Last week, Felix Gillette wrote an innocent story about Mimi Gurbst, a senior producer at ABC World News, retiring to become a high school guidance counselor. Soon, the story's comment section became a message board for vicious anti-Gurbst vitriol. Why?
Gillette's story is still the most-read media story on the NYO's website, thanks to the fact that bitter ABC-ers flocked to its comment section to denounce Mimi Gurbst as not the professional mentor depicted in the story, but rather as the embodiment of Satan. A few choice excerpts from the comments—and please take into account, these are anonymous comments, on the internet:
- "Over the years Ms. Gurbst refused to work with certain programs or anchors. She was an extremely destructive force at ABC News. For years she did nothing but protect her turf, play people off one another (including anchors) and trade on her alleged personal friendship with Bob Iger."
- "Mimi and her clique of chosen ones at ABC News were dubbed the "Mean Girls." To be a part of the group you had to be at least 3 of the following: white/good-looking/rich/pedigree/Ivy(or fancy boarding school) or date/marry/be associated with people who fit that bill."
- "The amount of competent journalists this woman ran away over the years in favor of whomever she deemed cool enough to become a member of her clique is staggering...As for her own competence, a Desk Assistant who has been at ABC News for 5 hours is more integral to the day-to-day workings of ABC News than Mimi Gurbst, and has probably accomplished more than she has in 20 years. I weep for these students who are going to be advised by Ms. Gurbst."
And there are six more pages of comments just like that. Actually, much meaner than that. We also received a flood of emails ourselves, pointing us to the comment section on the piece. When we didn't immediately write a post, people even suggested we'd been bribed or intimidated somehow. Which is just to say, people are
crazy "very passionate" on this issue.
So was Mimi Gurbst really that bad? She certainly is, according to anonymous commenters on the internet. An ABC insider we spoke to for some perspective cast Mimi as, at least somewhat, a victim of circumstance: that nature of her job was that some people would like the assignments they received from her and others wouldn't; and with ABC News suffering hundreds of layoffs recently, there were bound to be hordes of disgruntled workers ready to cast blame.
But there are also some circumstantial signs that Mimi Gurbst was not popular inside ABC. For example: Although the news-to-guidance counselor angle would make for a nice human interest story for Mimi's retirement, we understand that ABC didn't pitch the story at all; rather, Gillette heard about it himself during his own reporting. Which one might read as an indication that ABC was not anxious to provide any public platform that could potentially turn into exactly what the NYO comments section turned into! Additionally, while there's no way to tell exactly how many angry people have contributed to the anti-Mimi comment brigade, the level of detail in many of the comments is a strong indicator that a fair number of them did in fact come from people who were intimately familiar with ABC News' inner workings.
ABC declined to make Mimi Gurbst available for comment to us; she also declined to speak to Gillette for his original, non-threatening article. Maybe she had a sense of...foreboding?