How Podbean is Gouging Listeners and Hurting Independent Audio Producers

If you are a podcaster, do not use Podbean. This rapacious company of dishonorable thieves is now arbitrarily altering the terms of their business arrangements with producers without even bothering to notify them. Podbean is now gouging podcast listeners, asking them to pay for content with a custom currency called “beans” even when the arrangement between producer and listener never called for this. This is not only predatory and unethical, but it also hurts the ability of independent audio producers to maintain good will with their audience and recoup production costs. For producers who have taken great care to conduct their business with unimpeachable honor, this unannounced shift makes them appear like penny-ante predators. At a time in which Apple has introduced a special Podcast Subscriptions so that creators and producers can get paid for their labor, it’s pretty clear that Podbean would prefer to decimate any good will established with producers in a desperate effort to survive as a company.

I run an audio drama called The Gray Area. For the second season, I put three years of my life and thousands of dollars (to ensure that all of my actors were promptly paid; I literally paid them cash the very minute that a recording session ended) to make this independent production happen. My strategy to recoup some of my investment (while also keeping the show free) was to include a premium channel at a reasonable and affordable price point — something akin to a DVD loaded with special features — whereby a supporter of my show could get early access to episodes, copies of the scripts, and special behind-the-scenes interviews and commentaries for each episode.

In 2020, I did serious research on the companies that could make the premium channel happen. And Podbean shot to the top of the list. As a fan of supporting small businesses, I liked that they seemed a little scrappy. Podbean felt like the mom-and-pop shop that would be a perfectly aligned ally to an independent producer. I had amicable and detailed telephone conversations and email exchanges. And the people at Podbean ensured me that I could carry on a business arrangement whereby a supporter of my show would pay a flat fee of $20 and have indefinite access to the premium feed. I was perfectly happy with this arrangement and appreciated the way that Podbean swiftly answered all of my questions.

My original marketing plan was to build up listenership (and thus paid subscribers) through in-person relationships and events — largely because I recognized that I was better at turning people into regular listeners in real life. This strategy, of course, was completely uprooted by the pandemic. Since none of us had any idea how long the pandemic would last, I decided to take the financial hit, finish editing, and release the nineteen Season 2 episodes in three tranches: Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III. I released the first two phases last year and did not experience any problems with Podbean. I heard from many fans of the show who were struggling during the pandemic and who apologized that they didn’t have the $20, but who pledged that they would support my show when I reached Phase III. “No problem,” I replied. “I’m a working stiff who’s barely getting by myself.”

Then, after many painstaking months of lapidary labor, I reached a point in the last week where I finally had a release date for Phase III. (June 22nd, to be precise.)


I released the first two sets (episode, behind-the-scenes, and script) to Podbean and alerted my audience. Much to my shock, my subscribers wrote back to me, informing me that they were being asked to pay “beans” for the new content — despite the fact that my premium channel points out that it’s a one-time $20 fee.

I was stunned and angered by this betrayal. Three years of work on a well-received audio drama that had won awards and this was what I got? I contacted Podbean, but they refused to remedy this. I didn’t even have access to a list of my subscribers through the Podbean dashboard. (Presumably, Podbean keeps this list secret so that it can clandestinely ask for more money so that you’ll never know about it.)

I had already done some promotion alerting people to my Podbean feed. But now my Podbean feed is useless. Podbean won’t fix it. Because if Podbean is going to shift the payment structure secretly like this, what’s to stop them from doing this again? CEO David Xu may have all the coding skills in the world, but, when it comes to customer service and sustaining relationships with producers, he’s as much of a shady swindler and a vulpine grifter as any dimebag capitalist.

Unless you enjoy being on the receiving end of zooerastic treachery, I strongly urge you to not use Podbean as a premium channel host. It’s not only clear that these duplicitous bozos are not ready for prime time. It’s clear that they’re very keen on fleecing and dishonoring you by any means necessary.

Can WNYC’s Toxic Work Culture Be Cured?

Ben Smith’s May 23rd column in the New York Times has painted a juicy yet troubling portrait of a flagship public radio station grappling with some serious Game of Thrones vibes. Hubris-fueled superstar hosts have been peremptorily shitcanned and accused of throwing pity parties. Faceless producers who toil long hours have been significantly mistreated. The human resources department has become WNYC’s answer to the small council of Seven Kingdoms, with complaints begetting further complaints and radio veteran Fred Mogul serving as public radio’s Tyrion Lannister. A sacrificial lamb in a kangaroo court.

