The Mirror

In Defense Of Glenn Thrush: He Deserves Better

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Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger

I recall a time some years ago sitting around my newsroom. There was a collective, palpable hatred toward then-Politico writer Glenn Thrush for any number of reasons. The main one being that he was a liberal writer disguising himself as an objective reporter. But there were other vague reasons for people’s disgust. He seemed like a slime ball. He talked weird. They didn’t like his hat.

But I kinda liked him.

And at various points I made it clear, either through emails or text — or out loud — that I liked him and that he wasn’t as bad as they were making him out to be. Thrush even showed up to an extravagant Daily Caller party at the Hay Adams hotel after one of our reporters wrote several damning pieces about him. He warmly greeted the reporter and joked with him. Who does that?

My coworkers didn’t care that I liked him. I didn’t care that they did not. That’s the way it went. We enjoyed our opinions. And I refused to engage in Group Think no matter what anyone thought of me for it. To my knowledge, no one thought I was an idiot for liking Glenn Thrush.

So … why did I like him? Why do I? I’m not one of those purposefully contrarian souls. But I like who I like. I hate who I hate (here’s looking at you Montel Williams and Dan Bongino). And I don’t apologize for it.

Now that Thrush’s entire professional and maybe his personal existence is tainted, seems as good a time as any to think about it.

After an allegedly extensive investigation, the New York Times is not firing Thrush for purportedly sexually harassing young women when he worked at Politico. Instead, they’re suspending him for a few months and yanking him from the White House beat. At least they’re not firing him, but the whole thing is an abomination he doesn’t deserve.

“He will receive training designed to improve his workplace conduct,” wrote New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet in a memo. “In addition, Glenn is undergoing counseling and substance abuse rehabilitation on his own. … We believe this is an appropriate response to Glenn’s situation.”

We can take a deep breath. It is appropriate. But the whole ordeal is bad for male and female journalists. Most of all, it’s predicated on this disgusting modern belief that media organizations are entitled to judge — and possibly fire — someone for whatever they think is someone behaving badly in any aspect of their lives. Who are we to judge how Thrush behaves in the confines of his marriage? If 50-year-old drunken, pudgy, fedora hat-wearing Glenn Thrush wants to hit on young women at Politico, honestly, who the fuck cares?

He also apparently wasn’t even good at it. He bombed at these alleged come-ons.

Do we really want to work in newsrooms where the men get paralyzed every time they look at or spend time with a woman? Do we want male editors — married or otherwise — to fear having lunch with female reporters because of how it’ll look?

In one of my first dealings with Thrush back in September 2016, I wrote about him apologizing to conservative commentator Ann Coulter. He had interviewed her for his Politico “Off Message” podcast and in his intro claimed he once refused to interview her because he couldn’t stomach her remarks about Muslims and Mexicans.

She called him out for it on Twitter. “Never happened,” she snapped. He explained to me by phone the confusion of what did happen and ultimately publicly apologized to her.

In the actual podcast, the two actually hit it off. In a town where people paint political divides in proverbial blood, it caught my eye. He sympathized with her because of that Comedy Central roast of Rob Lowe in which comedians called her a “racist cunt” and told her to “kill herself.” Lowe himself asked, “Why is Ann Coulter here tonight? Because the right-to-lifers wanted everyone to see what an abortion looks like up close.”

And then there was the “Chutzpah!” incident. Back in late September, Washington Journo Twitter set its wrath on The Daily Caller when I asked for a video to be made of Thrush on TV emphasizing the word “Chutzpah” on MSNBC’s “Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell.” He said the word in a thick Israeli accent and I laughed out loud watching him. Our video guy paired the scene with the song Hava Nagila and before I had a chance to put the whole thing in context, charges of anti-Semitism were shot from a cannon — at me and my publication. WaPo‘s ridiculously terrible media “reporter” Erik Wemple wrote me for comment late at night. All in time for Yom Kippur — yes, the atonement holiday — in which we contemplate our sins over the past year. After sundown on the first night of the holiday, Bustle‘s Seth Millstein declared me a “bad Jew” on Twitter. Which sort of seemed to defeat the purpose of the holiday. But I’m a “bad Jew,” so what do I know?

I quickly called Thrush to personally make sure he knew I wasn’t making fun of his being Jewish. He was kind and had a sense of humor — two things that can be incredibly lacking in Washington media. Before I was even a quarter-way done explaining myself and apologizing for the confusion, he said, “Betsy Rothstein, I know you are not anti-Semitic.” He told me he knew he had over-emphasized the word on TV because he was tired. We laughed, he asked me if I had been Bat Mitzvahed — I was — and that was that. The whole call was mostly laughter. He noted, “This is why I got off Twitter.” He said he’d try to call off the dogs — in this case, his coworker Maggie Haberman, who had tweeted something that initially set off Journo Twitter’s fury.

