Vice Media fired three employees and took “disciplinary action” against an unspecified number of others on Thursday as part of its investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and “inappropriate conduct,” following a report in The Daily Beast last month.
It was the first decisive action taken since the company announced they would be looking into allegations from over a dozen former and current employees of inappropriate behavior and touching from managers, improper relationships between managers and subordinates, and a culture of indifference to harassment from managers and human resources.
The firings were a result of findings which “ranged from verbal and sexual harassment to other behavior that is inconsistent with our policies, our values, and the way in which we believe colleagues should work together,” according to a company-wide memo first reported by CNN.
But what might have been a company public-relations win, turned to fodder for gossip inside Vice offices on Friday—most notably because, despite CEO Shane Smith’s pledge to usher in a new era of transparency, the identities of the fired employees have been kept secret from the public and even from Vice’s own staff.
But Vice employees—many of whom are bracing themselves for a long-rumored New York Times expose on the media company—are talking, and several pointed to three of the company’s longest-serving top executives, suggesting the firings might just be the beginning of a more serious purge at the media giant.
“I know a few people have asked for specifics concerning both the complaints and the discipline we have taken,” Susan Tohyama, Vice’s chief human resources officer wrote in the company memo. “I believe the confidentiality of the process is necessary to protect all those who wish to bring allegations to me and to create a fair, safe and inclusive environment for all employees.”
It’s not clear how keeping the fired employees anonymous will protect complainants. A company representative directed this reporter to the company’s statement and declined to comment further.
Jason Mojica, the former editor in chief turned head of Vice’s documentary film unit, who was named in The Daily Beast report, was suspended weeks ago “for the duration of the investigation,” according to a Vice spokesperson. Vice has refused to confirm if Mojica was among the fired employees and he did not return a call for comment. (UPDATE: Mojica confirmed that he had been fired to the New York Times on Friday. In a phone interview, Mojica denied he had acted inappropriately as alleged in The Daily Beast report, and said he was “deeply disappointed by this outcome.”)
The other two employees rumored to be let go had been with the company for over a decade and were integral to the development of the Viceland cable channel and the news program on HBO. Neither have responded to requests for comment. One had removed his LinkedIn profile as of Monday morning.
“If it’s those three, they represent the most significant trio of authorship for the Vice brand. No one has been more prolific in terms of content creation and style for the brand than them,” one former employee told The Daily Beast.
She continued, “They were Shane Smith protégés, which raises a question about the competency of Shane’s leadership.”
Inside Vice, employees were only left to guess about the reason for the secrecy. “Damage control” and the possibility of severance agreements were suggested.
“I’m sure an announcement will be made eventually,” one current staffer said.
In response to the original report last month, Shane Smith wrote a memo to employees taking responsibility for what may come out during the investigation.
“I’d like to make it abundantly clear here and now: the behavior outlined in the recent Daily Beast article is unacceptable, and the fact that anything like this could happen at VICE is my and my senior management’s responsibility.”