Facebook multi-millionaire Chris Hughes is the 31-year-old patron of The New Republic. Recent turmoil at that magazine have inspired heated speculation about what kind of media owner Hughes really is, or intends to be. Visionary? Fraud? A new report by former New York Observer editor Elizabeth Spiers suggests a new theory: He’s just a very sensitive soul.
At the Observer, Jared was very supportive on tough stories where he had little relation to the subjects, but we had some pretty epic arguments over stories where he considered the subject a friend. ... We had one such argument over a critical piece involving Chris Hughes. He and Jared are friends–or at least friendly acquaintances–and Chris made his displeasure known, and not surprisingly, that displeasure was relayed to me as Jared’s displeasure as well.
A quick search of Google and LinkedIn suggests the reporter in question was Mike Taylor, now an editor at Seeking Alpha, who wrote an item trashing Hughes’ philanthropy startup Jumo in February 2011. “Jumo manages to be a dud even if you ignore the totally flawed premise,” Taylor argued. “It’s suspicious, confusing, ugly and boring.” (Six months later, Jumo was acquired—and quickly put out to pasture—by GOOD magazine.)
Spiers’ tale gets even worse (emphasis mine):
The reporter on the piece left shortly after to go to business school, and I’m told Chris later bragged that he had gotten the reporter fired for negative coverage. (Not only was the reporter not fired, I was very sad to lose him.)
It is comically petty that Hughes decided to whine to his rich buddy—twice, according to Spiers—about his reporters insulting his startup. But it would be profoundly monstrous of Hughes if he actually went around gloating about ending the career of a mid-level reporter earning a minuscule fraction of his own net worth.
In an email to Gawker, a spokesperson for The New Republic confirmed that Hughes complained to Jared Kushner about the Observer’s coverage of Jumo—which is bad enough—but otherwise denied advocating or claiming credit for Taylor’s departure:
The claim is entirely false. Chris did express his displeasure over the story with its owner, but the piece was not retracted, and at no time did Chris advocate for him to be be fired.
The spokesperson later added that Hughes “ never gloated about being responsible for [Taylor’s departure] after he left the publication” and further denied that Hughes ever insinuated that he instigated Taylor’s dismissal to anyone.
In a footnote added on Monday morning, Spiers clarified what exactly she’d heard about Hughes’ reaction:
I don’t believe that Hughes called and demanded the reporter be fired or anything like that. I don’t think very many people have that level of hubris. My impression was that he believed the reporter was fired, either because the byline was no longer there or he was misinformed, and took the opportunity to gloat. Which is petty, but not quite OFF WITH THEIR HEADS level tyranny.
Some good news: Hughes appears to have grown a slightly thicker skin in the years since he sold off Jumo and purchased The New Republic, which saw most of its staff resign last month after Hughes hired Gawker alum Gabriel Snyder as its new editor. Hopefully the magazine’s brand-new masthead will benefit from their boss’s newfound resilience.