Now preparing a defamation suit amidst allegations of assault and professional misconduct from his Truth Against the Machine employees, Jordan Chariton’s PR nightmare may be far from over
Chariton was accused of sexual misconduct by several former employees of Truth Against the Machine
VoxVeritas appears to be the PR firm Chariton is using, but little is known about the company
Following the accusations, Chariton threatened lawsuits against several independent media outlets
Public figures accused of sexual misconduct respond in a variety of ways. Some ignore it (Bill Cosby), a few admit it (Louis C.K.), and others try and deflect it with red herrings (Looking at you, Spacey).
Jordan Chariton, know for his intense coverage for The Young Turks Network and creating Truth Against the Machine, is another big name added to the ever growing list of accused abusers. With a new accusation comes a new defense, but rather than following the typical paradigms, Chariton seems determined to draft a blueprint of his own. His approach? Hire a secretive PR firm founded by another high-profile accused assaulter to run damage control on his public image.
The sexual assault allegations against the now former TYT reporter sent what are becoming sadly familiar shockwaves throughout the virtual world of progressive media. As exposing unsavory saviors becomes the norm, one of the more bizarre aspects of the accusations leveled against Chariton is how they were taken public. And, even more peculiar, the defense Chariton and his PR team have scrambled together in order to get out ahead of the fallout, performing clumsy damage control on Jordan Chariton’s bruised career and ego.
An upper hand accusers often have is the element of surprise. In the case of Jordan Chariton, however, the accused was aware that at least one woman, Carly Hammond, was considering coming forward with allegations against him. Chariton had access to a Facebook messenger chat involving Hammond and several others who were discussing how to handle Hammond’s story. Although determined to be supportive of friends and colleagues, the TATM staff members were unsure about how to handle this story. What is clear, however, is that Chariton was aware his junior reporter, Carly Hammond, had been telling people privately about her experience and anticipating the moment for months.
The night in question occurred on May 14, but Chariton didn’t show his hand until November 16 when he wrote and published his version of events, dismissing the victim, Carly Hammond, and members of the chat as “a group of others with a vendetta against me for unrelated reasons.” This shocked the members of the group chat, hitting especially hard for the victim, Hammond, prompting her to share her side of the story sooner than she had planned. It is worth noting that combating damage from sexual assault allegations by outing your accuser without their narrative is itself abusive behavior.
Disarming as Chariton’s move was, Carly Hammond acted quickly to speak up for herself, first in an article published on the Huffington Post’s contributor platform, quickly removed by the moderators and re-published on Medium. Afterwards, Hammond appeared on the Tim Black show to tell her story in her own words. That interview was originally scheduled for November 18th, but Black receiving a pointed and potentially threatening email from an unfamiliar address delayed Hammond’s first public statement until November 20th.
Black shared the bizarre correspondence with viewers in this video, erroneously reporting that it came from “the Vox Media legal team.” Black’s confusion stemmed from a misreading of the web address the email was sent from: it came from www.voxveritas.co, not .com.
The sparse information on Vox Veritas’ website provides little clarity. A static page with no interactive elements, aside from a standard contact form, the single line of text beneath the Vox Veritas logo originally read, “We contain and defuse delicate situations for high profile individuals, cutting through the noise, and amplifying truth.” This was as of last Friday, December 1. It has since been changed to an even simpler description: “Crisis Defusion and Risk Mitigation.”
Unfortunately, there is a suspicious lack of information to examine. The only thing shorter than the site’s descriptions is the half year lifespan of this PR firm now employed by Jordan Chariton. VoxVeritas.co was created and registered on May 24th, 2017 through Domains By Proxy, a site that provides “domain privacy” services and has been targeted by Anonymous in the past. It hides domain owner information from the WHOIS database.
Based on the Internet Archive crawlers, this iteration of Vox Veritas was not captured by bots until it started catching script changes in the metadata over the course of a few days. The start date? November 22nd, less than a week after the allegations against Chariton surfaced.
