say he illegally trusted the local falsely accusing it of corruption.
(Stern, it should be noted, is currently under investigation by the FBI for his corruption while at the head of SEIU. When Stern left the SEIU, he joined the board of a biodefense firm, SIGA Technologies, backed by a major private equity fund. To learn more about the corruption of Andy Stern as President of SEIU, I highly suggest labor journalist Steve Early’s new book “The Civil Wars in US Labor.”)
Hamsher at time was engaged in a two-year-long romantic relationship with SEIU President Andy Stern according to an article in POLITICO. Although one would have thought she would recuse herself from commenting on this tragic labor story, given her obvious conflict-of-interest, Hamsher instead used Firedoglake to attack several progressive bloggers who supported the rank and file workers in the struggle against their corrupt leadership. On one occasion, Hamsher even made a phone call to Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films to complain about one of Brave New Films’ employees, who had previously worked as a union organizer for that union local in California.
Hamsher accused the employee (whom I know) of planting a story on a pro-union democracy website called Perez Stern. Perhaps Hamsher never told Robert Greenwald to fire him– and to Greenwald’s credit he didn’t–but why call someone’s boss to complain about one of his employees over a matter that has absolutely nothing to do with their job? It was an implicit threat, and a nasty tactic aimed at intimidating someone who was helping the workers’ struggle against the corrupt methods of Hamsher’s boyfriend, former SEIU President Andy Stern.
Hamsher also attacked Sal Roselli implying that he was an Italian thug, an old tactic used by anti-labor PR people to smear labor activists as mobsters. Roselli resisted Stern from his role as president of dissident SEIU local SEIU-UHW–he was ousted in Stern’s highly-dubious takeover and mass-firing of those who dared resist him. Hamsher referred to Roselli “a crook who isn’t fit to shine Andy’s shoes.” On other occasions Hamsher has referred to Roselli in similar language, depicting him as a “thug.” As an Italian-American from a family of labor activists, whose family members faced discrimination when they came to this country from Italy due to stereotypes about Italians as thugs and criminals, Hamsher unfairly labeling someone in the labor movement with an Italian surname as “a thug” merely for the crime of not submitting to her ex-boyfriend struck me as about the lowest blow imaginable, especially coming from a person who claims to fight for progressive and labor causes.
When I raised this ugly episode yesterday in the context of Hamsher’s attacks on the HuffPo boycott, Hamsher responded to me, “You’re just halucinating [sic] now, Mike. I never ‘tried to get people fired from their jobs,’ nor did I ever use ‘race baiting language to paint Sal Roselli as a thug.’….You’re either really mentally ill, or incredibly malicious.”
This was a new low for Hamsher. She and I had previously discussed my struggle with depression and Asperger’s Syndrome; Hamsher was well aware of my writing about my very personal struggle with depression and Asperger’s. I pointed out to Jane that such comments from her about my struggle with mental health were extraordinarily hurtful and petty for a woman of her stature and influence. I replied that my ability to analyze and criticize the labor situation at the Huffington Post should be judged by the merits of my analysis, and not by my battles with mental illness.
Hamsher became even more petty and vindictive–she responded by attacking me:
“You don’t have ‘analysis,’ you’re either a liar or you have no ability to discern the truth.”
“You can’t blame either on asperger’s syndrome. That’s not a symptom. Your reflexive crouch into tribalism and ‘poor me’ to excuse reprehensible behavior is really feeble.”
“This may be due to the fact that you’re incredibly sick, and unable to discern reality….”
[Note: The full unexpurgated email exchange between Hamsher and myself is included below, excluding statements made by other people on the group list.]
The statement by Hamsher was incredibly hurtful to me–which is exactly what she intended. Previously, I had defended Hamsher when some people had labeled her as “crazy.” In October 2009, as a blogger then at the Campaign for America’s Future, I was asked to organize an invite-only event between then new AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and several prominent bloggers. Several labor activists objected to inviting Hamsher, labeling her as “crazy” and citing some of her bizarre behavior, particularly her notorious penchant for petty, vindictive attacks. I defended Hamsher, saying that her personal life was irrelevant and not a subject for fair game. On another occasion, a person in the labor movement referred to Hamsher as a “botox liberal”–putting her down as a shallow and vain Hollywood “liberal.” I defended Hamsher, saying that was a low blow to criticize someone for having alleged plastic surgery–and who really cared where a person was from, what mattered was their judgment and intelligence and their willingness to be fair and open-minded.
