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Former Employees Say Ellen’s “Be Kind” Talk Show Mantra Masks A Toxic Work Culture – BuzzFeed News


Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News; Getty Images

Ellen DeGeneres has built her worldwide, multimillion-dollar brand on the motto “be kind,” with lavish giveaways and acts of charity. But behind the scenes, current and former employees on her leading daytime show say they faced racism, fear, and intimidation.

“That ‘be kind’ bullshit only happens when the cameras are on. It’s all for show,” one former employee told BuzzFeed News. “I know they give money to people and help them out, but it’s for show.”

BuzzFeed News spoke to one current and 10 former employees on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, all of whom asked to remain anonymous, fearing retribution from the award-winning NBC daytime talk show and others in the entertainment industry. They said they were fired after taking medical leave or bereavement days to attend family funerals. One employee, who claims she was fed up with comments about her race, essentially walked off the job. Others said they were also instructed by their direct managers to not speak to DeGeneres if they saw her around the office.

Most of the former employees blamed executive producers and other senior managers for the day-to-day toxicity, but one former employee said that, ultimately, it’s Ellen’s name on the show and “she really needs to take more responsibility” for the workplace environment.

“If she wants to have her own show and have her name on the show title, she needs to be more involved to see what’s going on,” one former employee said. “I think the executive producers surround her and tell her, ‘Things are going great, everybody’s happy,’ and she just believes that, but it’s her responsibility to go beyond that.”

In a joint statement to BuzzFeed News, executive producers Ed Glavin, Mary Connelly, and Andy Lassner said they take the stories of the employees “very seriously.”

“Over the course of nearly two decades, 3,000 episodes, and employing over 1000 staff members, we have strived to create an open, safe, and inclusive work environment,” they said. “We are truly heartbroken and sorry to learn that even one person in our production family has had a negative experience. It’s not who we are and not who we strive to be, and not the mission Ellen has set for us.

“For the record, the day to day responsibility of the Ellen show is completely on us. We take all of this very seriously and we realize, as many in the world are learning, that we need to do better, are committed to do better, and we will do better.”

A Black woman who used to work on The Ellen DeGeneres Show told BuzzFeed News she experienced racist comments, actions, and “microaggressions” during her year and a half as an employee. She said when she was hired, a senior-level producer told her and another Black employee, “Oh wow, you both have box braids; I hope we don’t get you confused.” And at a work party, she said, one of the main writers told her, “I’m sorry, I only know the names of the white people who work here,” and other coworkers “awkwardly laughed it off” instead of coming to her defense.

When the former employee brought up issues of race and representation on the show and asked producers not to use offensive terms like “spirit animal” in segments, her colleagues called her “the PC police.”

When she started to speak up about the discrimination, she said, all of her colleagues distanced themselves from her.

“Whenever I brought up an issue to my white male boss, he would bring up some random story about some random Black friend that he had and how they managed to get over stuff,” she said. “He would use his Black friend as some way to say, ‘I understand your struggle.’ But it was all performative bullshit.”

After one year at Ellen, she said she asked for a raise after learning another recent hire made double for doing the same job, despite her having worked in the television industry for a decade. Her manager told her “they’d see what they could do,” but months went by and nothing happened, she said.

“They definitely don’t practice what they preach with the ‘be kind’ mantra.”

The former employee said she was also called into a meeting with executive producer Ed Glavin, where she was reprimanded for her objections to the term “spirit animal,” asking for a raise, and suggesting employees on the show receive diversity and inclusion training.

“He said that I was walking around looking resentful and angry,” she said.

After the meeting, she left work for the day and never returned to The Ellen DeGeneres Show. She said she has no plans to ever work in the entertainment industry again. For years, she felt “a fear of speaking out” but is now inspired to share her experience because of recent conversations about race in Hollywood and other workplaces.

“I feel like I’m not alone in this,” she said. “We all feel this. We’ve been feeling this way, but I’ve been too afraid to say anything because everyone knows what happens when you say something as a Black person. You’re blacklisted.”

The former employee also said her manager from Ellen recently reached out to her amid the Black Lives Matter protests to apologize for not being a better ally. But the former employee said it’s too little, too late.

“I feel angry about the way I was treated, and I am always going to stand up for Black, Indigenous, Latino, and Asian people, regardless if they’re around,” she said. “I can’t not say anything. I’m not going to stop talking.”

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There have been rumors for years about DeGeneres being difficult and how many employees feel unhappy. In March, comedian Kevin T. Porter started a Twitter thread asking people to share “the most insane stories you’ve heard about Ellen [DeGeneres] being mean.” The tweet has more than 2,600 replies.