Before appearing as a mysterious page with a tagline from the Olivia Pope playbook, the domain was temporarily connected to a campaign site for Samuel Ronan. A Republican candidate for Ohio’s 1st Congressional District, Ronan previously ran for the DNC chair in 2016. Chariton’s outlet, Truth Against the Machine, has written positive stories about Ronan.
Those screenshots show that the site was, at the time, managed by Ann Szalkowski, who incidentally does PR work for Jordan Chariton in connection with his in-progress book, Corporate Con Job:
Samuel Ronan’s professional relationship with Szalkowski is confirmed by this Facebook post thanking her for designing his site as well as a statement provided to The Daily Haze. After being asked why his site was affiliated with the domain voxveritas.co (a point was made not to mention Szalkowski), Ronan said,
“She was essentially a volunteer for the campaign who helped us initially set up the website. She left soon thereafter.”
After a few clarifying questions, Ronan confirmed he was referring to Szalkowski. According to Ronan, Szalkowski approached him independently and offered to design his campaign site as a volunteer. Szalkowski apparently designed and built the site on her voxveritas.co domain, then transferred it to Ronan’s new domain. Ronan stressed that, “I have no idea what she does in her personal life or her professional life outside of what she’s done for me in my campaign. There is nothing questionable or insidious about that VoxVeritas.co. That is her business.” He stated several times that VoxVeritas.co was Szalkowski’s “business,” as in, the business she owns.
Although Ronan claims that his ties to Szalkowski have been severed, her thread in the Chariton scandal is a tangled one to follow. Ann Szalkowski has been vigorously defending Chariton on Twitter and Facebook, which, to be fair, is her job. One notable public defense of Chariton came from her personal Twitter, offering a take many criticized as insensitive and tone deaf. Szalkowski compared Chariton’s victimization to that of Emmett Till, a young black man whose white accuser publicly admitted to lying decades after the fact. Till was lynched as a result of false accusations.
Later, this press release was published, then quickly taken down and re-posted with the phone number and email address redacted.
Googling the phone number turns up results for several Chicago businesses, including Metta One Hypnosis, Plush Bodywork, and Body Holistic. Each business is attached to an address in Chicago that does not exist, at least not anymore.
Calling the number is another dead end – no answers, just a pre-recorded message requests that the caller not leave a message, preferring a text. All texts personally sent to the number went unanswered.
Without a direct line, finding definitive information about Chariton’s PR specialist has proven nearly impossible. Google returns articles mentioning her connection with Trevor FitzGibbon, the disgraced former public relations representative for Chelsea Manning. FitzGibbon’s fall from power has become a cautionary tale for progressive public figures. At least six female employees of FitzGibbon Media, his DC-based public relations firm, came forth with accusations of sexual assault and harassment against him, causing the firm to halt operations in 2015.
In an ill-fated comeback attempt, reports surfaced this May (right around the time VoxVeritas.co was registered) that FitzGibbon and Szalkowski were planning a joint venture – a new public relations firm, Mission Critical Media. Their first initiative would be called Dignity For Our Daughters, which planned to advocate for women in the workplace.
The pair was met with immediate backlash when 72 progressive organizations signed a pledge to never work with FitzGibbon, stating that this new venture was a “cynical attempt to erase the damage [FitzGibbon] did to [his] employees and the progressive movement.”
Neither Mission Critical Media nor Dignity For Our Daughters seem to have come to fruition, as there has been no further information about either project since the initial reports in May (and the domain is defunct). Although the timing of it all could be mere coincidence, Vox Veritas confirmed on Sunday they are in fact affiliated with FitzGibbon after questions from savvy Twitter uses entered Vox Veritas’ Twitter mentions. They have since deleted this Tweet, but a link preview was obtained.
When looking for more information about FitzGibbon’s connection to the Jordan Chariton case, another interesting player emerges. The authority on FitzGibbon’s scandal seems to be Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof. The investigative journalist, most known for his reporting on whistleblowers, has published two articles detailing FitzGibbon’s case and one on Jordan Chariton.
