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Writer Stephen Elliott sues Media Men List creator Moira Donegan; supporters raise more than $100,000 for her defense

Writer Stephen Elliott sues Media Men List creator Moira Donegan; supporters raise more than $100,000 for her defense
Stephen Elliott in 2009. (Katherine Emery)

Stephen Elliott, an author whose name appeared on a list of men in media alleged to have perpetrated harassment or assault, has filed a lawsuit against the list's creator, writer Moira Donegan, seeking $1.5 million in damages. In three days, Donegan’s supporters have raised more than $100,000 in her defense via GoFundMe.

Elliott, who is an author, independent filmmaker and founded the literary website the Rumpus, is suing Donegan for libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Also named as defendants are those who anonymously contributed to the list, referred to in the suit as "Jane Does (1-30)." Elliott is being represented in his suit by Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP, a New York-based law firm that has represented men accused of sexual assault and misconduct.

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Elliott was one of approximately 70 men in media — predominantly publishing — whose names appeared on the list, which was created last year in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations and intended to be privately shared among women. The Daily Beast notes that Elliott's alleged misconduct was "Rape accusations, sexual harassment, coercion, unsolicited invitations to his apartment, a dude who snuck into Binders???" (Binders is a Facebook group for women and gender non-conforming writers.)

Last month, Elliott wrote an essay for the website Quillette, saying that his appearance on the list "derailed [his] life." Elliott strongly defended himself in the essay, writing, "I’ve never raped anybody. I would even go one step further: There is no one in the world who believes that I raped them."

Elliott did not dispute all of the items on the list, writing, “My list entry also specified ‘unsolicited invitations to his apartment.’ Of course I had invited people to my apartment. And of course those invitations had been unsolicited — an invitation is, after all, an unsolicited offer.”

Elliott’s lawsuit seeks to have the identities of those who contributed to the list, created as a crowd-sourced Google spreadsheet, made public. Google told the Daily Beast that it would "oppose any attempt by Mr. Elliott to obtain information about this document from us."

The list was created and contributed to anonymously and taken down in less than a day, after it began to be widely circulated. In the months that followed, a number of men whose behavior was described on the list were fired or left their positions, generally after investigations by their publications.

Donegan came forward as the list’s creator in an essay in New York Magazine’s the Cut in January after she learned that author Katie Roiphe planned to disclose her name and identify her as the list’s creator in a piece for Harper's magazine.

Although The Times was unable to reach Elliott through Graywolf Press, which last year published an essay collection by the writer and reissued his novel “Happy Baby,” the independent press had its own comment on the lawsuit. “Graywolf strives to publish literature that reflects empathy, understanding, and generosity of spirit. The lawsuit brought by Stephen Elliott is not consistent with those values, and in the strongest possible way we express concern for those who may be harmed if it goes forward.”

In an essay titled “We stand with Moira Donegan” at the Rumpus, which Elliott founded, the site’s current owner and editor in chief Marisa Siegel wrote, "Stephen’s decision to go after Moira is hostile and reprehensible. For me, it is unforgivable. ... Stephen’s desire to remain in the spotlight, to refuse to have his career wrested from him as a consequence of his own actions, has taken primacy over logic and sanity."

Public questions over Elliott’s behavior go back at least to 2015, when writer Claire Vaye Watkins published an essay in Tin House, first given as a lecture at magazine’s summer writing retreat, that was in part about an encounter with him. The essay was widely circulated and discussed in literary circles, two years before #metoo reached Hollywood.

Writer and editor Lyz Lenz responded to Elliott’s Quillette essay with a Twitter thread alleging harassment, noting, “Your career wasn’t ruined by an anonymous list. Your career was ruined by your gaslighting and harassment. I’ve got receipts.” She added, “You can come for me.”

Others, including two former writers at the Rumpus who are now bestselling authors, Roxane Gay and Cheryl Strayed, used Twitter to respond to Elliott’s lawsuit.

Jezebel reported on the $1.5 million suit Thursday, the day it was filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York. The post (which includes strong language) includes a copy of the lawsuit.

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