In April, Variety reported that employees were “distressed and outraged” by top-level producers who didn’t communicate details about their jobs and pay at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. DeGeneres’s former bodyguard also recently said he had had a negative experience with her at the 2014 Oscars, calling the TV host’s treatment of others “demeaning.”

A spokesperson for Warner Bros. Television, which distributes the show, told Variety that the crew was consistently paid during the pandemic, although at reduced hours, and “acknowledged that communication could have been better, but cited complications due to the chaos caused by COVID-19.”

A current employee told BuzzFeed News that on May 1, the same day the story about the former bodyguard was published, executive producers took the rare move of holding an all-staff meeting over Zoom to address the negative stories and low morale.

“I think it is a lot of smoke and mirrors when it comes to the show’s brand,” a former employee said. “They pull on people’s heartstrings; they do know that’s going to get likes and what people are going to go for, which is a positive message. But that’s not always reality.”


Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News; Youtube / Ellentube

After working on The Ellen DeGeneres Show for nearly a year, one former employee said they took medical leave for one month to check into a mental health facility for a suicide attempt. But the week they returned to work, they were told their position was being eliminated.

“You’d think that if someone just tried to kill themselves, you don’t want to add any more stress to their lives,” the employee, whose story was corroborated by four other employees and medical records, told BuzzFeed News.

“Some of the producers talk openly in public about addiction and mental health awareness, but they’re the reason there’s a stigma,” they said. “They definitely don’t practice what they preach with the ‘be kind’ mantra.”

Another former employee said they were fired after an unexpectedly difficult year that required them to take time away from the job on three occasions: medical leave for three weeks after they were in a car accident, working remotely for two days to attend a family member’s funeral, and then three days off to travel for another family member’s funeral. Each request was a battle with supervisors and HR, they added.

“That’s the definition of a toxic work environment, where they make you feel like you’re going insane and then you’re like, no, everything I was feeling was right. It was all leading up to this,” the former staffer, whose story was corroborated by five former employees and medical records, said.

A third former employee said they were given a warning for creating a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for medical costs that weren’t covered by their company health insurance and then sharing it on social media.

Just 24 hours after posting the GoFundMe, they said, they were called into the department head’s office and told to take it down because of concerns it might hurt DeGeneres’s image.

“They discovered my fundraiser, then got mad at me. … They were more concerned about Ellen’s brand instead of helping me out,” the former employee, whose story was corroborated by four other employees, told BuzzFeed News.

About one month later, this employee said they were fired after posting a selfie laughing with coworkers at the office on a personal Instagram story — a violation of their contract — even though others had posted similar photos before.

“Be kind to the world,” they said, “not your employees.”


Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News; Youtube / Ellentube

According to employees, there’s a division between staff members who work on the show: people who “drink the Kool-Aid” and are usually well-liked by producers, and people who recognize the work environment is toxic. Those who push back against senior producers don’t usually have their contracts renewed, former employees said.

“They hire people who maybe are inexperienced with how a functional, nontoxic work environment actually is, or someone who just wants to be in that atmosphere so bad that they’ll put up with it,” one former employee claimed. “They kind of feed off of that, like, ‘This is Ellen; this is as good as it gets. You’ll never find anything better than this.’”

According to former staffers, those who have “more likable” personality traits, who are willing to work the 10-plus-hour days without complaint, and who actively ignore how managers and senior-level producers treat others have been given new iPhones, JetBlue gift cards, and other swag the show keeps on hand from its sponsors.

“I remember feeling depressed and horrible and sad and just thinking that I can’t leave but I want to leave,” one former employee said. “Everyone was unhappy unless you were one of those people being favored.”

Some employees defended the show’s work culture, saying it’s typical of TV production, but other former employees with experience in the industry said The Ellen DeGeneres Show stood apart as particularly negative.

“We all have a kind of ‘this isn’t normal’ feeling about how people get treated there,” one former employee claimed. “And there’s this ushering out the door. Or your contract isn’t renewed the minute you ruffle anyone’s feathers. Or you don’t show that you’re extremely grateful and appreciative to work there.”

The employees who spoke to BuzzFeed News said they worked in a culture dominated by fear. One of them said a general feeling among staffers was “if you have an issue, don’t even think about bringing it up.”

“I never felt like it was safe to go to my manager when I had issues — because this was the same person who would wait for me to go to the bathroom and then message me, asking me where I was and why I wasn’t at my desk,” one employee said.

