The Bitter Pill #8: Deconstructing the EW’s Response to Recent Criticism of their Workplace Culture

They said it couldn’t be done! Wait… no, they said it shouldn’t be done. Anyway, I did it.

What follows is a line-by-line exegesis of the Eugene Weekly’s official response to scathing public criticisms of the behavior of management from several former employees. The text may have been edited since I copied it for this response.

A recent Facebook post from a former Eugene Weekly employee makes troubling allegations, shared on the internet, about our workplace.

Right out the box, the passive-aggressive quality of the message is on display in the strange redundancy of pointing out that a recent Facebook post was “shared on the internet”. Presumably, this was meant to suggest some sort of disloyalty or grandstanding on the part of the person who wrote the complaint and then shared it on the internet. This implied criticism is recalled in the closing sentences, where the EW portrays itself as taking the high road by not using its space on the internet to criticize the past employee.

No mention is made of the at least two additional complaints by past employees that have been posted to Facebook and shared on the internet, though they are implicitly acknowledged by the use of the plural “comments”, “allegations”, “employees”, and “posts” later on.

We take comments seriously, whether right or wrong.

This is meant to explain why the EW is issuing an official statement in response, while asserting that the fact of this statement shouldn’t be taken as an acknowledgement of the validity of the issues raised by the “comments”. That choice of word – “comments” – is meant to belittle the extensive and detailed complaints made.

We are listening and want you to know our mission at EW is for this small paper to make the world, or at least Eugene, Lane County and Oregon a better place.

“We are listening” is pro forma for any response to a complaint of abuse at this point. You may be full of shit, but we are listening… because everyone deserves to be heard before being ignored.

Secondarily, the line means to create a sympathetic fundamental image of the EW, as small (and hence without power) and existing primarily to make the world a better place. Asserting this sympathetic image is the main purpose of the statement.

With that goal in mind, our small staff has come out with a print paper every Thursday for more than 35 years.

More sympathy building. A small paper with a small staff. Get it? We’re small. For fuck’s sake, how can those horrible things be true about the EW management culture if we few, we happy few, have published a paper every Thursday for over 35 years?

Again: the purpose of this statement is to assert – contrary to those comments shared on the internet – the ethical standing of the EW, and in particular, it’s ownership and management. They’re small. They’re driven by service to the betterment of the world. They’re diligent and tireless.

Some of our dedicated employees have worked here for more than a decade, in some cases almost two decades.

This is in part to answer, without explicitly acknowledging, the claim made in the complaints, that the EW staff has a high turnover rate, which could be taken as evidence of a toxic work environment. It also keeps hammering on the ethical nature of the EW, as a den of people devoted for decades to making the world better, one issue at a time. People who can’t, therefore, be guilty of any of the things recently shared on the internet.

For EW’s owners, publishing the paper is labor of love and an act of devotion to the community, not a business for profit.

This is the capstone on the ethical pyramid, the finishing piece of the ethical framework meant to define the identity of the EW. Hence at this point, with that established, the writer turns to making a show of accepting some imperfection relative to that fundamental identity.

We are not perfect, and there are areas we can and will improve upon.

An entirely vague acknowledgment of responsibility, completely divorced from any explicit charges, which have been already implicitly denied and represented as completely out of character relative to the EW’s overall character.

Our readers should know that this paper, its owners and staff will unequivocally strive not only to produce a fantastic newspaper but to be a creative and friendly workplace.


It’s unfortunate that they’ve grouped these things together here, since we all know how routinely disastrous the results of their striving to produce a fantastic newspaper are. If the quality of the EW is any indication, the work environment there must be perfectly hideous.

We value our employees.


We take allegations such as these seriously.

Even when, as suggested above, they’re totally wrong.

We are reviewing and revising policies that prevent and address any complaints about harassment and bullying in the workplace.

That’s how seriously we take allegations! Seriously enough to review policies that no one has criticized.

A classic instance of EW elocution, which accidentally indicates they have policies in place that prevent complaints about harassment and bullying in the workplace.

Presumably, the writer (who, presumably, was editor Camilla Mortensen) meant to say they are reviewing policies designed to both prevent workplace bullying and address bullying after the fact.

A friend of mine reads the sentence as saying that they are reviewing policies designed to address complaints that may also inadvertently prevent those complaints from being heard. This is grammatically possible, but I can’t imagine what sort of policies those might be. How poorly designed would a policy for addressing complaints have to be so that it would actually end up preventing complaints from being heard?

On the other hand, it’s easy to imagine policies working out detrimentally in practice, not because they were so poorly formed but given the bad faith or mere idiocy of officials involved in executing them. This, however, will never be corrected by revising the policies themselves, but only by correcting, or dismissing, the people involved.

When a murder is committed, the proper response is generally not to revise the policies set up to prevent and address murder, but to deal with the murderer.

This mention of a policy review is, in short, shifting of blame off the people involved – who are, you may recall, dedicated servants of the common good – and onto some poorly constructed, immaterial, policies that may have somehow created a wildly mistaken impression about management in the mind of a former employee, whose complaint is being taken seriously… even though it’s completely wrong.

If anyone has a workplace complaint, we would encourage them to contact Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industry.

A bizarre change of direction; but then again, this is published by the EW and probably written by Editor-in-Chief Mortensen, for whom such mind-bending shifts of direction constitute a stock-in-trade.

Once again, best sense can be made by looking not at the level of what was intended, but at the level of what was unintentionally revealed. The EW is always listening to any employee complaints, and if there are any, employees should direct them to the appropriate state agency.

We hope readers look at social media posts with a critical eye.

Remember, those serious allegations which we’re taking seriously are all bullshit!

We are not going to use our platform to cast stones at former employees.

Given that we are, as established above, dedicated public servants.

Instead we ask you to encourage and support, as well as challenge and inspire, EW.

In sum, remember to think of EW in terms articulated above. We’re dedicated, long-standing, much-beloved, public servants, who are always willing to review and revise policies – even in the face of completely imaginary accusations by lowlife former employees who share complaints on the internet.


The deep issue of interest to me is to what extent the aesthetic and the ethical failings of the EW are intertwined.

Over the last few years, I’ve written a series of articles under the title The Bitter Pill, conceived as a contrary voice within the otherwise homogenous EW. It was never an entirely serious project; not because I didn’t work seriously at writing the pieces, but because I could never imagine the EW actually printing anything so scathingly critical of the EW.

Behind this effort, I’ve never been entirely comfortable with myself for spending any time on it. There’s a pathological quality to it, but at the same time, I can’t be entirely convinced that there’s not something of ‘the good fight’ in it, because of some idealistic notion I have of what good a newspaper might do.

Throughout, I have puzzled over the relationship between the EW’s aesthetic and ethical failings. A newspaper is like a public person, a cultural ego, a corporation that doesn’t just build something, but that engages in public discourse; and more than that, might overhear itself. A newspaper is a corporate public person, and as such, a model for what a person ought to be.

And that’s what has always bugged me about the EW (and the RG, for that matter). I think they’re shitty models for what a person might be. That the EW stands at the center of the public discourse of art, government and culture has always struck me as a sort of indictment of the low and stagnant state of Eugene society.

That it might finally be forced to change by some more generalized form of the #metoo zeitgeist is the sort of perfect irony that we can only expect from real history.

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