It’s the rare journalist who has the character, commitment, and courage to investigate the claims of self-declared #MeToo victims. It’s even rarer finding a credible publication willing to publish the findings if they are at odds with the allegations.
Until last week, I was only aware of one such reporter and one such publication: Emily Yoffe and Reason, a magazine that identifies as being libertarian, a political philosophy that values liberty and freedom of expression. Libertarians and cancel culture don’t mix.
I read this Reason story by Yoffe about the cancellation of Jonathan Kaiman two years ago, but it continued to weigh on me. Kaiman was the former Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times before the publication morphed into the PC rag it is now. Kaiman’s promising nine-year journalism career was permanently derailed when two women he’d previously had intimate encounters with – Laura Tucker and Felicia Sonmez – accused him of sexual wrongdoing. Yoffe, who had reported extensively on campus rape, did a deep dive on Tucker’s and Sonmez’s allegations, and the investigation that followed.
The article left me quite sympathetic towards Kaiman, particularly since when Yoffe tracked him down, he was near suicidal and living with his parents in Phoenix. All Kaiman’s journalism friends and colleagues abandoned him because he was too “radioactive.” Despite all their bravado, too many journalists today make for fair-weathered friends, preferring to embrace industry PC groupthink rather than risking their careers and challenging it.
The Intrepid Suzy Weiss
An intrepid young reporter named Suzy Weiss last week emerged as another rare journalist in the tradition of Emily Yoffe. Weiss posted this story on the website Common Sense about the canceling of Dr. David Sabatini that should spark a Rosa Parks moment challenging the cancer of cancel culture. The cancer reference is especially apropos because Sabatini was possibly well on his way to finding a cure for the disease but now finds himself unemployed and without purpose.
Weiss did a masterful job putting Sabatini’s myriad accomplishments into perspective so I’m just going to reprint verbatim her first three paragraphs.
In 2018, David Sabatini was a world-renowned molecular biologist. He was a tenured professor at MIT. He ran a major lab at the Whitehead Institute, overseeing a team of 39 researchers, postdocs and technicians. Their job was to disentangle the mystery of the mTOR signaling pathway, a protein Sabatini had discovered while still in medical school, at Johns Hopkins. The mTOR signaling pathway plays a critical role in tumor development. Figuring out how it works would go a long way toward saving countless lives.
This was why Sabatini was predicted to win the Nobel Prize. It was how he reeled in between three and four million dollars every year for his lab from the National Institutes of Health, the Pentagon and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, among others. It is why his colleagues have described him to me with words like “genius,” “one of the best scientists alive,” and “a pillar.”
“It’s like working for Steve Jobs. He can be brutal,” said one scientist. “But why would you want to work for anyone else?”
Weiss makes a convincing case that Sabatini was railroaded by a cancer culture run amok, and that accusations he was some sort of sexual predator were unfounded and unfair. One trainee who worked for Sabatini told Weiss that a law firm report depicting Sabatini as lascivious and retaliatory was “deeply insane.”
“They have the wrong guy”
“They have the wrong guy,” a female scientist told Weiss. A female former trainee told Weiss that the climate in Sabatini’s lab was “one of excellence.” While Sabatini was demanding, he never was demeaning or unfair. “I try to emulate him in my own lab,” another female former trainee said. A third female trainee said the lab could be informal, but it was hardly a locker room. “It just wasn’t in the air.”
What I found particularly disturbing was this detail about an investigation of Sabatini conducted by the law firm Hinckley, Allen & Snyder: Weiss reported that former lab members told her their co-workers were sobbing when they came out of meetings with the lawyers, alleging that lawyers put words in their mouths.
“(The lawyers) had a very strong agenda,” a source confided to Weiss.
Among the villains in Weiss’ story are the media, notably the Boston Globe and Science Magazine, which is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
When MIT’s Whitehead Institute put Sabatini on administrative leave, a copy of the letter to staff saying that an investigator’s report raised “very serious concerns about sexual and workplace harassment” quickly found its way to the Globe. The Globe said it “obtained” a copy; more likely, it was given to the Globe on a proverbial silver platter with the intent of publicly embarrassing Sabatini. The publication was happy to oblige. (The Globe no doubt would argue the report was “news” and therefore they had an obligation to report it.)
Sabitini’s derailed second chance
One of the rare heroes in Weiss’ story is NYU medical school dean Dafna Bar-Sagi, who knew Sabatini for years, was aware of his genius, and knew that many in the scientific community thought the allegations against him were unfounded. Bar-Sagi went to bat for Sabatini and tried recruiting him to NYU. Someone leaked to Science that NYU was considering offering Sabitini a position, and the publication published a story with this damning headline:
The story prompted student protests, many carrying placards saying, “Say No to Sabitini.” NYU was forced to back down.
The “New York billionaire philanthropist” referred to in the Science headline was Ken Langone, who’d be my first choice to share a foxhole during battle. I was blessed to see what Langone was made of when I represented former New York Stock Exchange Chairman and CEO Dick Grasso, who was forced out by former and since disgraced New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer because of supposedly excessive compensation. Langone was head of the NYSE’s compensation committee, and he publicly backed Grasso at great professional and personal cost when other members were too cowardly to defend their decisions.
Langone is a legacy from the bygone days on Wall Street when character mattered. He was a hero in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. At the time he was on the board of Home Depot, and he arranged to get much needed supplies for the first responders at Ground Zero.
My goal is to call attention to Weiss’ story in the hope more people will read it. Even if one doesn’t agree with her findings, it is hard to imagine anyone arguing that the allegations against Sabitini warranted derailing a potential cure for cancer.
Landing on his feet
Reading Weiss’s story got me wondering what happened to Jonathan Kaiman, the former Los Angeles Times China bureau chief. He appears to have recovered from his ordeal and is now attending law school. Yoffe reported that accuser Laura Tucker was attending law school, but I’m not certain if she is practicing law.
Accuser Felicia Sonmez went on to work for the Washington Post, where she made headlines two years ago tweeting a link to an article about years old allegations of sexual assault almost immediately after it was reported that basketball star Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter cash.
In March, a judge tossed a discrimination lawsuit Sonmez filed against the Washington Post alleging that she was discriminated against as a sexual assault victim when it banned her from reporting on such issues.
As for Suzy Weiss, the author of the Sabitini feature, her LinkedIn bio says she is an editorial assistant in the New York Post’s features department. Weiss attended high school in Pittsburgh, so I’m guessing she is possibly related to Bari Weiss, the former New York Times journalist who founded Common Sense. The latter Weiss’ bio says she was born in Pittsburgh.
If I’m correct, the Weiss family has some mighty awesome journalism genes.