“People focus on rumors about how Ellen is mean and everything like that, but that’s not the problem. The issue is these three executive producers running the show who are in charge of all these people [and] who make the culture and are putting out this feeling of bullying and being mean,” another former employee claimed. “They feel that everybody who works at The Ellen Show is lucky to work there — ‘So if you have a problem, you should leave because we’ll hire someone else because everybody wants to work here.’”

And when people did leave — or get fired — managers never addressed the team about it, employees said.

“We had Friday morning weekly meetings, and sometimes people who we worked with forever just wouldn’t be there,” one former employee said, “like, they disappeared, and it was never explained.” ●

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Facebook Employees Stage Virtual Walkout to Protest Trump Posts – The New York Times

While Twitter started labeling some of the president’s inflammatory posts, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has said his company should leave them alone.

Credit…Jason Henry for The New York Times

OAKLAND, Calif. — Dozens of Facebook employees, in rare public criticism on Monday of their own company, protested executives’ decision not to do anything about inflammatory posts that President Trump had placed on the giant social media platform over the past week.

The employees, who said they refused to work in order to show their support for demonstrators across the country, added an automated message to their digital profiles and email responses saying that they were out of the office in a show of protest.

The protest group — conducting a virtual “walkout” of sorts since most Facebook employees are working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic — was one of a number of clusters of employees pressing Facebook executives to take a tougher stand on Mr. Trump’s posts.

Inside the company, staff members have circulated petitions and threatened to resign, and a number of employees wrote publicly about their unhappiness on Twitter and elsewhere. More than a dozen current and former employees have described the unrest as the most serious challenge to the leadership of Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, since the company was founded 15 years ago.

“The hateful rhetoric advocating violence against black demonstrators by the US President does not warrant defense under the guise of freedom of expression,” one Facebook employee wrote in an internal message board, according to a copy of the text viewed by The New York Times.

The employee added: “Along with Black employees in the company, and all persons with a moral conscience, I am calling for Mark to immediately take down the President’s post advocating violence, murder and imminent threat against Black people.”

Mr. Zuckerberg has argued on a number of occasions that Facebook should take a hands-off approach to what people post, including lies from elected officials and others in power. He has repeatedly said the public should be allowed to decide what to believe.

That stand was tested last week when Twitter added fact-check and warning labels to two tweets from the president that broke Twitter’s rules around voter suppression and glorification of violence. But as Twitter acted on Mr. Trump’s tweets, Facebook left them alone. Mr. Zuckerberg said Mr. Trump’s posts did not violate the social network’s rules.

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“Personally, I have a visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in a post to his Facebook page on Friday. “But I’m responsible for reacting not just in my personal capacity but as the leader of an institution committed to free expression.”

In response to the walkout, Mr. Zuckerberg has moved his weekly meeting with employees to Tuesday, rather than Thursday. The meeting will be a chance for employees to question Mr. Zuckerberg directly on his decision.

A Facebook spokeswoman said Monday morning that executives welcomed feedback from employees. “We recognize the pain many of our people are feeling right now, especially our Black community,” said Liz Bourgeois, the spokeswoman. “We encourage employees to speak openly when they disagree with leadership.”

Mr. Zuckerberg’s post last week explaining his decision on Mr. Trump’s tweets frustrated many inside the company. More than a dozen Facebook employees tweeted that they disagreed with Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision, including the head of design of Facebook’s portal product, Andrew Crow.

An engineer for the platform, Lauren Tan, posted about the situation on Friday. “Facebook’s inaction in taking down Trump’s post inciting violence makes me ashamed to work here,” Ms. Tan wrote in a tweet. “Silence is complicity.”

Two senior Facebook employees told The New York Times that they had informed their managers that they would resign if Mr. Zuckerberg did not reverse his decision. Another person, who was supposed to start work at the company next month, told Facebook they were no longer willing to accept a position at the company because of Mr. Zuckerberg’s decision.

Over the weekend, several petitions circulated among Facebook employees calling for the company to make personnel changes and for more diversity of voices among Mr. Zuckerberg’s top lieutenants.

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Credit…Tom Brenner/The New York Times

In private online chats, employees have called for the resignation of Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global policy. Mr. Kaplan is seen as being a strong conservative voice within the company. In 2018, he upset some employees when he sat in the front row of the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was a close friend.

Roger McNamee, a venture capitalist who was an early investor in Facebook but in recent years has turned into an aggressive critic of the company, said Facebook’s decision to leave Mr. Trump’s posts alone was typical of a longtime pattern of behavior among big social media companies.

“Internet platforms that are pervasive — as Facebook and Google are globally — must always align with power, including authoritarians. It is a matter of self-preservation,” Mr. McNamee said. “Facebook has been a key tool for authoritarians in Brazil, the Philippines, Cambodia and Myanmar. In the U.S., Facebook has consistently ignored or altered its terms of service to the benefit of Trump. Until last week, Twitter did the same thing.”