Despite the fact that it’s a common practice among journalists to use and attribute Associated Press copy to flesh out a story — particularly when they are staring into the barrel of an intense deadline — Mogul, an eighteen-year veteran who was never properly investigated, was ratted out by an editor and fired by Audrey Cooper, WNYC’s editor-in-chief since last July.

Cooper, a white woman who was hired despite repeated calls for diversity, is the Cersei Lannister of 160 Varick. Embarrassingly, Cooper had scant knowledge of New York public radio before accepting the job. In Smith’s column, one gets the sense not so much of an experienced professional who once led a newsroom, but of a nervous grad student doing a lot of late-night cribbing in a dorm room subsumed with fumes from the bong. Her lack of transparency in relation to Mogul’s firing to Smith, complete with her touchy-feely West Coast bromides (“It’s totally OK to be sad.”) in response to an inequitable fall of the axe, hasn’t inspired confidence. But it did result in a complaint on Sunday, filed by the WNYC union, from the National Labor Relations Board, which accused Cooper of waging a “coordinated and aggressive campaign” against internal critics. When you’re less than a year into your job, and you’ve failed to quell preventable conflicts, one must rightfully ask how the person in charge fell upward. And then one recalls the hideous legacy of Gaius Caligula.

Bob Garfield — the co-host of On the Media — was also perp walked to the chopping block. We may never know the full reasons for why he went aggro. But it was a paradigm-shifting moment that, whatever your feelings for Garfield, truly stunned most WNYC listeners. It appears that The Takeaway‘s Tanzina Vega could be next. Because stress levels are high at WNYC thanks to the pandemic, any once pardonable reaction to unprecedented working conditions can now now categorized as “abuse” or “bullying” by a nimble underling hoping to stab his way to a less thankless position. Even Radiolab, once among WNYC’s crown jewels, has been ravening for a breakout episode after a shaky and awkward host reshuffling following Robert Krulwich’s retirement. Adding insult to self-injury, WNYC has also failed to acknowledge diversity — both among its staff and in its coverage. Back in 2018, Gothamist was bought by WNYC. But Cooper has proven to be so tone-deaf about New York voice that she has even ordered Gothamist‘s reporters to be less critical of the New York Police Department, failing to understand that Gothamist has, in many vital ways, filled the shoes of the long departed Village Voice.

When Cooper was announced for the editor-in-chief gig, the New York Public Radio press release announced that she would be “a change agent with a track record of modernizing a newsroom’s staff to make it more representative of the community it serves and make it work in new ways to serve that community.” Cooper initially did not understand why universally loved morning show host Brian Lehrer was popular. But when you read the word “modernizing” in any press release, it’s usually code for ridding an operation of its more experienced old school innovators. Among the fourteen staffers led to the guillotine in late April were people who weren’t afraid to take a stand: All Things Considered producer Richard Yeh, Allie Yeh (thankfully now working on a project with Kaitlin Priest), and veteran Gothamist journalists John Del Signore and Christopher Robbins.

It’s also clear that the long-running scabs from recent years (sexual harassment and abuse allegations from Leonard Lopate, John Hockenberry, and Jonathan Schwartz — all fired) have been roughly and abrasively ripped off. Under Cooper’s failed leadership, WNYC is bleeding more profusely than the Red Wedding guest list. Without a significant course correct — and this appears increasingly unlikely to occur under Cooper — one wonders if WNYC can even be healed at all.

Charles “Chuck” Skorupski — The Tax Man Who Tortures New Yorkers at Bargain Basement Wages

Like many spineless and unremarkable pencil pushers who toil in middle management and like any entitled white male who only performs the barest modicum of job duties to collect a paycheck, Charles “Chuck” Skorupski is about as committed to human decency as a barracuda is to hugging some grouper he is about to devour. Skorupski is not in the business of clearing up misunderstandings or helping out the New York residents who pay his salary, but he loves to dictate the terms. He speaks “conversational French,” after all. But based on my phone call with him, it seems to me that the only word he fully understands is merde, despite any dubious Duolingo grinding he has done in the last decade.

I spoke with Skorupski on Friday morning after I learned, to my horror, that New York State had processed a duplicate tax payment mirroring the original. In any other governmental branch or business, the duplicate payment would be recognized as a mistake and swiftly remedied. But when you point out such a truth to Skorupski, who speaks in a voice that somehow sounds as if he has apnea or is breathing partially through a straw, Skorupski possesses nothing in the way of empathy or the ability to help. He instead tells you that taxes are much different than any reasonable analogy you bring up. Really? You wanted my money instantly on May 17th and I gave it to you, but you choose not to honor this covenant in return? I was told that it would take six weeks for the mistake to be corrected. “This happens all the time,” said Skorupski with all the insensitivity of a Sturmabteilung stomping his boots on a child’s skull in the name of “good government.”

