An Ethics Alarms Reader Challenge: Is Time’s Up A Scam, Or Is It Doing What It Is Supposed To Be Doing?


This is really a journalism ethics matter. On November 28, The New York Post announced that Time’s Up, the #MeToo inspired Hollywood organization, had misused and wasted its funds. Yesterday there was a follow-up piece, headlined, “The Sad tale of Time’s Up and Hollywood’s failed activism.”

Taken together, the two articles are contradictory, confusing and raise as many questions about the reporters’ competence as they do about Time’s Up. If there is anyone who can decipher this mess, please do. I have a headache.

Following the fall of Harvey Weinstein and the vigor of the resulting #MeToo movement, the Time’s Up organization was formally launched on January 1, 2018. At that year’s Golden Globes a few days later, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, Emma Watson, Michelle Williams and others arrived on the red carpet with women’s rights activists in tow. Oprah Winfrey gave an impassioned speech on the broadcast, saying, “I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon! . . . The time when nobody ever has to say ‘me too’ again!” Her speech sparked talk of her running for President.

#MeToo has become a rueful joke with the blind endorsement of Joe Biden, sexual harasser and accused workplace sexual assault purveyor, by most of its most prominent advocates. Time’s Up, however, includes a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and has formal and legal obligations, not just ethical ones. The Time’s Up organization consists of the Time’s Up Foundation and Time’s Up Now Inc., a 501(c)6. There is also a Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

I defy anyone to make sense out of the two Post articles. To begin with, why does it only discuss the figures for 2018? 2020 is almost over; surely 2019 figures are available. Were they better? Aren’t the most recent years the most important ones? The articles say that in its first year of operation, Time’s Up spent just $312,000 of the more than $3 million it raised on sexual misconduct victims’ legal bills. It then points out that Charity watchdog groups such as Charity Navigator recommend that non-profits spend 75% of their revenues on their mission and no more than 25% on administration. “Time’s Up spent 38% on salaries alone,” it says. But Charity Navigator only “watches” charities, and those guidelines only apply to 501(c)3 organizations like the Times Up Foundation.

So it’s the break-down of the foundation’s ledger that the non-profit standards apply to. The Time’s Up Foundation only raised $361,651, according to tax filings. Meanwhile, the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund spent $1,747,635 to help “3,000 individuals” in its first six months in 2018, tax filings show. That doesn’t sound too bad.

I have no idea what’s happening, and no readers should have to work this hard to figure it out, if in fact that answer is buried somewhere in the two pieces. I’ve read both articles several times, and I teach this stuff. What it looks like to me is that the New York Post wants to smear Time’s Up, but couldn’t find a reporter who was fair, industrious and competent enough to clarify the relationship between its various components, and the editors allowed damning headlines to cover the resulting articles even though the substance didn’t back up the clickbait.

I’ll yield to no one in my contempt for Time’s Up, whose leadership and advocates all supported a proven sexual harasser and accused rapist for President, and never spoke a word in support of the woman who fits their mission’s description of a victim because she was accusing their favorite candidate. But the New York Post’s botched efforts to prove the organization’s corruption only demonstrates, once again, how nearly impossible it is to understand what’s happening when our news media is as both inept and biased.

16 thoughts on “An Ethics Alarms Reader Challenge: Is Time’s Up A Scam, Or Is It Doing What It Is Supposed To Be Doing?

    • Carnival barkers would blush at the level of bullshit in the headlines from any news organization today, from newspapers to TV to the internet.

    • Misleading and flat-out wrong headlines are easy to find. Today’s Wall Street Journal, for example, has a headline that says “Barr Says No Evidence of Voter Fraud”.
      In the first paragraph, the story says, “The Justice Department hasn’t found evidence of widespread voter fraud … .”
      The second paragraph quotes Barr: “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” he said.
      Editors know (or should, anyway) that a lot of readers just scan headlines, so this one would result in people asserting that there is no fraud at all, claiming that’s what the WSJ reported.

      • The job of a headline is to give you the gist of the article in question. Barr has found so significant evidence of fraud that would change the results of the election, which is what people are interested in. “No Evidence of Fraud” is a perfectly acceptable headline.

        If there was a rumor, for instance, that the White House had been burgled and all of its artwork was gone, “Police Say There Was No Burglary” would be a suitable headline, even if the investigation revealed that Dianne Feinstein had pocketed a ballpoint pen on a recent visit.

        • I strongly disagree, Gully. The lack of nuance in a headline always slants very strongly in a particular direction these days. If you read what Barr actually said, his analysis is much less concrete than the headline suggests. The headline makes it sound as if Barr has said, “Nothing to see here. Move along.”

          • “To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told the AP.

            I’d bold “To date” if I knew how.

            The article continues: Last month, Barr issued a directive to U.S. attorneys across the country allowing them to pursue any “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities, if they existed, before the 2020 presidential election was certified, despite no evidence at that time of widespread fraud. That memorandum gave prosecutors the ability to go around longstanding Justice Department policy that normally would prohibit such overt actions before the election was certified. Soon after it was issued, the department’s top elections crime official announced he would step aside from that position because of the memo.

          • I’ve read what Barr actually said, and his analysis indicates that there’s no sizable fraud. The problems with this election are in no way remarkable to American elections. This may, to some, constitute something to see nonetheless, but for the vast majority of the American public, the thing to be interested in is who our next president might be.

            The reaction to the coverage just proves my point. Giuliani hasn’t said, “Wait a minute, Barr found a lot of criminal behavior.” He said instead that Barr didn’t investigate properly and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

            • The issue was the headline. Barr did not say what the headline says he said. That is either intentionally misleading or unprofessional editing. Neither is okay.

    • Theoretically, a legal defense fund would be to pay the legal bills of victims. There is a Comic Book Legal Defense Fund that was put in place to help pay the legal bills of comic book shop owners targeted by local ordinances, for example.

  1. That $1,747,635 to help “3,000 individuals” works out at $600 each. I can’t see that buying much in the way of legal defence – maybe it gets a speeding ticket cancelled. However, it does seem perfectly normal for a foundation to raise more funds in year one than it spends, so we shouldn’t put much weight on year one.
    I think the underlying problem is that modern journalists don’t understand numbers, what they mean and how to explain the story they tell.
    I blame the click-culture where attention spans don’t exceed 5 seconds for either reader or writer. No-one is competent and no-one cares that they aren’t.

  2. I’ve come to expect that most charities will not spend they money that they are given on what the say it will be spent on. There are a very select group of charities that I will donate money to, such as St. Judes or Ronald McDonald House. I assume upfront that any charity that says they are going to support a trendy new issue is grifting, especially if it has political overtones.

    The author of these articles was probably playing to that sort of suspicion.

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