NewsGuild Shelves Sexual Misconduct Inquiry Written by Cop Union PR Specialist

NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss in his LA Times staff photo (LA Times)

PITTSBURGH, PA – After months of inaction and refusal, the national NewsGuild canceled the August release of a long-promised report into the sexual misconduct of NewsGuild leadership. 

Now, Payday Report has unearthed startling questions about the lack of independence of the report and the failure to interview several witnesses, including sexual assault survivors who contacted the Newspaper Guild. 

Additionally, instead of hiring an outside independent law firm to conduct the review, the NewsGuild hired a consultant to lead the report, who lacked a legal background. Rebecca Feaster’s prior professional experience was as a communication specialist representing police unions and some of the most controversially racist police associations in the U.S., including the International Chiefs of Police Association and the National Sheriff’s Association.

The scuttling of the release comes ahead of the NewsGuild conference this October, where union delegates expected the long-simmering allegations of a cover-up of sexual misconduct within the union’s leaders to be a hot topic of debate.

Last January, over 100 journalists, members of the Newspaper Guild, wrote to the President of the NewsGuild demanding a fully independent, third-party investigation. 

The demands came after New York Times journalist Ben Smith revealed in a December exposé, which followed up on a Payday Report investigation from September, that the President of the national NewsGuild, Jonathan Schleuss, had knowledge of sexual assault allegations against Pittsburgh NewsGuild Michael Fuoco, but failed to remove him.  

The Payday Report exposé from September further revealed that Schleuss did not take action against Fuoco for nine months, even after meeting with a survivor of Fuoco’s. He continued to promote Fuoco, appearing by his side at a union rally after knowing firsthand of the sexual misconduct allegations against Fuoco. 

This March, Schleuss promised that a fully independent report written by a third party would be released about what occurred and why the NewsGuild failed to take action. 

“The review is in response to member feedback in the aftermath of allegations that came to light last September involving the former local president [Fuoco],” wrote Schleuss in an email to the union’s 25,000 members back in March. “The assessment will look back at what happened and look forward at what we can and should do to cultivate an atmosphere of safety and respect.” 

Then, on Tuesday, August 3, Schleuss sent a union-wide email to the over 25,000 members announcing that the report would be released the following day online on Wednesday, August 4. A town hall would follow up the online release on the evening of Thursday, August 5. 

However, less than 24 hours later, Schleuss emailed the union members and announced that the report’s release was canceled with no update on when, if ever, the report would be released. 

In an email sent to the union’s membership, Schleuss claimed that the report was scuttled to protect the identities of the accused, a claim that many NewsGuild insiders dispute. 

“It was an amatuer-hour cover-up attempt and I think they realized how poorly it would play and they didn’t want to release it,” said one NewsGuild insider, who spoke to Payday on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation from NewsGuild President Schleuss. 

It remains unclear why the NewsGuild report would make the unusual move to cancel the release after such a high-profile email to the union’s 25,000 union members.

However, the way the report was conducted raises questions about the independent nature of the NewsGuild inquiry into sexual misconduct in its leadership. Even compared to the efforts of other unions faced with similar problems, the NewsGuild efforts to study how it was overlooked lacked the degree of seriousness and independence needed for a truly independent report. 

When American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox was forced to resign over sexual misconduct allegations in February 2020, the union brought in was the Working IDEAL group — a group of lawyers and HR professionals led by former U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chair Jenny Yang, who later produced a 51-page independent report into the problems of sexual misconduct at AFGE. 

But, Schleuss, who has been accused of covering up sexual misconduct on his own, hired the “independent consultant” Rebecca Feaster, who has no law degree or experience conducting these types of investigations, to be the lead consultant on the report. 

According to Feaster’s LinkedIn, Feaster’s primary work experience had been in “crisis communication” and “brand management,” working as a communication specialist on behalf of police unions and some of the most controversial organizations in the U.S., which included the U.S. Chiefs of Police Association and the National Sheriff Association. 

Instead of being allowed to choose who she wanted to interview on her own and release the report on her own, Feaster reported to a group of NewsGuild leaders called the “Listening Tour Task Force,” which was set up in the wake of the New York Times exposé. 

The group was led by national NewsGuild President Schleuss, his vice president Marian Needham, Chicago NewsGuild Vice President Grace Catania, and three members of the leadership of the Pittsburgh NewsGuild, including Pittsburgh NewsGuild President Lacretia Wimbley, Lauren Rosenblatt, and Alyssa Brown. 

But previously, the leadership of the Pittsburgh NewsGuild had been accused by former Pittsburgh NewsGuild members of covering up sexual misconduct by its long-time President Michael Fuoco, raising questions about why individuals within the Pittsburgh NewsGuild would be allowed to oversee such a report. 

In December, Washington Post education reporter Moriah Balingit, a former Post-Gazette reporter, who was sexually harassed at a Pittsburgh NewsGuild happy hour, tweeted about the ignorance of the PGH Guild, writing: “Hi @PGHGuild, this statement is pathetic and woefully inadequate. There was no ‘cover-up’? Members of your executive committee WITNESSED SOME OF THIS HARASSMENT.” 

The Pittsburgh media world is very small, where layoffs are common, and older reporters, who were friends with former Pittsburgh NewsGuild President Michael Fuoco, hold sway in how decisions are made. The inclusion of Pittsburgh NewsGuild members directing such an inquiry raises troubling questions on the independence of such a report. 

Indeed, the NewsGuild’s consultant Feaster confirmed in an email to Payday Report that how and who she interviewed for her inquiry was decided by NewsGuild leadership, some of whom had been accused of covering sexual misconduct in the nation’s largest journalist union.

“Feaster & Associates was hired to conduct a ‘Listening Tour’ with Pittsburgh Guild members/former members. The client will determine whether results of the Listening Tour may be released and when,” wrote Feaster in an email to Payday Report. “The individuals contacted by Feaster & Associates for the Listening Tour were provided by the client.” 

In addition, Payday Report has learned that Feaster and the task force declined to interview several people, including survivors of Fuoco’s sexual misconduct who had contacted the NewsGuild wishing to talk about the inquiry. 

The NewsGuild’s consultant Feaster now disputes that she was ever even hired to conduct an independent investigation into what occurred, and instead says it was a “Listening Tour,” writing in an email to Payday Report: “This effort is not an investigation, it is a Listening Tour.”

(In full disclosure, after publishing several stories about Fuoco, I began receiving graphic violent emails from a NewsGuild officer as well as other harassment. My father and his co-workers at United Electrical Workers (UE) also received harassment from a different NewsGuild officer. I have filed a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against NewsGuild. The full 20-page copy of the lawsuit documenting the months-long whistleblower retaliation campaign by NewsGuild leadership can be viewed here.)  

With the NewsGuild conference set for this October, deep questions still remain about why the NewsGuild did not conduct a fully independent investigation with an outside independent law firm.

The NewsGuild, the nation’s largest journalist union, did not respond to questions about when they plan to release the report, why they did not hire a third-party law firm, or why they failed to interview several witnesses who had earlier contacted them. 

About the Author

Mike Elk
A protege of the late Bill Greider, Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter who covered the drug war in Brasil and spent years covering union organizing in the South for The Guardian. In 2016, he used his $70,000 NLRB settlement from being fired in the union drive at Politico to start the crowd-funded Payday Report. The son of United Electrical Workers (UE) Director of Organization Gene Elk, he lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Email: [email protected]

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