Skorupski considers himself something of a tony and elegant fellow, despite the fact that he is somehow almost as hideous-looking as Dr. Evil (who shares similar megalomaniacal and sociopathic qualities) and has been pictured drinking piss-thin Corona at a fancy cocktail party (surely a weak-kneed nightlife solecism if ever there was one) and he doesn’t know how to keep his tie straight or stand with any warmth or bonhomie when a woman is speaking to him. Presumably any beer with a bit of hop would cause this bald tyrant to dissolve instantly into a pungent mist.

If you’re suffering because of some mistake that New York State is responsible for and refuses to correct in a reasonable manner, well then, why are you wasting this former librarian’s time? Don’t you understand that Skorupski is busy “delivering on multiple projects in a fast-paced environment”? Skorpuski possesses dual American and Canadian citizenship and has been working for the Department of Financial Services for nearly nine years. He boasts that he is an INTP, the same personality type as such ruthless capitalists as Adam Smith, George Soros, Larry Page, Paul Allen, and Alan Greenspan. He is, in short, a casual and privileged sociopath, despite the fact that he brags about “Robust People Skills” on his LinkedIn page (why the allcaps? are “Robust People Skills” something you have to mail in for?). And he has the bourgie avatar to prove it: a ridiculous image of a bald man in a tieless getup holding a cup of coffee where the steam is wafting away from him, presumably because Skorupski is one of those all too predictable reptilians fond of casually gorging on human flesh.

“There’s nothing I can do,” said Skorupski repeatedly to me. He had all the timbre of a man who is telling you that there is actually a lot he could do, if only he possessed a human heart rather than some cybernetic implant that prevents him from drinking anything stronger than Corona. And the hell of it is that Skorupski is speaking like this because he was paid so abysmally in the years before he was promoted to supervisor: according to pubic records, Skorupski was paid a mere $41,406 as a taxpayer service representative in 2018. But then that’s the way the State of New York works. Pay the little people nothing. Then promote the hardest hearts to supervisor positions, where they can be more assured of a living wage. And then, if you’re able to land such a not very cushy job, do not rock the boat. Do not stand out. Do not, above all, serve the people. If anything, delight in a taxpayer’s suffering.

I am certain that the six weeks it will take for me to reclaim my duplicate four figure tax payment will be extended until the end of the year. Particularly after Skorupski reads this and lashes back with the vengeance that I am now offering him so that I can peacefully go about the rest of my day. I am certain that the only way I will be able to reclaim this overpayment, an overpayment that I only executed because the New York State website did not recognize my earlier payment and I feared that the payment did not go through and I did not want to pay any late fees and penalties and, after 24 hours, no payment in process had showed up on the NYS website, will be when I file next year’s taxes. But if I am to be punished for being a responsible taxpayer and when I have done nothing wrong, then surely Skorupski deserves to be flayed alive by way of a colorful portrait because he is a callous and intransigent Babbitt who has sold his soul at a deep discount. And who knows? Maybe calling out malicious malingerers like Skorupski is one way to get New York government to properly serve the people.

Brady Pesola, @shh.adults.are.talking, and TikTok Misogyny

This morning, I learned that my TikTok account was permanently banned. Why? Because I spoke out against the misogynistic TikTok user Brady Pesola, who goes by the handle @shh.adults.are.talking.

Pesola specializes in a type of repugnant hypermasculine sexism that has netted him nearly half a million followers. His ugly formula of speaking in a tenth-rate John Wayne swagger and casually demeaning women for their feelings and their thoughts has proven such an alluring draw that he has been able to parlay this into a sizable fan base. I had responded to one of Pesola’s slightly less sexist posts in which he boomed, “Stop being an insecure little bitch and grow up,” by pointing out, quite calmly, that being emotional was not a sign of insecurity. For this, Pesola singled me out as “unhinged,” prefacing his stitch by saying “This one’s extra spicy.”

