It’s like a scene from a bad Hollywood movie: an employee takes off a few hours from work to bring his fiancée to the oncologist for a cancer check-up, only to have the tyrannical boss call and curse him out for slacking off.
Only, according to one former employee of the entertainment and media news site TheWrap, it really happened.
“What are you thinking?” founder and CEO Sharon Waxman bellowed at the employee in the fall of 2020, he recalled. “Does she not have a mother or a brother or a family member that can do that shit for her?”
The ex-staffer, who said he quit on the spot after that “last straw,” is one of 20 current and former TheWrap staffers who spoke to The Daily Beast about a toxic environment and culture of fear at the highly influential outlet.
They said Waxman—who was a foreign correspondent, a New York Times columnist, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and a feared Hollywood reporter before starting TheWrap in 2009—has driven out one staffer after another and left current employees looking for their exits. A majority of the former employees who spoke with The Daily Beast had left the company within the past two years.
One former staffer compared Waxman’s behavior to an infamously ruthless fictional boss. “It was very The Devil Wears Prada. It was really demoralizing and degrading. I would have to emotionally shut down and smile and nod,” the ex-employee said, referring to the character Miranda Priestly, the tyrannical magazine editor portrayed by Meryl Streep in an Oscar-nominated turn.
Those who spoke with The Daily Beast alleged that Waxman has often had screaming outbursts at employees, engaged in demeaning behavior, and berated employees for dealing with family emergencies during work hours, including threatening one staffer for working from home to care for their injured child.
“I’ve been around CEOs and politicians and like, actually important powerful people, and people that should be scary, like prisoners, and she is the scariest person I’ve ever met,” one former TheWrap writer said of Waxman.
The situation, sources familiar said, has been made more frustrating by the fact that Waxman’s ex-husband serves as TheWrap’s human resources department, leaving some employees feeling as though they have no safe place to turn. Staffers past and present who spoke with The Daily Beast did so on the condition of anonymity fearing professional or legal reprisals.
After The Daily Beast began conversations with TheWrap’s publicist about this story, Waxman announced a day off for all employees. (According to TheWrap’s spokesperson, however, she rejects that the day off was connected to this story.) And on Thursday evening, she gathered staffers for a meeting in which she promised to do better and bring in outside consulting to improve the workplace culture.
“I was very sorry to learn that some current and former employees have had experiences at TheWrap that are not consistent with our values or the environment we work to foster. Providing a safe, enjoyable, and thriving workplace is essential to any business, and something we have always made a priority from the time we started 12 years ago,” Waxman wrote in a statement to The Daily Beast. “While I don’t believe these allegations accurately reflect our current work environment, it’s clear that we have some work to do, and I am committed to doing it.”
As the founder, chief executive, top editor, and public face of TheWrap, Waxman, 58, reigns over every aspect of the digital outlet.
In just 12 years, under her stewardship, TheWrap has established itself as one of Hollywood’s most influential and widely read trade publications, competing directly with mainstays like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. Besides producing numerous entertainment scoops, the scrappy outlet has won a number of journalism awards in recent years.
And the tenacity and skill required to create and run an influential Hollywood trade publication is not lost on staffers, with multiple current and former employees emphasizing their respect and admiration for what Waxman has accomplished. “The fact that she owns this company and is the only female sole owner of a trade publication in Hollywood is hella impressive,” said one former TheWrap writer.
However, as another former employee said, “She runs it with an iron fist.”
One former staffer described having been “terrified to make a mistake because you would get publicly shamed or shamed in private.” Another recounted Waxman’s verbal tirades, calling it a “gross abuse of power” and lamenting that “it was really toxic and I never thought I would be yelled at in such a way and watching her yell and shred other people was really unsettling.”
Multiple staffers spoke of Waxman’s mercurial demeanor—“Jekyll and Hyde”-like, one described it—alleging that she can often be quite pleasant, only to fly off the handle at a moment’s notice when displeased.