In yesterday’s list exchange, I pointed out to Hamsher that I had defended her when someone questioned her mental health and called her a “botox liberal.” Hamsher, instead of reading what I literally wrote to her, switched tactics from mocking mental illness to now playing the politically-correct card: She accused me of being “sexist” and “misogynistic.”
To call me a sexist is simply absurd. I have written multiple pieces criticizing labor leaders for not standing up for women’s reproductive rights. Can you name another male labor reporter who has written such pieces in solidarity with female allies?
Furthermore, Hamsher’s accusation that I engaged in a personal attack, even though, I didn’t, is beyond hypocritical and downright bizarre considering what she said about my own mental health issues.
Jane-Pot, meet Hamsher-Kettle.
One thing my exchange with her yesterday showed is that Hamsher can dish it out with all the petty mean-spiritedness I’ve come to expect from her, but Hamsher can’t take it without resorting to cynical appeals to political-correctness which no one seriously believes she really meant. Especially since she showed no pang of conscience when she belittled my mental illnesses.
I know I have mental illness issues and it took a lot me a very long time to finally have the courage to write about them in public. But I have to ask Hamsher: what sort of pathology drives a woman of her stature and prominence to belittle the mental illness of a young reporter who has done nothing but stand up for workers’ rights and union democracy? Hamsher rails incessantly against her favorite neologism, “the veal pen syndrome”– but if somebody crosses her, god forbid, she’ll resort to the lowest of attacks – bringing up their long history of mental depression and Aspergers’ Syndrome.
Like I said, I’m glad Jane Hamsher is not my shop steward.
Update from The eXiled Editor: Within minutes after this article was posted, Michael Whitney of Firedoglake sent Mike Elk, author of this article, the classic Hollywood death-knell: “You’ll never work in this town again.” Whitney, who once ran a labor blog for Firedoglake until it was taken down because it was so poorly put together and drew such anemic traffic, now serves as Vice President of the Membership Board for Firedoglake. Apparently one of his duties is acting as Hamsher’s hall monitor, policing the internet for anyone not sufficiently worshipful of his employer. Before working for Hamsher, Whitney worked for–ta-dum!— Hamsher’s ex-boyfriend at the SEIU.
Here is the email thread, unedited. This should make Jane proud:
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Michael Whitney <mwhitneyXX@XX.com>
To: mike elk <mike.elkXX@XX.com>
Subject: Re: I Confronted Jane Hamsher over Her Labor Record & She Made Fun of Me for Having Aspergers
good luck getting hired again.
On Fri, May 13, 2011 at 12:33 PM, mike elk <mike.elkXX@XX.com> wrote:
the answer is you have never done shit in your career as a labor blogger except typically run big blockquotes of stories I wrote.
2011/5/13 Michael Whitney <mwhitneyXX@XXl.com>
if you don’t know the answer to that, enjoy your delusion
On Fri, May 13, 2011 at 12:32 PM, mike elk <mike.elkXX@XX.com> wrote:
Why dont pick up a recent edition of the Nation and see whose story is on the front cover? Umm what major stories have you or your site ever broken?
2011/5/13 Michael Whitney <mwhitneyXX@XX.com>
Labor journalist? Maybe see if TMZ is hiring.
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JANE HAMSHER UNPLUGGED: THE UNEXPURGATED EMAILS
Here is the email thread between myself and Jane Hamsher. I’m posting this so that readers can see for themselves what many people who have crossed Hamsher already know but rarely go public with for fear of incurring another one of her wrathful campaigns.
On Thu, May 12, 2011, at 4:17 PM, Jane Hamsher wrote:
Hey guys, when do you plan to include the Washington Post’s op-ed writers in your campaign? They are a multi-million dollar corporation exploiting “unpaid labor” for “exposure” and “opportunity” in exactly the same way.
