Host of ‘Reply All’ Podcast Steps Down After Accusations of Toxic Culture

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P.J. Vogt, a host of the popular podcast “Reply All,” took a leave of absence on Wednesday after complaints from former colleagues that he and a senior reporter contributed to a toxic work environment and rallied against union efforts to diversify staff.

Mr. Vogt and the senior reporter, Sruthi Pinnamaneni, each apologized on Wednesday in statements on Twitter. Ms. Pinnamaneni also stepped back from her work on the podcast, according to an email late Wednesday to the staff of Gimlet Media, which produces “Reply All,” from the company’s managing director.

The accusations came after the podcast released its second episode in a series about accounts of discrimination at the food magazine Bon Appétit’s popular video series. Since George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police officers last year, newsrooms and media organizations around the United States, including The New York Times, have faced renewed criticism about addressing inequalities within their ranks.

Eric Eddings, a former Gimlet employee who co-hosted the podcast “The Nod,” tweeted on Tuesday that “Reply All,” and specifically Mr. Vogt and Ms. Pinnamaneni, had contributed “to a near identical toxic dynamic at Gimlet” as the one they described in their series about Bon Appétit.

“To me, it felt disingenuous to frame this story in that way, as if they had not participated in something similar,” Mr. Eddings said in an interview on Thursday.

Mr. Vogt, 35, said on Twitter that he had “deeply failed as an ally” when employees unionized and that he apologized to everyone whom he had disappointed. “I should have reflected on what it meant to not be on the same side of a movement largely led by young producers of color at my company,” he said. “I was a baby and a jerk about it in myriad ways.”

He said he had asked permission to step away from the show and was taking time “to think and to listen.”

In her apology, Ms. Pinnamaneni said her conduct around diversity and union organization efforts was “ill-informed, ignorant and hurtful.” She said on Twitter, “I did not pay enough attention to the people of color at Gimlet and I should have used my power to support and elevate them further.”

Mr. Vogt and another host, Alex Goldman, started the podcast in 2014, adapting it from their earlier WNYC radio show, “TLDR” (too long; didn’t read). In recent years, “Reply All” episodes have taken listeners inside phone scam rings in India, to a maximum-security prison in Illinois, and on a journey to track down a guitar song that a director listened to on the radio as a teenager.

A spokesman for Spotify, which acquired Gimlet Media in February 2019, said “Reply All” would continue to release episodes. Gimlet Media, Mr. Vogt and Ms. Pinnamaneni did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

During the employees’ campaign to unionize in late 2018 and early 2019, Mr. Eddings said, Mr. Vogt and Ms. Pinnamaneni worked “aggressively” against efforts to diversify Gimlet’s staff. He said that when Mr. Vogt learned about the efforts to unionize — which many people of color at the company saw as a way to create an environment where they could succeed — Mr. Vogt and Ms. Pinnamaneni tried to rally support against them.

Mr. Vogt sent disparaging text messages to a member on the organizing committee, “ripping them to shreds,” Mr. Eddings said, to the point that the person was crying.

At one point, Mr. Eddings said he met with Mr. Vogt and asked him to stop denigrating him and others. Mr. Vogt was not receptive to complaints that employees of color felt they did not have opportunities to advance, Mr. Eddings said.

In another instance, he said, when he tried to bring up concerns about inequality about Gimlet, a member of the senior management team told Mr. Eddings that she was reluctant to discuss the issues with him because he always seemed “so angry.”

Mr. Eddings remembers thinking, “I’m upset because this place could be better.”

Several former colleagues spoke out on Twitter in support of Mr. Eddings, employees of color and other minority groups at the company.

Brittany Luse, a former Gimlet employee who co-hosted “The Nod” with Mr. Eddings, said she understood others’ questions about the union, and what it would mean for them, but that Mr. Vogt and Ms. Pinnamaneni’s staunch opposition was shocking and painful.

“There were so many days where I just woke up crying,” said Ms. Luse, who left Gimlet early last year. “I was just seeing what so many of my colleagues were going through in attempting to communicate something that I felt was so simple — to people who outwardly like to seem in favor of a more equitable workplace, but privately were just behaving in a completely different way. It was hard.”

The situation became increasingly toxic as negotiations continued and Mr. Vogt and Ms. Pinnamaneni pressured employees not to join, said Ms. Luse, who was the first Black employee of Gimlet when she joined the company in 2015. She said it felt as though they wanted to preserve the company’s status quo — which employees of color had been saying, for years, had lacked diversity and fair pay. The union was recognized by management in April 2019.

Lydia Polgreen, the managing director of Gimlet, told staff in an email on Wednesday that Mr. Vogt would be stepping down.

“From the moment I arrived at Gimlet, it was clear that our culture needed work, and that there were big things that needed to change to make this a better, more equitable place,” Ms. Polgreen said, adding that the collective bargaining process had been “by its nature confrontational.”

“At Gimlet, we make creative work in collaborative teams,” she said. “That work is really rewarding and also hard. It involves honest and sometimes difficult conversations. But those conversations must happen with respect.”

Reggie Ugwu contributed reporting.

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