“If you’re doing what she wants and she’s in a good mood then she can be quite lovely, and if not then there can be screaming and yelling and chaos,” said one current employee. Another employee, who recently departed the company, recalled Waxman melting down at her staffers before a Wrap-sponsored event when her microphone wasn’t working. “It was terrifying,” this person said. “We all stood there. You couldn’t stop her. You had to let her yell and scream. Then the event started and the mask came on and then she was very warm to people.”
One former staffer, who left the company within the past year, suggested Waxman’s alleged frequent yelling is part of her management style of “tough love.” Another ex-employee said the Wrap boss can be aggressive as a way to ensure people don’t “take advantage of her and not produce their best work.” But in the process, this person said, Waxman has “created a toxic environment where everyone worked defensively.”
“Is Sharon a demanding boss who holds her staff to a high standard? Yes. Is she blunt when she thinks you fall short of that standard? Yes. We work in a breaking news environment,” Thom Geier, Waxman’s deputy and executive editor, told The Daily Beast after TheWrap suggested him as a source for this story. “And so, can there be shouting sometimes when you want to get a story out and when you’re wanting to get things hurried? Sure, that can happen. That’s happened at virtually every news outlet I’ve ever worked at. Is there more of that at TheWrap than there are in other places? I don’t really think so.” Waxman is “the ultimate pro,” added TheWrap’s chief revenue officer Lynne Segal, in a similarly arranged conversation.
Other sources also expressed dismay over the lack of personal and professional boundaries in TheWrap’s workplace. Receiving a berating call from Waxman late into the evening can be a common experience, current and former employees said, as is the CEO using the company’s Slack channel to upbraid employees or air potentially offensive thoughts.
At one point, in messages reviewed by The Daily Beast, Waxman lamented social mores against deadnaming transgender people, writing, “This may make a trans person feel better but I bet it’s painful as hell to parents who lovingly chose that name for their baby. Must the new destroy all vestiges of the old?” (A spokesperson for TheWrap said “the Slack in question was in reference to a personal friend and their experience with their transgender child. Nothing more, nothing less. Sharon fully supports the transgender community with no exception.”)
Even more troubling, insiders said, was her treatment of colleagues experiencing family emergencies during work hours.
There was the aforementioned incident from last year, in which Waxman allegedly scolded a staffer for taking his fiancée to an oncologist for a cancer check-up. After working the entire weekend on a project, this now-former employee said, Waxman cursed at him over the phone for taking a few hours off to tend to his future wife. (“This is not Sharon’s recollection of this incident,” wrote a spokesperson for TheWrap.)
In another incident recalled by four sources, Waxman allegedly chastised a reporter who was concerned for her father’s safety during the 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. The reporter’s father was a member of a golf course located near the terror attack.
“Sharon stormed out of her office and told her in front of the entire newsroom that it is highly unlikely your dad had golf in the middle of the workday,” recalled one witness, a now-former Wrap employee. “We need to get the story out and then you can call him.” (“This is not Sharon’s recollection of this incident,” wrote a spokesperson for TheWrap.)
And a former senior staffer recounted to The Daily Beast how, in 2015, her child dislocated his elbow and she had to hurry over to the emergency room during a workday. Following the accident, the woman worked from home for two days and was threatened with her job if she did not return to the office immediately. (“Sharon unequivocally denies threatening to fire this employee over not coming into the office,” wrote a spokesperson for TheWrap.)
The woman quit TheWrap several weeks later. And she recalled confronting Waxman on her last day, making specific mention of the treatment she received during her son’s incident. According to the ex-staffer, Waxman “told me she didn't believe anyone who was working at home was actually working and that I should have better childcare for my child.” A separate firsthand witness corroborated the exchange.
“I don’t say this lightly,” another former TheWrap staffer bluntly said: “Sharon Waxman is one of the most awful people that I have known in my life.”