I was then bombarded by numerous comments from Pesola’s followers and later had my account hit with false reports of bullying and harassment, after I proceeded to outline the full extent of Pesola’s misogyny in a series of videos. And I received a permanent ban. I have tried to appeal this ban, but I have heard nothing from TikTok. The message is clear. TikTok supports the misogyny of creators with huge followings rather than the small-time people who speak out against such vile strains. I also suspect that I was targeted by TikTok because a few of my anti-corporate and pro-union videos went viral. Since I cannot access my videos, this article represents a thorough effort to expose and document Pesola’s clear hatred of women, as well as TikTok’s willful advocacy of misogyny among its high-ranked creators, despite community guidelines declaring that hateful behavior directed towards a group is prohibited. A thorough review of Pesola’s TikTok feed reveals that he violated these rules multiple times and faced no consequences — aside from a 24 hour ban in December 2020 and a permanent ban for twenty minutes that was somehow removed this month. Apparently, if you have enough followers on TikTok, you can get away with saying anything. The rules don’t apply to those who have the clout.

Pesola, a former Marine based in the San Diego area (originally from Minnesota) who runs a dubious nonprofit operation known as the Gray Man Project with some shady emphasis on self-reliance (a public records search and a Guidestar dive reveals no record), published his first TikTok on October 11, 2020. He has claimed to be a private investigator. A search with the California Department of Affairs reveals that he is licensed (with a firearms permit) through October 31, 2022. Pesola’s license matches up with an operation called The People’s Detective, which claims to be “a full-service investigative agency with a 30-year track record of successful investigations, high profile cases, and newsworthy discoveries.” (The People’s Detective did not return my requests for comment.)

Pesola’s initial four videos detailed how a Sharpie, a flashlight, and a belt could be used to attack someone and his initial videos shortly after this quartet were carried out with a strain of tough-talking military bravado and alleged expertise. This was apparently enough for Pesola to earn the beginnings of a following, where his relationship to his audience would involve addressing douchebags (while mispronouncing Epictetus, whom he has frequently declared to be his favorite philosopher) and engaging in fairly unimaginative conservative talking points.

As Pesola acquired more of an audience, it took only days for Pesola to go off the deep end with an October 14, 2020 video in which he declared, “Toxic masculinity is a myth…Masculinity is a heightened state of being that all men should strive for.” By October 23, 2020, Pesola began honing the beginnings of his pugnacious TikTok formula, calling some of his audience “motherfuckers” and “miserable pricks.” But this was enough for Pesola to gain 11,000 followers in two weeks. Pesola then started stylizing his voice in a preposterously deep manner to woo more followers. At this point, the strains of misogyny and ugliness that were to become Pesola’s hallmarks still drifted somewhat in the background. But since this was his chief draw, it became more of his raison when publishing videos.

In an October 20, 2020 video, Pesola offered hotel advice, claiming that you didn’t want to get a hotel room on the second floor because there might be “some fucking crackhead breaking in the window and wanting to get in bed with you in the middle of the night. Unless you’re into that.” He called peaceful protesters “fucking retards.” By the end of October 2020, Pesola gradually strayed away from his tips on security and began embracing the beginning of his bullying, going after the “ignorant fucking retards.” He reveled in crude violence when offering “advice” to domestic violence survivors, suggesting that women “turn into the most vicious, fucking, violent psychopath you can imagine in your entire life.” While dispensing questionable wisdom to rape survivors, Pesola giddily declared, “Guys will fuck you with a potato sack and heels on.”

By November 2020, Pesola’s feed had become a reliable hotbed of hideous misogynistic takes. He bemoaned the idea of men facing penalties for hitting a woman while adopting a phony position against domestic violence. (Pesola spent most of his time in this video siding with men who were simply “defending” themselves, concluding in a crude manner, “I don’t care how good the pussy is. Get away from that toxic shit.”) In a November 11, 2020 video viewed by 912,600 people, Pesola reached his first major viral nadir of casual misogyny, claiming that preventing rape was the responsibility of women and that it was a woman’s obligation to parent well: “I got an idea. Be better fucking mothers.” When, on November 28, 2020, a TikTok user named @gishaz called Pesola out on the misogyny of this post, Pesola smugly responded, “So you agree then that the world does need better mothers.”

It took six weeks for Pesola to hit 100,000 followers. And by early December 2020, the fame had swelled to Pesola’s head. He confidently announced, “Hello ladies. I know what makes you tick.” In a multipart series that began on December 6, 2020, Pesola giddily described how he manipulated an escort into almost having sex with him for free, later bragging about lying to this escort by claiming to be an escort, and offering further confabulations that he couldn’t enter into a meaningful relationship because of his false escort role. For Pesola, women are merely sexual vessels to be used — with counterfeit empathy as the tool.