I didn’t care about Haberman. I was glad he knew the truth. And ultimately I explained it to anyone who cared.

Thrush’s former Politico coworker Laura McGann, now editorial director at Vox, wrote a story describing a 23-year-old drunken female Politico reporter who chose to go out on the town with Thrush. Sure enough, he allegedly hit on her. The story says the incident left her in tears — really?! This woman needed a motherly chaperone type on text to talk her — and Thrush — off a non-sexual harassment ledge? Whoever this young woman was is a disgrace to women everywhere. She wasn’t a child, even though she acted like one. She was a grown-ass woman making grown-up decisions. And no, Thrush was not harassing her.

Most troubling to me is that the early 20-something woman in McGann’s story doesn’t have enough sense in her head to say no. Or to say no and move on. Instead, she acts like it’s the end of the world. Instead, she distorts the Harvey Weinstein scandal in her own mind to mean that, oh yeah, she, too, was the recipient of sexual misconduct.

Which just flat-out isn’t true. Thrush was a reporter at Politico. He wasn’t a manager and didn’t make personnel decisions. No doubt Politico has had male dominance issues — which it at least optically solved by putting a bunch of women in high management posts.

The story’s author, McGann, wrote that she, too, was caught off guard by Thrush when years ago he apparently trapped her in a booth (read: sarcasm) and put his hand on her thigh and “suddenly” started kissing her. Please. There was no accusation of force. A woman with her wits about her knows well ahead of time what the situation is, and if she can’t handle herself, then there is something wrong with her, not him.

“Newsroom leaders care about what he thinks,” she wrote of Thrush’s apparent mayoral vibe at Politico.

When I was a recent college grad, I got my first newspaper job out West. It was a strange one, but a great one. It was my first dose of reporting, and I loved every second of it — well, almost.

Just to give you a mental picture, the place was loaded with men who were stoned much of the time. The only women were me, the receptionist and a too-tall, putrid smelling woman named Wanda who despised me. It was my first “real” journalism job. I knew less than nothing. They made me Managing Editor. (The publisher also sold lawnmowers and tried to sell me one during my interview for the job — don’t ask.)

Wanda somehow thought I was a lesbian — I wasn’t. She told me it was OK just as long as I didn’t hit on anyone at the office (hahahaha). She set me up on dates with men because I guess she wanted me to be straight — which I was and am. Some were actually fun and some of the men were surprisingly attractive. I had my own weird dating service at work and I made the best of it.

But let’s get back to Thrush.

The point is, I was young and I made my own decisions, smart or not. Was Wanda sexually harassing me? In a weird way, probably yes. She was certainly behaving like a sick pig of a human being. She was also a terrible editor. As much as I didn’t know about journalism, she knew less and ultimately I went to work for the competitor and moved on with my life.

In another instance, one of the ad guys tried to kiss me in the office. He literally pulled me toward his face and I politely pushed him away. I knew he had a girlfriend. We walked around a lake and talked about it, and I, the young one who knew nothing about life, counseled him about not cheating on his girlfriend. He was embarrassed. It was a funny story to tell my friends. We barely spoke ever again.

But again — so what? Shit happens. Men hit on women, and providing it’s not one of the more awful situations out there — Charlie Rose, Mark Halperin, Dustin Hoffman, Harvey Weinstein — we decide yes or no. I wasn’t looking to this man for my self-esteem or to tell me how great my writing was. And how embarrassing for me if I ever was?

My final instance in dealing with Thrush was at a forum on Capitol Hill in October with liberal radio host Bill Press, New York Times reporter Peter Baker and Thrush. They were going explain to a group of gray-haired liberals what it was like to cover President Trump.

It was a few weeks after the “Chutzpah!” incident, and I showed up to cover it. Afterwards, I approached Thrush to say hello. We laughed about the previous incident as a few of the gray hairs came to compliment him and shake his hand.

We walked outside together and he apologized for not being able to offer me a ride home. We chatted about the state of the journalism industry. We exchanged pleasantries and he suggested coffee in a few weeks. He was extremely tired, he told me. The only energy he had was to get home to his family in suburban Maryland. And I actually worried for him because he seemed to exude an almost sickly bone tiredness that far exceeded a normal day at the office — an office he’ll fortunately see again, but one that won’t ever likely feel quite the same.