Photo: Patrick McMullan Archive via Getty Images
The New York To post was rocked on Tuesday morning by a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Michelle Gotthelf, the former digital editor who was quietly fired last week after more than two decades at the paper. For days the staff had chatted about why she had been canned: Keith Poole, who runs the entire paper, did not send a note to the entire staff announcing her departure until today today, half an hour after the trial stunned the staff.
Gotthelf alleges that in 2015 she was “sexually proposed” by Allan Pass, the notoriously brash editor who ran the tabloid for many years. The suit says Gotthelf complained and Allan was fired as a result, but the To post and owner Rupert Murdoch brought it back a few years later when he allegedly bullied her. The costume names Allan, the To post, its parent company News Corporation and Poole as defendants. A spokesperson for News Corp. said in a statement: “Any suggestions of wrongdoing related to the leadership changes announced today are without basis.” Allan, who is no longer with the newspaper, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Gotthelf’s costume depicts years of sexual harassment by Allan, such as hovering too close, asking him for a drink, and asking about his sex life when the two were alone. It culminated one day in a bar with him allegedly telling her, “We should sleep together.” Gotthelf says she rejected him and he turned mean: “On one occasion he tore up a list of stories that Mr. [sic] Gotthelf got ready and yelled at him to ‘get the hell out of here,’” according to the lawsuit. After reporting Allan to superiors, he was forced to resign, but the To post, and “especially Mr. Murdoch, did everything they could to protect Mr. Allan’s reputation”, saying he had chosen to retire.
In early 2019, Allan returned to the paper as a consultant but acted as de facto editor. “When Col was brought back, most reporters cringed because they thought his main mission was to do the To post Trumpier, almost for the Foxifier,” one longtime employee said. According to the lawsuit, Allan eventually began telling Gotthelf what to do, such as ordering him to “get rid of” a story about E. Jean Carroll, who had accused Donald Trump of sexual assault. When Allan first returned, Gotthelf was told she wouldn’t have to take care of him, sources say. But that was not the case.
“If he had a problem with a story or wanted it to grow, he would email Michelle, and Michelle would forward that email to the editors, and the editors would forward that email to the reporters,” says one. journalist from To post, “so we always saw that Col was still talking to Michelle and directing her and giving her orders, after she came back when he was supposedly not supposed to direct things to her.” An editor at To post said Gotthelf acted as a buffer between staff members and Allan, trying “to keep everyone on task”. “Meanwhile, there was a lot going on behind the scenes.”
There had long been rumors that Allan left in 2016 because of sexual harassment. “When Col suddenly left, there was a suspicion, but I didn’t necessarily know it was about Michelle,” says the longtime Postie. Gotthelf had told a few people that Allan had made him an offer, but that was by no means an open secret.
A tireless Australian and longtime Lieutenant Murdoch, Allan has a bad reputation. Gotthelf’s lawsuit claims he would use words about women such as “skanks” and called a reporter a “sneaky lesbian.” A former journalist from To post is not surprised to hear such claims. “I’ve heard him make sexist remarks before,” she said of Allan. “He made a joke to one of the editors that women can’t drive and I heard it. I saw his face and his reaction was not happy. I remember hearing it and being disgusted.
A current editor told the newspaper before starting that they thought Allan looked like “a cartoon that was made up by outlets like Gawker.com. And then in my brief experience with him, I was like, “Oh my God, this guy is real and absolutely belligerent.”
Luis Rendon, a senior designer who left the To post last week, recalls Allan yelling at him in 2019 when he took a private call in an office adjacent to glass doors. He says Allan came in, pointed at him and said, “I’m right next door and you’re yelling at the wall… Is this your office?” (Rendon shared a recording with New York.) When Rendon later tried to apologize, he says Allan pointed at him and said, “Get the hell out of here.” I don’t want to see you again. Rendon called it “pure evil and pure wickedness”.
Gotthelf was also a divisive figure, respected and hated by current and former postal workers. “The Eva Braun of city editors,” as one longtime employee called her, she was a central figure responsible for shoving many questionable Hunter Biden stories into the paper, which put many journalists uncomfortable in the newsroom. One said: “Just seeing the initials ‘MG’ pop up in your boss’s Gmail account was enough to send shivers down your spine. She ran the newsroom with a hand of It’s the classic story of how bullies bully — she’d been bullied by Col all those years, then bullied to the top.
But others were more sympathetic, calling her a direct and decisive boss who defended her staff while doing what was necessary to survive in a difficult environment. “She comes from a long line of howlers,” said a former manager. “I think she was happy to be a responsible woman and needed to put her balls on the table.”
A former journalist recalls the walls of Gotthelf’s office being pink – a rare touch of femininity in a “masculine, super macho” workplace. “She must have been terrifying,” said the former journalist. “As a woman, she was in an impossible position. Every man there was ten times worse. I think she’s really great. The former journalist added that Gotthelf kept Allan away from younger reporters.
The suit takes umbrage at how Poole, who was brought in from Murdoch’s UK Sun, hopscotched on Gotthelf then sent her packing. While the newsroom is shocked at how she came out, most of the Murdoch rag people thought her days were numbered anyway. “From the minute Keith Poole came in, I always thought Michelle was the most vulnerable,” says one of the longtime employees, “because she was the digital manager and he was brought in for his digital expertise.”
Cindy Adams, who jokes that she has been to the To post since Alexander Hamilton founded it, says the same thing: “One of the reasons — a Among the many reasons – Keith was recruited because of his digital savvy. That’s what he wanted to improve.