By December 22, 2020, Pesola was referring to himself as a “famous TikTokker” and, with his colossal hubris confirmed by his growing follower base, he declared on Christmas Eve, “Frankly, I don’t give a fuck if I’m likable. Apparently, 160,000 followers is telling me [sic] that I’m doing something right.” And there was more sexism to come: Pesola remarked on the unfairness of men paying child support, offered tips on how to keylog a lover’s phone, claimed that there was no such thing as rape culture (“It’s illogical and just plain fucking stupid.”), reconfirmed his view that toxic masculinity was a myth, and took the side of a man in a marriage split without considering the woman’s perspective (“It sounds like his ex-wife is a righteous cunt.”). By the turn of the year, Pesola had become hopelessly resolute in his hatred of women. When not condemning Nelson Mandela, he claimed that a man giving his phone to his girlfriend was weak (“Oh boy! That’s a red flag towards an unhealthy and toxic relationship.”), demeaned women for not revolving their entire lives around men (“If she doesn’t value your time as her man, then she’s always going to be a waste of time as your woman.”), and condemned women for allowing men to be disrespected.

On November 19, 2020, Pesola risibly claimed that it was important to treat people with different perspectives and worldviews with respect. It was advice that he was not to follow months later when he started using his bully pulpit to crush any position that differed from his own. He started addressing his audience as “fuckfaces” in late January. He engaged in casual fat-shaming with a disturbing eugenics streak, demanded that women make more money as they aged (“Your looks depreciate as you get older.”), claimed that blowjobs were the male equivalent to a woman receiving flowers, claimed that anyone who was offended by behavior was a “stupid fuck,” and falsely claimed that the government was forcing people to get vaccinated.

Pesola did not reply to my questions. But the undeniable strain of misogyny in Pesola’s TikTok feed is clearly the very quality that the TikTok algorithm values the most. This allowed an unremarkable chowderhead in Carlsbad with a toxic strain of sexism to become a small-time TikTok star. Systemic misogyny appears to be permanently baked into the factors that cause TikTok videos to end up on the For You Page. And if you speak out against this nefarious truth, you get banned. In my case, I made hundreds of largely benign videos on TikTok. I offered empathy to people who looked like they were in trouble. I sang songs. I cracked jokes. But none of that matters. Because I dared to speak out against a garden variety thug like Pesola, all that I made is now inaccessible to me. I have no backup copies. Pesola, on the other hand, will be just fine. And it is because Pesola perceives women as little more than shallow little wretches to manipulate. Despite the significant advances of the #metoo movement, hating women is apparently still your hot ticket to social media fame.

5/28/21 UPDATE: Deputy Daniel “Duke” Trujillo is now dead of COVID. This Denver deputy did not have to die. He could have received his vaccination. But as the Twitter user @RacistProgramming reported, Trujillo was heavily influenced by one of Pesola’s anti-vaxx videos.

As of the morning of May 28, 2001, Pesola has also made his TikTok account private:

5/30/21 UPDATE: Faced with intense scrutiny from appalled users, Pesola has deleted all of his social media accounts, including TikTok and Twitter.

The Dark Manipulative Life of Blake Bailey

“For a while Scott talked of nothing but his lawsuit — in that half-joking, deadly serious way of his — then abruptly dropped the subject and focused on me. He wanted to know every detail of my life, or as many as I could provide in the half hour left to us: How did I meet my girlfriend? Did we sleep together on the first date? How much did I make as a teacher? Was it hard to get certified? What kind of car was I driving?” — Blake Bailey, The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait

Like his brother, he was half-joking but deadly serious. He was the first teacher to speak to them as adults, to tell them that their feelings about life and literature were valid. Many of the girls, particularly the lonely girls who lived with single mothers and who longed for a father figure and who cloaked their anxieties beneath the breakneck bellow of flooding hormones and accruing acne, thought that he was brilliant and handsome, even if he did sometimes explode over a modest and pardonable transgression. If you whispered “Thank you” as your friend passed you some lip balm, his face would turn beet-red and the veins would bulge from his neck like logs under tarpaulin on a speeding truck. And this charismatic man, who always told you so sweetly that your thoughts were so special, would erupt with volcanic fury, his voice lurching from that weird theatrical amalgam of mid-Atlantic and a slight Southern tinge into something fierce and tyrannical. And then he’d assign you detention. “In retrospect,” said one of the dozens of former students who I spoke with on anonymity, “abusive people are like that.”