As mentioned here by Charles Davis, and in the Jezebel article linked above, Gosztola has a questionable relationship with FitzGibbon, dating back to the days when Shadowproof was still called FireDogLake. Gosztola told Jezebel he “…knew Trevor FitzGibbon before I wrote this story, but I was not friends with Trevor FitzGibbon.”
Friends or acquaintances, FitzGibbon had a demonstrable working relationship with Gosztola’s predecessor, Jane Hamsher, the founder of FireDogLake (absorbed by Shadowproof in 2015). FitzGibbon began guest posting on FDL to help Hamsher promote her fundraising efforts for imprisoned whistleblower, Chelsea Manning (then Bradley). FitzGibbon Media also received funding from the Bradley Manning Advocacy Fund, an initiative launched by FireDogLake/Shadowproof. Gosztola, author of Truth and Consequences: The U.S. Vs. Bradley Manning, met FitzGibbon through their mutual advocacy for the former prisoner.
Although mutual interests are not definitive proof of collaboration, both Jezebel and Davis have independently pointed out the ways that Gosztola’s pieces on FitzGibbon read as strangely sympathetic towards the accused.
The first details the legal facts of FitzGibbon’s case and heavily emphasizes the decision of the prosecutor not to pursue legal action against FitzGibbon. Although it is true that the U.S. attorney declined to file charges due to a lack of material evidence, Gosztola stated that this decision “Clears the way for FitzGibbon to return to work in public relations.” The word “clears” here feels misleading; attorneys not having evidence to pursue charges is not the same as being found innocent.
The second story, published a week later, focuses largely on the backlash from progressive groups. It ends with several paragraphs quoting Rania Khalek (who Gosztola neglected to mention he co-hosts a podcast with) in defense of Fitzgibbon, ending with the suggestion that there are groups and individuals dedicated to “stop[ping] Trevor FitzGibbon from ever working in public relations again.”
The tone and underlying messages are eerily similar to the piece Gosztola wrote about Jordan Chariton following the allegations from Carly Hammond. Couched between quotes and statements of facts, the overall message has clear bias, subjectivity, and a narrative intent to discuss how unfair accusations can be for the accused. Interestingly, Gosztola’s article is the only seemingly-objective 3rd-party piece covering the events that is sympathetic to Chariton. It was also the only outside reporting shared by Chariton himself.
Perhaps this is simple in line with the exclusivity of the scoop. Gosztola was given access to screenshots of the group chat where Carly Hammond and others discussed coming forward with Hammond’s allegations, so his story would have the most impact. However, it’s hard to say why Gosztola was given this access. Of all of the outlets looking for an exclusive leads, why would Chariton choose Shadowproof, an alternative and lesser known channel?
As discussed above, Gosztola was given the same access when reporting on Trevor FitzGibbon, who provided private messages between himself and several of his accusers for Gosztola’s first article. Kevin Gosztola’s Chariton story feels like an imitation of the approach he took to FitzGibbon.
Further through the looking glass, there is a collective political style of all involved that echoed the sexual assault allegations WikiLeaks founder, and former FitzGibbon Media client, Julian Assange has contested for nearly a decade. Dealing with his own legal battles, the seeming friend is apparently watching Chariton’s story with interest. He tweeted both sides from his account with no comment. As highlighted previously by Davis, Assange followed a similar protocol when sharing Kevin Gosztola’s exclusive story on FitzGibbon.
Gosztola is also an advocate of Assange, having written several ShadowProof articles padded with rich quotes from the publisher at large. Some are more biased than others. Assange and Gosztola even shared an appellate slot on a suit against the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. While the intersection of their interests is clear, details about the personal relationships between Assange, FitzGibbon, and Gosztola were revealed in a thread on Charles Davis’s Twitter account.
William Moran II
A clear theme with Jordan Chariton’s camp is that they all have very personal experiences that inform their involvement and interest in Chariton’s case. This is even true of the attorney Chariton has retained, William Moran II. In the manner of Peter Thiel, but without the style, the former Sputnik reporter-turned-lawyer received attention when he reached a settlement with Newsweek for charges of libel against Kurt Eichenwald.
