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Progressive Organizations Back Letter Condemning Trevor FitzGibbon’s Return To Public Relations

Several progressive organizations signed on to a letter strongly condemning the founder of FitzGibbon Media, a progressive public relations firm which abruptly shut down after allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled against him.

Last week, Shadowproof broke the story about three criminal complaints involving sexual misconduct charges that were submitted against Trevor FitzGibbon. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia declined to pursue further action.

UltraViolet, a women’s advocacy organization and former client of FitzGibbon Media, launched a campaign to have progressive organizations sign on to a letter in order to send a message that FitzGibbon was not welcome to return to work in the public relations industry.

“It’s truly repulsive that Trevor Fitzgibbon is willing to use his record of sexual abuse to market himself as a champion for women,” Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, declared in a press statement. “The fact that he was able to start another company at all is a dangerous, brazen display of rape culture, not to mention a pathetic attempt at re-branding.”

“Trevor’s half-baked comments about learning a lesson are a slap in the face to his former employees, clients, and women everywhere.”

Thomas added, “Anyone who is willing to discredit and shame sexual assault survivors in an attempt to minimize their own misconduct is not a progressive, regardless of how they label themselves.”

“And while it will take immense amounts of time and energy to rid the progressive community of people like Trevor, our organizations refuse to sit back and watch a serial abuser continue to blatantly manipulate, sexually harass, and assault women — period,” Thomas added.

In addition to the scathing statement from Thomas, the letter states, “As members of the progressive community, we are offended by your attempt to reinstate your services. Together, we are committed to never working with you or your firm.

“We will not reward you financially for your cynical attempt to erase the damage you did to your employees and the progressive movement.”

FitzGibbon apologized, “I am sincerely sorry for my behavior and for any women who were harmed. Moving forward, I have a newfound compassion and sensitivity for what women go through on a daily basis and am committed to fighting against unfair power dynamics and fighting for equality for everyone—both in my own actions and whenever I see it.”

But former FitzGibbon Media staff and progressive organizations, which signed on to the letter, see FitzGibbon’s apology as completely disingenuous.

Ann Szalkowski, a survivor of rape, invited FitzGibbon to work with her on Mission Critical Media and one of its initiatives, Dignity For Our Daughters. The initiative was designed to help trauma survivors deal with workplace harassment. She saw a role for FitzGibbon.

“Men don’t listen to women. Men listen to men,” Szalkowski said. “Letting go of all the criminal stuff that’s been dropped or whatever and just going by whether he was being a gentleman or not, he was not being a gentleman. He was imposing on people. That’s where it starts.”

“[FitzGibbon] knows how things happen by degrees, and so, for the men that are just going to write off all women that talk about this as being hysterical, [it’s good to have] a man in the room to say, let me tell you how I fucked up, and I was cleared of all criminal charges, but that doesn’t make me an angel,” Szalkowski added.

However, former FitzGibbon Media staff and those who signed on to the letter by UltraViolet maintain that FitzGibbon’s decision to work with a rape survivor on efforts to help women and men resolve conflicts, as well as issues of abuse, is really an effort to avoid taking responsibility for his past behavior.

The following organizations, which signed on to the letter, used to be clients of FitzGibbon Media prior to its shut down in December 2015: Care2, Center for Popular Democracy, Courage Campaign, CREDO, Faithful America, Global Zero, International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Netroots Nation, Oil Change International, Sum Of Us, V-Day, Win Without War, and Women Donors Network.

Organizations, like Free Press, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace, worked with FitzGibbon prior to sexual allegations. FitzGibbon served on a national advisory team for the Sierra Club, which signed on to the letter.

Some of the organizations that signed on to the letter are organizations with former FitzGibbon Media staff as current employees, such as ART NOT WAR, Fight For the Future, and Revolution Messaging.

Brett Abrams is the press contact on the release for the letter. He was the former senior director of media relations and founded Unbendable Media in the immediate weeks after FitzGibbon Media shut down.

As PR Week reported, Abrams brought together a “dozen clients that he worked with at FitzGibbon,” and he hired “five former staffers of the progressive public affairs firm.”

Abrams had particular animosity against FitzGibbon because the firm represented WikiLeaks and Venezuela.