The girls were too young to understand this volatility. But they never questioned the teacher. They didn’t want to be summoned into the halls during the middle of class, where the teacher would move in close, close enough for an embrace, and lecture them about their outbursts or rebuke them for interrupting. Besides, they were smitten by him. The teacher wanted the girls to be smitten by them. Much as eighth-grade girls are often smitten by teachers. Given the pattern established by these allegations, it would appear that this was always the teacher’s plan. He told them that he had given up a writing career to teach them. He told them that teaching was his calling. His duty. He told him that this was the most important thing in his life and they were lucky to be part of it. The girls. And the boys, whom he was much harder on. But mostly the girls. Particularly the vulnerable ones.

The girls alleged that he would move in close, sometimes too close, placing his hand upon their backs as he whispered bright words of burning promise into their ears. If he talked with you face-to-face, he would place his palm on your shoulder. It helped that he sometimes rolled in with a skateboard and quoted from Beavis and Butt-head and wore pleated khakis with the telltale imprint of a burned iron to suggest to these young girls that he was a fellow preadolescent who could be trusted. It helped that he assigned them Salinger and Yeats and Byron. Always men, never women. He forged their literary tastes, although some of his former students told me that they could never read Lolita again decades later. “He seems to view himself as this real-life modern-day Humbert Humbert,” said former student Sarah Stickney Murphy, who cited Bailey’s frequent assignments of The Catcher in the Rye. “Youth is innocence and truth. Older people are phonies.”

Bailey was strangely obsessed with The Carpenters’s “Close to You.” It is a song that several of Bailey’s former students permanently associate with Bailey. Multiple former students allege that he would lean in very close and sing the song very loud to their faces. Some students found this to be disturbing. One former student alleged that he took this further at a school dance, in which many of the girls were nervous and Bailey interfered with their budding lives by calling them up to the DJ booth and singing an a capella version of “Close to You” to various classmates. This struck the classmate as deeply inappropriate. It was almost as if Bailey viewed any boy at a junior high school dance as a rival.

This was life at Lusher in the 1990s, if you were assigned the highly coveted English literature class taught by Blake Bailey, now a successful literary biographer with a bestseller on Philip Roth riding high on the New York Times bestseller list. Lusher was a top-ranked middle school that welcomed the wealthy and gifted kids of New Orleans, as well as other children from nearby neighborhoods. It was converted from a former courthouse. The school earned high marks for its emphasis on the arts. Typically, if you grew up in that area, you would start off at Edward Hynes (close to the City Park), make your way onto Lusher, and then finalize your primary education at Benjamin Franklin High School. Bailey taught at Lusher for a good ten years, winning the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Teacher of the Year Award during his final year in 2000. Accounts vary as to what factors caused him to leave after this triumph. The school itself has been less than forthcoming in my efforts to obtain answers. Some insiders believe that he was strongly urged to resign and serve a final year. Some believe he ran away with a former student, although my thorough investigative efforts reveal that this isn’t true. But if you do the math and you add six years to twelve, you can probably draw a few conclusions over what may have transpired near the end of Bailey’s run. New Orleans is one of those “small town” big cities, where people talk and stories circulate and the pain and grief caused by a teacher who was wildly inappropriate with his students could only carry on for so long before it caught up with these girls in adulthood. The girls who went to Lusher have been talking with each other for decades and living with their pain, trying to make sense of what happened while sometimes contending with the great fear of speaking out, trying to understand how they could have been so easily manipulated. They were still starstruck with Bailey in college. And Bailey would stay in touch and meet them and betray their trust by being wantonly flirtatious. Some of the former students allege that they went up to the hotel room with him. Some allege that this was consensual. Some have carried their secrets for far too long and some have had rough lives afterward. Until now, their stories have been largely contained by the many beautiful lakes that surround the Big Easy.

Bailey was dedicated to the mission, but he had designs of his own. For one student with the last name of Trujillo, he would cross her name out and correct it with “Tru-he-ho.” To this day, the student, who was one of the fortunate ones to evade Bailey’s attentions after Lusher, remains disturbed by a man abusing his authority to imply that she was a whore. Former students report that he would saunter into the “dance intensive” class which occupied the first two hours of the school day, the workshop run with a firm hand by Miss Burke. One former student claimed that Bailey would sit at the cafeteria table or stand at the door and watch these bright young things in their leotards contorting their bodies for about twenty minutes. He said nothing because he knew that Miss Burke never tolerated an interruption. But, as the student alleged, he had to get a peek at the girls. His girls. He was always watching them. He was always plotting. He was always waiting. Waiting for editors to accept his literary essays. His freelance journalism. His feeble stabs at fiction, which he was eventually forced to give up. What the hell else did he have to do? These were girls to be shaped and influenced. Girls who would grow up into young women. Not that he didn’t have sordid thoughts about them in the cafeteria, thoughts that, as these former students alleged, he would confess to them years later when they came of age.