Although it’s arguable that Moran’s victory in the court can be chalked up more to Eichenwald’s behavior than the plaintiff’s, Moran seems to have gained confidence from his victory against the mainstream media. Receiving his license to practice from the state of Maryland in June, Moran now self identifies as “A very good attorney” who claims to practice with Hawgood, Hawgood & Moran, although there is nothing to definitively tie him to the firm on their website.
Moran’s affinity for libel law definitely makes him the right attorney to deal with Jordan Chariton. Whether or not he is a good attorney in this case remains to be seen. Off to a shaky start, Moran published a letter of intent to sue one of the authors of this article on Medium November 30 that contained several inconsistencies, speculations, and anecdotes.
In this “legal” document, Moran recounts interning for an “…anti-sexual assault organization” before going on to criticize Hammond’s supportive colleagues, writing “You all seem to leave out that Carly texted Mr. Chariton the next morning, ‘Thanks for sacrificing sleep to talk to me last night. I really appreciate it.’” Apparently while intaking sexual assault victims at his internship Moran did not learn statistics about how long it takes targets of abuse to cut an abuser out of their lives. Abuse victims, on average, attempt to remove themselves from their environment seven times before succeeding.
The aggressive series of claims targeting the victim while ignoring relevant dissenters to Chariton’s story can be examined for further falsifications and insensitivities.
While it is true that Hammond is the only current accuser of sexual assault, there is ample evidence of a toxic culture perpetuated by Chariton at TATM. Notable examples include an account from Zee Cohen, former TATM editor who left her position due to internal rumors of assault. Paula Martinez published a personal essay describing harassment and manipulation she experienced while employed at TATM through systemic inequality. Chariton even continues to taunt Martinez with a reference to her story now tail ending his Twitter bio. If nothing else, it seems Chariton and Moran share a knack for intimidation.
Beyond the unfolding of personal narratives from all sides, there is compelling data suggesting incentives driving the relationships between Shadowproof’s editorial staff and this group of progressive pariahs. A significant percentage the site’s traffic is attributed to the keywords FitzGibbon (~12%) and Chariton (~9%). With approximately 300,000 visitors a month, Chariton is already brought them about 27,000 visitors, a decent figure for an article published within the past few weeks.
In fact, the interest in Shadowproof’s articles about FitzGibbon has locked them in the number one and two spots of Google results for his name. Now Chariton, already moving from the 8th to the 6th position, is quickly becoming one of ShadowProof’s golden tickets. It seems more strategic than lucky, however, as a site with an Alexa ranking in the six digit range dominating on keywords for stories with known names is unusual, even those practicing thorough SEO.
This was, after all, FitzGibbon Media’s model, the company self-described as using “…expertise and aggressive strategies [to] ensure their clients’ actions, messages, and spokespersons are a dominant force in the news cycle.” Signal boosting and cross promotion from high profile figures undoubtedly contribute to Shadowpress’s rankings. This is certainly a win for all invested parties if Vox Veritas is indeed the reincarnation of FitzGibbon Media.
But what exactly is it that all of these players are invested in? It’s clear what Jordan Chariton and Trevor FitzGibbon’s stakes are in trying to ringlead the media circus. But what are defenders like Ann, Kevin, Bill here for? And why are they so aligned with controversial figures like Chariton? Is it these individual cults of personality that they defend? Is it the misguided belief in this style of progressivism? Are they just desperate to join a winning team? It’s highly debatable. All that’s clear from Jordan Chariton’s disastrous behavior and peculiar PR moves in the wake of these accusations: those who look out only for themselves tend to stick together.
Kevin Gosztola was asked and denied personally having any financial relationship with Fitzgibbon or Vox Veritas. He stated: “I reject any suggestion that I produced journalism on Jordan Chariton’s firing from The Young Turks for alleged sexual assault because I was offered something in return.” He did not specify whether he was speaking for Shadowproof or only himself.
Chariton, Fitzgibbon, and Szalkowski did not immediately return requests for comment.
This piece was written by Christian Chiakulas and Jessica Daugherty.