Follow me on twitter: http://twitter.com/janehamsher
On Thu, May 12, 2011 at 4:19 PM, Mike Elk wrote:
Jane Hamsher the last person I would ever want to have as my shop steward
On Thu, May 12, 2011 at 4:37 PM, Mike Elk wrote:
Jane Hamsher tried to get people fired from their jobs who were supporting the elected shop stewards of uhw. Then she used racebaiting language to paint an Italian American union leader sal roselli as thug. The racebaiting language seemed more in tune with that of a glenn beck episode then a so called progressive blogger
On Thu, May 12, 2011, at 4:52 PM, Jane Hamsher wrote:
You’re just halucinating now, Mike. I never “tried to get people fired from their jobs,” nor did I ever use “race baiting language to paint Sal Roselli as a thug.”
You had a similar outburst the other day on another list, when you accused me of having “worked with libertarians before.” What you did not mention was, it was on YOUR “Audit the Fed” campaign, and YOU had brought the libertarians on to it.
You’re either really mentally ill, or incredibly malicious. Either way, it’s not appropriate to a list like this.
On Thu, May 12, 2011 at 5:11 PM, Mike Elk wrote:
Yes Jane I am mentally I’ll. As someone whose aspergers I’m offended that you would cite mental illness as the roots of my analysis that’s a low point. U have no shame Jane. My aspergers has nothing to do with my beef with you Jane.
When u go after people standing up for the oppressed like the writers union, darcy burner, mark Ames, or sal roselli I’m gonna come after you. You are nothing but a Hollywood huckster protecting the people that fund you and provide you with organizational alliances.
Any crazy person can see that what you are doing is unethical.
On May 12, 2011, at 5:39 PM, Jane Hamsher wrote:
You don’t have “analysis,” you’re either a liar or you have no ability to discern the truth.
You can’t blame either on asperger’s syndrome. That’s not a symptom. Your reflexive crouch into tribalism and “poor me” to excuse reprehensible behavior is really feeble.
This may be due to the fact that you’re incredibly sick, and unable to discern reality. In that case I wish you the best, and hope you’ll seek help. Failing that, you’re just a liar and a bad faith artist. But this list is not a place for you to be working through either of those issues.
On Thu, May 12, 2011 at 5:43 PM, Mike Elk wrote:
Wow Jane you’re the name caller and I’m the one with no ability to conduct analysis.
You just have no shame Jane and I defended you when people in the labor movement called you a Botox liberal
On May 12, 2011, at 6:22 PM, Jane Hamsher wrote:
So now you’re making mysoginistic slurs on top of it all: “botox liberal.”
It’s embarrassing when people like you try to call yourself “liberals.”
You’ve turned this list into a shambles, and the fact that the moderators have let you do it does not reflect well on them.
On Thu, May 12, 2011 at 6:28 PM, Mike Elk wrote:
Jane I’m dyslexic and it looks like I can read better than you. What I said is I heard someone in the labor movement call you a Botox liberal and I defended you against it. I never called you that, I defended you against the people that did.
Please Jane this isn’t Hollywood this is journalism engage in some seriously constructive dialogue and read what others were saying.
2011/5/12 Jane Hamsher wrote:
Let’s list them:
“I wouldn’t want Jane Hamsher as my shop steward”
You’re basically incapable of making an argument based on reason and fact. Every attempt anyone has made to engage you in rational discussion have been met with tribalism, demagoguery, and sexist and dismissive slurs. You simply cannot construct a rational argument, but instead (as has been repeatedly noted) retreat into childish taunts when you’re not capable of answering.
More importantly, the moderators of this list (Tula Connell and Richard Negri) seem to believe that this is an appropriate tone for this list, because they’re clearly capable of moderating it if they’re capable of sending an email. I know of no other list, and no other moderators, who would accept this kind of behavior so passively.
It may be time for them to surrender the moderation reins to someone who has more interest in doing the job.
Mike Elk is a labor journalist and third-generation union organizer based in Washington, D.C. He writes frequently for In These Times, AlterNet, and the American Prospect. You can follow him on Twitter at @MikeElk.
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