The media fans of Ellen Pao (i.e. practically the entire media) won't stop twisting themselves into butterfly loops to portray the just-ousted Reddit interim CEO as a victim of Silicon Valley sexism instead of the toxic employee that everything we know about her job performance at two Bay Area tech firms seems to portray.
The latest, most hilarious chapter in the media Saga of St. Ellen, Woman and Martyr, is New York Times technology reporter David Streitfeld's frantic rewrite (chronicled by NewsDiff) of fellow NYT reporter Mike Isaac's straightforward account of Pao's July 10 resignation by mutual agreement from the popular social-networking site.
Here's Isaac's lead paragraphs, filed at 5:23 p.m. on July 10:
Ellen Pao, the interim chief executive of Reddit, resigned from the online message board on Friday after a week of ceaseless criticism from scores of angry users over the handling of an employee departure.
Ms. Pao will be replaced by Steve Huffman, who, along with Alexis Ohanian, started Reddit from a two-bedroom apartment in a suburb of Boston a decade ago. Ms. Pao said she would remain as an adviser to Reddit’s board for the remainder of the year.
Her exit, which the company described as a mutual agreement between her and Reddit’s board, follows a week of unrest in the Reddit community, which is made up of more than 160 million regular users who use the site to talk about anything from current events to viral cat photos.
And here's Streitfeld's rewrite of those same paragraphs, filed at 7:48 p.m.:
Ellen Pao became a hero to many when she took on the entrenched sexist culture of Silicon Valley. But sentiment is a fickle thing, and late Friday the entrepreneur fell victim to a shrill crowd demanding her ouster as chief executive of the popular social media site Reddit.
Ms. Pao’s abrupt downfall in the face of a torrent of sexist and racist attacks, many of them on Reddit itself, is likely to renew charges that bullying, harrassment and ugly behavior are out of control on the web — and that Silicon Valley’s well-publicized lack of interest in hiring anyone who is not male and white is contributing to the problem.
According to the Daily Caller, New York Times editors wrestled all that evening with toning down and later reinstating some of Streitfeld's inflammatory diction (after all, he was supposed to be rewriting a news story, not an op-ed piece):
Apparently even the Times realized Streitfeld’s edit went too far, as an hour later it made a second edit to the piece toning down much of its language. Pao was no longer described as an “entrepreneur” (while Pao has worked in venture capital, she isn’t known for founding companies), and the quip about Silicon Valley’s “lack of interest” in non-white employees is removed. “Male aggression” was downgraded to “machismo,” and women were now “often” put in secondary roles rather than “always.”
A third edit later made one additional change, changing Silicon Valley’s “sexist” culture to a “male-dominated” one. Then, 20 minutes later, it was changed back. After another 20 minutes, it became “male-dominated” again, suggesting a feud in the Times newsroom over what was best.
Streitfeld even buried deep in the story the fact that much of the user-outrage had stemmed from Pao's firing of a female executive, Victoria Taylor, who had been well-liked at Reddit.
This isn't the first time that the dog-faithful press has tried to turn Pao's obvious problems as a manager into a saga of Silicon Valley misogyny. Pao had filed a $16 million (plus punitive damages) sex-discrimination suit against the company that had previously gotten rid of her, the venture-capital firm of Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, where Pao had been a junior partner. The suit was supposed to humble Kleiner Perkins and to blow the lid off supposedly pervasive sexism in the Valley.
Instead, as I noted in April for the Los Angeles Times:
It took the jury just a few hours to find in favor of Kleiner on all four counts of Pao’s lawsuit after a trial that lasted nearly two months.
The jurors told reporters that they actually believed that Pao, who witnesses testified had systematically humiliated and alienated many Kleiner employees, simply hadn't been doing her $560,000-a-year job very well.
Nonethless, the media responded as though Pao had actually won her lawsuit instead of losing it big-time:
Here is Sean Elder at Newsweek, in an article titled "Is the Ellen Pao Trial Silicon Valley's 'Anita Hill Moment'?": "Gender stereotyping, like racial stereotyping, isn't pretty, but the pockets of resistance in the insular world of many startups may prove fierce."
The repackaging by the press continues. Here's Susanna Schrobsdorff at Time, hand-wringing that the deck was stacked against Pao from the very betinning because of that XX chromosome:
[T]he rules are so often different for women at the top. Personality matters and the margin of misinformation is tiny. Be very good at your job. And also, play nice. When Jill Abramson was fired as editor of the New York Times she was described with many of the same adjectives used to vilify Pao at trial. Abramson made a fuss over gender inequities, she was “difficult,” she “challenged the top brass.”
The lesson to be learned here: When a female employee is fired, the underlying reason will always be sexism.