Politico‘s most shocking hire of 2014 is MIA.
For the past month, labor reporter Mike Elk has been missing from the suburban Virginia newsroom. Speaking anonymously, Politico reporters tell The Mirror that he hasn’t been seen or heard from since he announced his mission to unionize Politico in December.
Elk’s byline appeared once in January. But beyond that — zilch.
A source inside Politico said he has “pneumonia.”
Elk declined to answer questions for this story.
Back in January, when I interviewed him about his union drive — a conversation he said was protected by his membership in the Newspaper Guild — he sang editor Susan Glasser‘s praises and said HR was being supportive of his effort. Or, at least, not getting in his way. [RELATED: As Predicted, Politico’s Labor Reporter Is Trying To Unionize Politico]
But sources close to Elk say something else may be keeping him away from the office — his PTSD.
When he worked at In These Times, Elk had a source, a worker from Honeywell, commit suicide. A doctor later diagnosed him with PTSD and he’s had to stay on top of his triggers ever since. Elk has attended support groups. He’s gone to therapy. He stays close with union friends who guide him and keep him under their protective wing.
One such friend, John Paul Wright, agreed to speak to The Mirror about his friendship with Elk and what he has observed in him since Politico hired him last September.
Wright, a union organizer for Railroad Workers United, is certainly a sympathetic voice for Elk. He’s known him for six years. He also knows Elk’s father, a well-known labor activist. He makes no bones about his concern for Elk.
“Being involved with these very crazy strikes, sometimes there’s lots of retaliation,” he said. “I would say his PTSD comes from the threats from some of the campaigns he’s been on, he did some incredibly in-depth reporting on Honeywell and actually got into some board meetings he wasn’t supposed to be in and got kicked out. When you’re messing with big money, you’re messing with Goliath. His PTSD as a reporter would be because of his style of reporting.”
Wright and Elk bonded over their mutual panic issues after Elk spilled his guts about his source’s suicide in a story for In These Times.
“I have fatigue-related issues with the railroads,” Wright explained. “I’ve had to deal with panic and many other things. I was impressed that he would talk about that openly.”
Wright says Elk’s desire to unionize his workplace is an extremely stressful endeavor that could easily set off his PTSD.
“I visited Mike in D.C.,” he said. “Not only is he very busy, but his brain is working at 5,000 miles per hour. He’s in a very competitive work force. So I’ve gotten texts and emails that maybe…I recognize when I get a manic email and I recognize the symptoms of the stress.”
Another weighing factor here: father issues.
“Mike’s father is a very, very, very respected in the United Electrical Worker’s Union,” said Wright.
He said Elk’s mission to unionize Politico is part of his struggle to “be a man” and separate himself from growing up under the shadows of his father.
“I know his father and I know his father is very worried about this,” he said. “His father is a very respected and seasoned organizer. Mike is a bull just like his father was. Now he’s trying to make his way into his own field. Mike’s father is scared for him. He’s got a lot of friends who are watching out for him. If he goes off the deep end, there are a lot of people there for him.”
Wright said a union activist typically seeks an outside organizer so he can be protected, but he said he completely understands why Elk feels he has to do it himself.
“To do that triggers a whole bunch of stress and could trigger a relapse of PTSD,” said Wright.
Asked if he thinks Elk is in danger, he replied, “Yeah, of course he would be.”
Even so, Wright supports Elk’s mission. “I think he should keep going,” he said. “But as a union organizer myself, I think he should definitely remember that he should bring in more people to have strategy. To back off, re-strategize and get more people inside of Politico to help.”
Wright stressed that he has “amazing amounts of respect” for Elk.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a workplace must make “accommodations” for someone with a condition like PTSD, which could well mean that Politico management is not allowing him to work in the office.
Politico did not return requests for comment. But relations with his editors have been contentious.
Hypothetically speaking, Wright said if Elk is expressing that he’s having stress as it relates to his PTSD, then Politico is acting responsibility by keeping him away and in more comfortable surroundings.