Financial Times Squashed Story on Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Prominent Columnist at Sister Outlet

The business publication followed longstanding norms in British press to avoid reporting negative stories about each other

The former columnist Nick Cohen
Former Observer columnist Nick Cohen left the paper in January, ostensibly for 'health reasons'

A Financial Times investigation that found a well-known left-wing columnist exited Britain’s Guardian News & Media after he was accused of unwanted sexual advances and groping of female journalists was never published in an example of the U.K. media’s reluctance to confront its own personnel, The New York Times reported.

The story by award-winning investigative journalist Madison Marriage would have revealed that Nick Cohen exited the Guardian’s sister paper, The Observer, after years of accusations from female co-workers.

Marriage, whose previous work exposed an elite, men-only British charity event at which hostesses were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned, and got a tech entrepreneur charged with rape, had two women willing to speak on the record and supporting documentation from others in the story about Cohen, The Times reported. But it was killed by Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf, on the premise the columnist didn’t have a big enough business profile to be the focus of a story in the publication.

The Times noted that while a swath of U.S. media outlets from CNN and NBC to Fox News to the newspaper of record itself have reckoned with misconduct allegations, the #MeToo movement never had much impact on the British press.

“It just amplified this sense that #MeToo is nothing but a convenient hashtag for the British media,” journalist Lucy Siegle, who reported Cohen to the Guardian in 2018 for groping her in the newsroom years earlier, told The Times. “The silence on its own industry is just really conspicuous.”

An FT spokeswoman would not comment on internal discussions about Cohen story. “Some reporting leads to published stories,” she told The Times, “and some not.”

Cohen was well known for his work of over two decades at The Observer, including award-winning writing in the run-up to 2016’s Brexit vote and a 2007 book, “What’s Left, How the Left Lost its Way,” that was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize, the top political journalism prize in the country.

His resignation in January was attributed to his health, The Times reported, but “secretly, the newspaper group paid him a financial settlement for quitting and agreed to confidentiality,” the report said, citing three colleagues and an editor with whom Cohen spoke.

Seven women, including three who were willing to be identified, told The Times that Cohen had groped them or made other unwanted sexual advances over nearly two decades. In each case, The Times said it reviewed documents or otherwise corroborated their accounts.

Cohen’s reputation was widely known in the newsroom, the report said. Guardian News & Media did not investigate his behavior until Siegle posted about her experience on Twitter in 2021, according to The Times.

Cohen initially blamed the accusations on a campaign by his critics, including advocates for Russia and for transgender rights, The Times said, until he was informed that seven women had come forward.

“Oh, God,” he responded, adding, “I assume it’s stuff I was doing when I was drunk.” Cohen is a recovering alcoholic.

The history of U.K. news outlets reporting on misconduct in each others newsrooms is fraught with concerning missteps, The Times said, pointing as examples to the disappearance of a 2016 story about a former FT exec who was the subject of a domestic violence restraining order from the website of the Daily Mail; and another deletion from The Sun’s website of a story about a Guardian executive who had pestered a former employee for a sexual relationship. The Sun piece was also the subject of an apology that did not say it was inaccurate.

The Financial Times in December identified Marriage’s investigative reporting into abuses of power as one if its top priorities for this year, The Times reported. “Publicly, the newspaper had declared ‘“’no topic or scandal off limits,’” the report said. “Privately, there were limits.”