And then, when the girls would change out of their leotards and join his class, he would dip further. He would have them write about their lives. He would urge the girls to “share their secrets.” The first writing assignment involved “chronicling the ups and downs of your life.” He would have his students make a list of the most formative traumatic experiences in their lives after reading Slaughterhouse Five. He insisted that this was purely a literary exercise. He told these girls — girls as young as twelve and no older than thirteen, girls that, in some cases, hadn’t even experienced their first kiss — that they were free to write about their blossoming sexuality. The only person who would read their journals would be him, just him. Mr. Bailey. Sometimes, if you showed enough initiative and willingness, he would take you to CC’s Coffee House and pay special attention to you. Particularly if you had problems. He would move in on the vulnerable ones. The ones who had drug and alcohol problems. The ones who had “issues.” The ones who had never been told that they were special.

“He definitely had a type,” recalls former Lusher student Megan Braden-Perry. “He liked white girls with dark hair and dark eyes. Stacked. Breasts and things. Those were his favorites.”

Even though many parents objected to Bailey’s attentive approach, the girls still longed for his attention. You could be be among the lucky few who Mr. Bailey corresponded with in high school and well into adult life. Mr. Bailey would mentor you. And then, when you were eighteen, he would meet you in a bar and eventually a hotel room to “discuss your career.” These eighth-graders had no idea that their teacher was waiting for them to hit the age of consent or maybe just a few years later after that just to be on the safe side. “As a non-drinker,” alleged one former student who described an encounter with Bailey when she was a freshman in college, “I ordered a Coke and I was over the moon to have so much face time with my mentor. When he placed his hand on my thigh and began asking me suggestive questions about my life, I shrugged it off as ‘He was drunk.’ I politely excused myself and promptly erased that encounter from my consciousness.”

He would keep tabs on girls who had grown up, noting what cities they were in and contacting them whenever he rolled through town. During a 2009 promotional appearance for his John Cheever biography on the West Coast (the city has been elided to protect the alleged victim, but the incident has been corroborated by multiple individuals), he invited one of his former students to bring her sister along. He took the two young women to dinner after the reading. “I wasn’t initially hesitant,” alleged this sister, “but as the evening wore on, I could tell Bailey was fixated on us. He watched us the entire time he was doing the reading.” When the former student left the table to go to the restroom, Bailey allegedly revealed to this sister all of the inappropriate thoughts he had about her when she was thirteen, in the days when she would pick up her sister or her friend from school. “Do you know how hard it was to resist you back then?” said Bailey, as alleged by the sister. “The things we wrote and how you looked?” Then, Bailey invited the two sisters to return to his hotel room because “it had an amazing library.” The two sisters knew that they had to stick together. They didn’t want Bailey to make any moves.

Bailey would wait years for his former students to grow up. Then, as several of his students have alleged, he would invite them for drinks and ply them with liquor and get handsy, often blaming these wild flirtations on drunken behavior. But in the case of his former students, because all of his alleged victims were over the age of eighteen, if they wanted to go up to his hotel room, it was all perfectly legal. That’s what Bailey would tell anyone who was creeped out by his behavior. It is indeed what Bailey has emailed a number of people, including me, in the last few days. As Bailey emailed me on Friday night, “It is untrue that I EVER committed an illegal sexual act, regardless of what comes out of the woodwork to say so.”

Some of Bailey’s alleged victims have claimed that they went up to Bailey’s hotel room after one too many drinks with Bailey and things happened. They alleged that they were coerced to do so. But I have honored their request not to go public. As I was putting together this story, a New Orleans reporter by the name of Ramon Antonio Vargas contacted many of the same parties. The two of us were in touch during our respective investigations and exchanged some information to ensure that we were both accurate in reporting these allegations. According to Vargas, one of the students he talked to accused Bailey of rape. Among some of the more stunning revelations:

He kept in touch with both after they left Lusher and progressed through high school. They both said he often checked in on their love lives and showed an unusual interest in their virginity, frequently asking: “Have you punched your V-card yet?”

Bailey also allegedly told one of his alleged victims, when she rolled off of bed, “What is wrong with you? You just don’t know how the game is played.”

But the pattern that Vargas and I have established from the allegations of these brave women is clear: Find a vulnerable young girl, befriend her, stay in touch with her over the years, wait until she turns eighteen, and then invite her for drinks and try to bed her.