TheWrap has always had high turnover: At least nine people among a staff of just a few dozen have left in recent months, for example. And while many of the former employees who spoke with The Daily Beast cited frustrations with Waxman’s behavior, others said departures are often due to a churn-like editorial culture in which staffers feel overworked and underpaid. (In a statement, TheWrap’s spokesperson said, “Sharon notes that many of the departed staffers went to work in non-journalism jobs.”)
Much of the site’s traffic over the past few years, sources noted, has been generated by a team of low-paid writers and freelancers internally nicknamed “The Squad.” While the outlet charges subscribers $15 per month to access “exclusive” content—columns by Waxman and other writers, along with an industry newsletter—much of the day-to-day content on the site consists of this group of writers’ aggregated news items with sensationalized headlines.
Several former members of “The Squad” told The Daily Beast that they were paid a very low base salary—typically around $30,000 per year—along with a bonus structure based on the number of page views they generated per month. Although staffers were told they could essentially set their own hours, these former staffers said, the reality of the situation dictated that writers dedicated extremely long hours to TheWrap in order to make a more livable wage.
Discontent over low pay and high expectations may be fairly commonplace in digital media but, sources said, the situation at TheWrap is sometimes exacerbated by staffers being forced into humiliating situations in order to cut costs.
When TheWrap sends reporters on trips to major entertainment events, multiple former and current staffers said, Waxman has been known to make employees—sometimes of different genders—share bedrooms and even beds at times. “My female colleague and I shared a room with double beds and no partitions for any sort of privacy,” one former male employee said about one work trip to New York. (TheWrap’s spokesperson said Waxman “disputes that staffers were asked to share beds.”)
Elsewhere, three sources separately recalled how Waxman blew up several years ago after finding out her assistant had offered business cards to incoming and existing editorial staffers.
“When Sharon got the invoice, she lost her mind and convened a meeting where she said not only would those expenses be coming out of our pockets because she didn't approve them, but sort of expected everyone to go around and offer penance for ordering business cards,” one former employee said. “It was insane.”
Though, as sources said, Waxman threatened to dock employees the cost of the business cards— roughly $30 per box—she eventually backed down. Top editors sent the staff an email saying the company was “covering the costs in this one instance.”
Waxman “really treats her employees like the worst kind of robber baron factory owner ever,” an ex-staffer said.
Workplace tensions at TheWrap reached a boiling point in the summer of 2020.
Shortly after George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a white police officer sparked nationwide protests over police brutality and racism, Waxman commissioned a guest blog by crisis communications consultant and regular TheWrap contributor Ross Johnson, titled “Why Darnella Frazier Is the Most Influential Filmmaker of the Century.”
The article quickly drew public condemnation for its tone-deafness in comparing Frazier’s camera-phone footage of Floyd’s murder to the grand directorial work of filmmakers like Orson Welles and Martin Scorsese.
Five days later, Waxman released a grudging statement apologizing for the article: “Due to a failure in editing, this post fell short of TheWrap’s standards. It lacked focus and context, and missed the mark in its stated aim: to celebrate the brave young woman whose video of George Floyd’s killing has sparked worldwide outcry and renewed calls to end racial inequality. We sincerely apologize to our readers for that failure. We defend [author Ross] Johnson’s right to his opinion, and we have no interest in trying to make our shortcomings disappear. So we are leaving the post up on our site, as is.”
Internally at TheWrap, however, staffers still chafed at the post and Waxman’s handling of the situation. Eventually the vast majority of reporters, writers, and editors signed a letter excoriating Waxman and Geier, the executive editor, for failing to take their concerns seriously, demanding that they remove the post from the website.
“It troubles us as a newsroom that you have failed to see how TheWrap has callously allowed this writer to comment so carelessly on the brutalization and trauma of Black bodies and minds as if it were a film to be reviewed,” read the letter, which was obtained and reviewed by The Daily Beast.