On January 4, Abrams posted on Facebook, “Assange has ALWAYS been scum. This isn’t new.” He later added, “Let’s not forget the current dictatorship of Venezuela and the giant turd that is Glenn Greenwald. So yea, Trevor FitzGibbon – also scum.”

Former staff suggested they had protested FitzGibbon’s representation of WikiLeaks and Venezuela, but it did not convince him to stop representing them as clients.

Nu View Consulting, which specializes in helping Democratic Party candidates run for political office, signed on to the letter.

Back in February 2016, the firm’s senior partner Neal Carter wrote, “FitzGibbon was one of the most powerful media-consulting firms in DC and its clientele was a who’s who in the mass media market. It doesn’t help that Trevor FitzGibbon presented himself as a ‘progressive champion’ and a “feminist” the hypocrisy in his actions proves that the entitlement culture is something that is incredibly problematic and must be addressed. He was in a position where his staff did most of the work and he took credit for.”

“That lends itself to the entitlement culture that allowed for him to commit multiple acts of sexual violence on his staff while they worked and until recently stayed under wraps. The clients of FitzGibbon were able to pick up the pieces and find a suitable replacement vendor.”

“I am not in a position to make an indictment on Trevor because I didn’t work at FitzGibbon, however, his staff did not deserve this treatment,” Carter added.

ShareProgress signed on to the letter. It was launched in 2013 by Jim Pugh, who TechPresident described as a “prominent political data expert within the Democratic party.” The company works to give organizers tools to increase user sharing of their campaigns and worked on an opposition website against President Donald Trump during the 2016 Election.

FitzGibbon may have gone through some behavioral therapy in the months since sexual allegations were made against him, however, it does not matter to those backing this letter. They insist that he has not learned any lessons from what he admits he did wrong. They also insist he is wrong to not apologize for alleged sexual misconduct, even though no media outlet has been able to confirm specific claims.

The letter states, “Rape culture is alive and well in our society and unfortunately in the progressive movement. Too often, survivors are shamed, questioned, or forced into silence. It’s time for all of us to take a stand together against rape culture and for justice for survivors.”

A bombshell story from the Huffington Post story broke in the days after the firm shut down, and many details related to sexual allegations became public through this story. It provided space for survivors to come forward and share any stories about their experiences at FitzGibbon Media.

After a statement about the firm shutting down, FitzGibbon did not make a public statement to any media outlet in relation to the sexual allegations until this month after the U.S. Attorney’s Office officially declined to pursue criminal complaints, which were not publicized.

On the “Unauthorized Disclosure” weekly podcast, journalist Rania Khalek called the letter “over dramatic” because it conflated a “guy being a creep” with rape.

“Do you know how many creeps there are in the progressive movement?” Khalek asked. “As a woman, who is an attractive woman, I can tell you that many of the men, many of them, that are in progressive circles—and I mean at the leadership of them—are creeps and assholes. Almost all of them. I get hit on by them. I get treated uncomfortably by them.

“I’m not saying that’s okay. That’s not okay, but this letter, this treatment of this one person is not going to fix or change that,” Khalek added.

She insisted what was being said by UltraViolet was confusing and incoherent. Do groups opposed to FitzGibbon’s return want to deal with sexism in the progressive community? Or are they saying the progressive community has a rape problem?

Khalek argued, “I don’t think that is something you can attribute to the progressive community because I think that’s a problem in general.”

It was her contention that the letter does not really help anyone in the progressive community fight the problem of sexual assault or rape. “It’s just a letter trying to hurt someone.”

Individuals, including people tied to FitzGibbon Media, have committed themselves to sabotaging any work Mission Critical Media might want to do with FitzGibbon to help rape survivors or sexual assault victims.

One individual posted the names of executives of a client and targeted those officers in the hope of forcing them to no longer do business with Mission Critical Media. Meanwhile, former employees of the anti-war group CODEPINK have written a letter denouncing co-founder Jodie Evans for standing with FitzGibbon, accusing her of secretly bringing him on to do pro-bono work for the organization.

The letter demonstrates there are dozens of people in progressive organizations that will use any tools or resources at their disposal to stop Trevor FitzGibbon from ever working in public relations again.

(*Note: The press release from UltraViolet inaccurately reported on the news story published by Shadowproof on Trevor FitzGibbon’s sexual misconduct charges. Mission Critical Media did not use the piece to launch on May 15. The firm launched in early April.)

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."