* * *

Bailey has suffered few consequences for this despicable behavior, but he is not entirely immune. On April 18th, when courageous women started coming forward after I wrote an essay which documented the rampant misogyny in Bailey’s writing, his agents at The Story Factory swiftly dropped him (and they were courteous enough to promptly inform me). On the other hand, his publisher, W.W. Norton, has refused to return my phone calls and emails. On April 18th, Bailey threatened me by email to launch a smear campaign against me (although he did later issue an apology). A magazine that I pitched this investigation to also went silent, opting instead to promote an excerpt from Bailey’s Roth biography on its Twitter feed. Few literary people have said anything about these allegations. Indeed, many blue checkmarks — most notably, putative #metoo champion and current literary superstar Taffy Brodesser-Akner (who did not return my email) — were merrily yukking it up with Bailey on Twitter in the days after these allegations were first brought to public light. Bailey is now so deeply entrenched in the literary world that he is near bulletproof. And yet several sources who have had contact with Bailey in recent years have reported to me that he has aggressively charmed the daughters of friends and acquaintances and that he is still using the same moves on twelve-year-olds that he cultivated at Lusher. Some who are friendly with Bailey are not surprised by the allegations. But they have opted not to go on the public record. And I respect their decision.

I contacted Bailey by email with a number of questions in relation to these allegations. My last question to him was this: “What steps do you plan to take to correct your wildly inappropriate behavior and alleged abuse of these women (which I understand to be ongoing)?” That Blake Bailey could not even answer this basic question suggests that contrition, restitution, and owning up to his alleged awful treatment of the women he harmed may very well be beyond his capabilities. Instead, Bailey threatened me with legal action through his attorney, Billy Gibbens, and claimed that he would pursue “all available legal remedies” if I published “any further anonymous, uncorroborated, false allegations about Mr. Bailey.” Gibbens also used The Los Angeles Times as a bully pulpit, calling me “a notorious internet troll” and claiming the allegations to be “scurrilous charges.” Unfortunately, for Bailey and Mr. Gibbons, the comments in question are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. In constructing this story, I have relied on testimony from multiple alleged victims and witnesses and have taken great care to ensure that it is fair and accurate. To further clarify my intentions and my First Amendment rights, I do not intend malice with my investigation of these allegations.

Having managed to flee New Orleans and establish some modest literary fame on the national stage, there is little doubt that Blake Bailey truly believes he can get away with anything. And this is because the literary and media worlds in which he has operated and roosted for so many years have become so accustomed to looking the other way. Particularly in relation to the abuse and victimization of women.

4/20/2021 9:30 PM UPDATE: A previous version of this story featured inaccurate geographic details about the Lusher School. This article has been corrected. I regret the error.

4/21/2021 11:50 AM UPDATE: Ramon Antonio Vargas reports that Norton has paused shipping and promotional events on Bailey’s Roth biography. I tried contacting all of my publicity contacts at Norton by phone. Every voicemail I reached was full. Clearly, this story has grown legs.

4/21/2021 2:50 PM UPDATE: Blake Bailey has deleted his Twitter account.

4/22/2021 6:30 AM UPDATE: In a devastating article published on Wednesday night by The New York Times‘s Alexandra Alter and Rachel Abrams, the two reporters uncovered an alleged rape that occurred in 2015:

That same year, Valentina Rice, a publishing executive, met Mr. Bailey at the home of Dwight Garner, a book critic for The Times, and his wife in Frenchtown, N.J. A frequent guest at their home, Ms. Rice, 47, planned to stay overnight, as did Mr. Bailey, she said. After she went to bed, Mr. Bailey entered her room and raped her, she said. She said “no” and “stop” repeatedly, she said in an interview.

According to the Times, Rice attempted to remedy the assault by approaching Norton president Julia A. Reidhead, offering to confirm this allegation. Reidhead never responded, but, one week after Rice sent the note, Bailey did. What’s so jaw-dropping here is that it appears that email was simply forwarded onto Bailey and that Reidhead had never planned to investigate. My emails to various Norton people on this subject have not been returned. The Times piece also notes that Bailey was paid a mid-six-figure advance for the Roth biography.

4/22/2021 7:00 PM UPDATE: The New Orleans Advocate‘s Ramon Antonio Vargas has posted a new followup article on Blake’s former students at Lusher. One of the alleged victims was only seventeen, just past the age of consent in Louisiana.

4/29/2021 UPDATE: Eve Peyton has written a devastating first-person account of her experience at Slate.