Vice Media said it is reviewing allegations that two managers at the youth-culture-oriented company sexually harassed female employees.
In a Daily Beast report published Wednesday, former Vice producer Phoebe Barghouty said that Kaj Larsen, previously Vice News’ L.A. bureau chief, engaged in repeated sexually inappropriate behavior. Jason Mojica (pictured above), formerly ViceNews.com’s editor-in-chief who now runs the Vice Documentary Films unit, was accused of making sexually charged jokes and dismissing Barghouty’s concerns about Larsen.
A Vice rep said the company has launched an investigation into the matter. “We do not tolerate harassment, abusive behavior, assault or retaliation and we will discipline anyone who engages in such conduct through a range of actions, including termination, as appropriate,” the rep said, adding that Vice’s employee handbook spells out that such conduct is prohibited and may result in dismissal.
According to the Daily Beast report, the company has long maintained a culture hostile to women. The report was based on interviews with more than a dozen current and former Vice employees (most of whom declined to be identified, citing non-disclosure agreements).
Vice requires employees to sign a “nontraditional workplace agreement,” which requires staffers to acknowledge that they may be exposed to “offensive, indecent, violent or disturbing” content and to affirm that they “do not find such text, images or information or the workplace environment at Vice to be offensive, indecent, violent or disturbing.”
Per the Daily Beast report, Vice managers — including Mojica — have cited the employee contract before making inappropriate remarks.
Vice defended the employee contract, which it noted is not unique to the company and said in no way sanctions sexual harassment or biased treatment of employees.
“A nontraditional workplace agreement is often used by companies to certify employees’ comfort with content that could be considered edgy,” the rep said. “The nature of Vice’s content runs the gamut, from travelogues and news series to more provocative programming like our shows exploring drug culture, ‘Weediquette’ and ‘Bong Appetit.'”
Barghouty, who left Vice last year and now works as a producer at National Geographic, said Larsen would touch her inappropriately at work and that he once invited her to his home, where he made her wait while he took a shower. Larsen also told her after a staff meeting, “If you’re going to get anywhere with Vice guys, you’re going to have to be a lot sweeter,” according to the Daily Beast.
Meanwhile, Mojica once asked Barghouty how “flexible” she was, after mentioning Vice’s nontraditional workplace agreement (Mojica denied to the Daily Beast the exchange occurred). In addition, when she told him about Larsen’s behavior toward her, Mojica responded that “you just have to deal with that” because Vice News employs “sociopaths” who are willing to travel into war zones, the Daily Beast reported.
Brooklyn-based Vice started in 1994 as a punk-culture magazine in Montreal. The company is now a multiplatform media company, with its Viceland TV networks distributed around the world, shows produced for HBO, and a TV and feature film production studio.
Vice has raised $1.4 billion to date — and is valued at $5.7 billion — with backers including Disney, 21st Century Fox, TPG, WPP, Raine Group, and Tom Freston, MTV founder and former Viacom CEO.
(Pictured: Jason Mojica.)