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Vice Media, in wake of sexual harassment allegations, hires female CEO

Nancy Dubuc, a veteran TV executive, will replace Vice co-founder Shane Smith.

Nancy Dubuc, who will replace Shane Smith as CEO of Vice Media, at an event in January 2018.
Nancy Dubuc, who will replace Shane Smith as CEO of Vice Media, at an event in January 2018.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

After months marked by allegations of sexual misconduct, sexism, and a persistent gender pay gap, Vice Media is making changes at the top. The company has recruited Nancy Dubuc, a veteran TV executive, to serve as its new CEO, replacing co-founder Shane Smith.

Vice formally announced the move on Tuesday, according to Variety. Dubuc will leave her job as CEO of A+E Networks, which owns the History channel and Lifetime as well as A&E. As CEO, Dubuc helped rebrand channels like History and started the company’s longform production unit, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Vice, a digital media company especially known in recent years for TV shows, films, and online videos that appeal to millennial and younger audiences, has been the subject of public allegations of sexism and sexual misconduct since last fall, when Brandy Zadrozny of the Daily Beast reported that according to former employees, the company was “far from the woke media giant it claims to be — especially in its dealings with the women it employs.”

In early December, Vice fired three employees, including Jason Mojica, the head of its documentary films division, for actions that “ranged from verbal and sexual harassment to other behavior that is inconsistent with our policies,” according to a company memo. Later that month, an investigation by Emily Steel of the New York Times uncovered four sexual harassment or defamation settlements against Vice employees, as well as dozens of women who said they had seen or experienced unwanted kissing, groping, or other sexual misconduct. “The settlements and the many episodes of harassment the women described depict a top-down ethos of male entitlement at Vice, where women said they felt like just another party favor at an organization where partying often was an extension of the job,” Steel wrote.

In January, another high-profile employee, chief digital officer Mike Germano, lost his job after an investigation of sexual harassment allegations against him. And in February, a former employee sued Vice, arguing that the company paid men more than women for similar work.

Vice has also struggled financially in recent months, missing its 2017 revenue target by more than $100 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Smith is closely associated with Vice’s company culture. He and co-founder Gavin McInnes “have been open about the fact that the Vice brand was built, at least in part, on the objectification of women,” Zadrozny wrote at the Daily Beast. While Vice’s early sexism may be more easily attributable to McInnes — who left the company in 2007 and in 2016 founded the far-right men’s group the Proud Boys — Smith maintained, at least until relatively recently, a public persona in line with the brand’s general bro-y image. In a 2013 New Yorker profile of Vice, Lizzie Widdicombe reported that Smith called himself “the poor man’s Hemingway” and summarized his lifestyle thus: “Bon vivant, storyteller, drunk. Let’s have fourteen bottles of wine at dinner, roast suckling pig, and a story about chopping a dude’s head off in the desert.”

Smith and another co-founder, Suroosh Alvi, have apologized for Vice’s atmosphere, saying in a statement to the New York Times that “from the top down, we have failed as a company to create a safe and inclusive workplace where everyone, especially women, can feel respected and thrive.” And according to the Hollywood Reporter, Smith recruited Dubuc after “recognizing that the company could benefit from a powerful female at its helm.”

Dubuc has worked with Smith before, overseeing A+E’s partnership with Vice on the cable channel Viceland, which launched in March 2016. The CEO of A+E since 2013, she has been with the company almost 20 years. “Her gut for programming, outspoken style and confidence have made Dubuc one of the most effective and easily one of the most candid executives in the industry,” writes Lacey Rose at the Hollywood Reporter.

Dubuc will not be the first high-profile woman to replace a man at a company struggling to move forward after sexual misconduct allegations. At NPR, Edith Chapin became executive editor after chief news editor David Sweeney left following sexual harassment reports. Nicole Rudick took over as acting editor of the Paris Review after the resignation of editor Lorin Stein, who has been accused of inappropriate touching as well as misuse of his position as a literary gatekeeper, according to the New York Times.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Dubuc had previously been in talks with Amazon, which was looking for a new head of Amazon Studios after the departure of Roy Price, who resigned in the wake of sexual harassment allegations. That job ended up going to another woman, Jennifer Salke, the former president of NBC Entertainment.