Beyond removing the post, the letter further demanded that Waxman “take a hard look at the culture that has fostered in your newsroom.” The staffers fumed: “We make these requests out of care for the future of TheWrap and its reputation, and we cannot allow this to simply ‘blow over.’ Until change happens within this newsroom, and until TheWrap represents the values of its staff, we will not be able to move on.” Ultimately, after Geier and Waxman placed an editor’s note on the blog, according to several former staffers, the article was fully removed from the site.
The same month as the controversial George Floyd op-ed, staffers were outraged by Waxman’s decision to deadname Transparent creator Joey Soloway on the cover of TheWrap’s magazine. With Soloway announcing that they now identified as non-binary, Waxman made the final decision on a front-page headline that read: “Joey (Not Jill) Soloway On The Legacy Of Transparent.”
“I was just horrified,” one now-former employee said.
A spokesperson for TheWrap wrote: “The decision to also include Joey’s deadname was a choice made to clarify to readers who they were referring to as this was right at the moment Joey publicly announced their new name in June 2020. TheWrap is completely supportive of Joey and the entire trans community.”
When TheWrap’s staffers have complaints about mistreatment in the workplace, they may feel as though they have nowhere to turn. That’s because, current and former employees noted, Waxman’s adviser and now-former husband Claude Memmi is the company’s head of human resources.
“There’s no one to go to,” one recently departed staffer sighed. Another ex-employee remarked how HR effectively “does not exist” at TheWrap. “I didn’t tell him anything. Like you’re literally sleeping with my boss,“ said another former staffer, who noted that Memmi was hired for the position while still married to Waxman.
“Honestly, no one goes to Claude,” a current staffer at TheWrap told The Daily Beast, out of a fear that he will go “straight to Sharon.” And so, the employee said, “everyone kind of fights their own battles.”
And walking away from TheWrap may not be so easy either.
According to multiple sources familiar with the situation, Waxman requires many of her employees to sign multi-year contracts with restrictive non-compete clauses— an apparent effort to prevent them from taking their skills to go work for a competitor like Variety or Deadline.
A spokesperson for TheWrap wrote that “Sharon runs a business and brings on and trains talented journalists. Like other media companies, multi year employee contracts are standard for the industry.”
Waxman has threatened legal action against multiple media outlets who’ve hired away her employees.
For instance, Waxman unsuccessfully sued The Information, alleging the outlet intentionally poached reporter Matt Pressberg in December 2017 while he was under a two-year contract with TheWrap. A judge found Pressberg’s non-compete clause violated California law by restraining him from engaging in his profession.
Elsewhere, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation, when senior writer Matt Donnelly accepted a position with Variety in 2018, Waxman sent threatening legal letters to both him and the magazine’s owner Penske Media. Still under contract at the time, Donnelly was in the final months of his multi-year deal when Variety hired him.
In his conversation with The Daily Beast, Waxman’s deputy Geier even went so far as to make the baseless suggestion that the allegations, and even this article, were a conspiracy spun by Penske Media: “I’d be curious to know how many of the people that you’ve spoken to who have complained about Sharon Waxman and TheWrap are now working for Jay Penske.... I’m fascinated by the notion that, you know, there are people who went to work for Sharon and then went to work for Jay Penske. And you know we’re the last of the independent trades, and the only one that isn’t funded by a Saudi government that murders journalists.” (That acid-laced comment was apparently a reference to an investment in Penske Media by the private Saudi Research and Marketing Group, which has ties to the Saudi government; the U.S. has concluded that the Saudi crown prince ordered the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.)
Still, Waxman herself seems to have acknowledged that not all is well at TheWrap.
“Thankfully, we have a team of resilient, creative, and collaborative people who have risen to the occasion and delivered to help us thrive. TheWrap remains the only independent news organization in entertainment media today, an accomplishment that is made possible by our extraordinary team and the top-quality journalism it produces,” she continued in her statement. “We are making the commitment to our employees to hire outside expertise to help assess the culture and address these concerns.”
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