Mr. Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, planned to host a call on Monday evening with civil rights leaders who have lashed out publicly against Facebook’s protection of Mr. Trump’s posts. The call was expected to include Vanita Gupta of the National Leadership Conference, Rashad Robinson of Color of Change and Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The civil rights leaders said they would push back on Mr. Zuckerberg’s position on Mr. Trump’s posts, which they see as violations of Facebook’s community standards that do not permit voter suppression or the incitement of violence, even by political figures.

“It’s really important for Mark Zuckerberg to contend with the fact that he is prioritizing free expression while our democracy is literally burning,” said Ms. Gupta, who organized the call with the executives.

On Sunday, Mr. Zuckerberg wrote that he would be donating $10 million to groups working on racial justice. The move, coupled with his earlier post expressing solidarity with the demonstrators, did little to quell the internal protest.

Mr. Robinson, the civil rights group leader, said Mr. Zuckerberg’s financial pledge was “one of the most insulting things I’ve ever seen.” The donation of money, he said, doesn’t change Facebook’s policy of protecting Mr. Trump’s comments that contain falsehoods and appear to violate the company’s policies against hate speech and inciting violence.

Facebook executives have long acknowledged that the company has failed to attract a diverse work force.

“There’s a long history of Facebook, as a company, not seeing or being responsive to black employees,” said Mark Luckie, who quit the company in 2018 and published a memo titled “Facebook is failing its black employees and its black users.”

Like many Silicon Valley companies, Facebook had a severe lack of diversity, especially among executives, Mr. Luckie said in an interview. “When you don’t have a diverse group of people at the top of the company, you don’t understand the issues involved or why your employees are upset.”

In 2014, 2 percent of Facebook’s employees were black. In 2019, that number had increased to 3.8 percent, according to the company’s diversity report.

In the post to an internal message board, the dissenting Facebook employee ended his post with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the slain civil rights leader.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” the quote read.

Sheera Frenkel reported in Oakland, Calif. Mike Isaac reported in San Francisco. Cecilia Kang reported from Washington.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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After employees receive threats, one city is forced to nix rule requiring face masks in businesses – CNN

(CNN)An emergency proclamation issued Thursday in Stillwater, Oklahoma, requiring the use of face masks in stores and restaurants was amended Friday after threats of violence.

“In the short time beginning on May 1, 2020, that face coverings have been required for entry into stores/restaurants, store employees have been threatened with physical violence and showered with verbal abuse,” Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle said in a statement.
“In addition, there has been one threat of violence using a firearm. This has occurred in three short hours and in the face of clear medical evidence that face coverings helps contain the spread of Covid-19.”
Due to the threats of violence the city has decided to amend their emergency order but still want people to wear face masks whenever possible, the statement said.
The proclamation issued Thursday required, among other things, businesses to require patrons to cover their faces to combat the spread of coronavirus.
But on Friday, Mayor Will Joyce softened the rule to encourage, not require, face coverings, after several reports emerged of employees being verbally abused and being threatened with physical violence while trying to enforce the order — all in just three hours of the rule going into effect.
“Many of those with objections cite the mistaken belief the requirement is unconstitutional, and under their theory, one cannot be forced to wear a mask. No law or court supports this view,” said City Manager Norman McNickle in a statement. “It is further distressing that these people, while exercising their believed rights, put others at risk.”
McNickle went on to explain the importance of face coverings in preventing the spread of coronavirus. The masks have been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
“It is unfortunate and distressing that those who refuse and threaten violence are so self-absorbed as to not follow what is a simple show of respect and kindness to others,” he said.
Still, the city is changing the rule, as officials “cannot, in clear conscience, put our local business community in harm’s way, nor can the police be everywhere,” McNickle said.
Since April 3, the CDC has recommended that Americans should wear “cloth coverings” in public places.
The updated guidance was in light of new evidence that many people were spreading the virus asymptomatically — meaning that even people not exhibiting symptoms were spreading it by coughing, sneezing or even simply talking in close proximity.
“The idea about the face mask is to prevent the virus from coming out of somebody’s mouth and nose, mostly out of their mouth,” said Dr. Joseph Vinetz, a professor in the infectious disease section at Yale School of Medicine, to CNN in April. “They prevent somebody, when they talk or sometimes when they sneeze or cough, from expelling virus and leading to infection in other people.”
Masks, however, are not a substitute for social distancing, which is still required to slow the spread of the virus.

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