While the downfall of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has cast a harsh light on Time’s Up, former staffers say that the organization’s deference to power — including Oprah Winfrey — went beyond just the disgraced governor.
In a report from The Daily Beast, multiple former employees say that under the leadership of CEO Tina Tchen, many decisions were made within the organization on how to respond to various issues based on Time’s Up’s financial connections to those involved. Tchen apologized this past week after she and former board chair Roberta Kaplan were accused of advising Cuomo on how to handle sexual harassment allegations against him.
The staffers told Daily Beast that long before the release of the New York Attorney General report on the allegations that pushed Cuomo to resign, there was internal strife over Time’s Up’s closeness to Cuomo, regularly receiving emails from the governor’s aides asking the organization to promote his work on closing the rape intoxication loophole used in sexual assault cases. The org also took down an image of New York state senator and sexual assault survivor Alessandra Biaggi at the request of Cuomo’s office due to her repeated criticism of him, and chastised staffers for writing social media posts about her.
There were other instances beyond Cuomo. Daily Beast pointed to a previously reported $500,000 donation made by Oprah Winfrey to Time’s Up just weeks after the organization stood by her in her decision to pull out as executive producer of a documentary about the sexual assault accusations against Def Jam Recordings co-founder Russell Simmons.
Staffers also detailed an instance in 2020 when they were asked to drop everything they were working on to focus on Gayle King, who was being harassed online. The Daily Beast said “one of her powerful friends in Hollywood had asked the organization to support her.”
A former staffer told The Daily Beast, “It felt so out of touch and awkward and not relevant, but because we had gotten that call it was the top priority for the day.”
In addition, staffers say that shortly after Tchen took over as CEO in 2019, Time’s Up leaders chose not to release a statement after Uber released a report on sexual abuse among the rideshare service’s drivers and passengers. Uber was among the many companies that Tchen had previously consulted for, and while Tchen told the Daily Beast that she recused herself from any decisions regarding those companies, staffers say a pattern had formed.
“They were so terrified of burning bridges with powerful people,” one said, while another commented that “the voice of a board member or an A-list celebrity with a big Instagram following is always going to be listened to first over the needs of a survivor.”
In her apology letter, Tchen promised a “collaborative process” to win back the trust of sexual abuse survivors. A letter signed by over 100 ex-staffers has demanded an independent investigation into Time’s Up’s involvement with Cuomo and for the organization to establish a “Survivors Advisory Council.”
“This moment, while devastating in many regards, forced us to reckon with the fact that we’ve moved out of alignment with the broader survivor community, full stop,” Tchen wrote. “The progress we have made was seeded by your work and that of impacted people-led movements who have fought for change for decades. We have a responsibility to honor that and to earn our place in that lineage.”