Pro-war pundit Nick Cohen’s sexual abuse accusations were well-known in British media for years. Yet his friends at the Guardian, Financial Times and Private Eye kept them under wraps while Cohen’s lawyers threatened potential accusers.
The New York Times has published a devastating investigation revealing that for 20 years, the former Guardian/Observer writer Nick Cohen sexually harassed and abused female journalists with the full knowledge of his employers, coworkers, and British media more widely.
What’s more, his employers willingly engaged in a long-running, concerted conspiracy of silence to prevent his criminal proclivities from becoming better known, and to ensure he did not face professional or legal consequences.
The Times report marks the first time a mainstream publication has covered Cohen’s perverted and borderline criminal behavior towards fellow staff at The Observer, and its sister paper, The Guardian. Multiple reports of Cohen groping colleagues dating back to 2001, as well as allegations of forcibly kissing and rubbing an erection against a freelancer “who had recently been homeless and had depression” during an informal meeting. He also stands accused of repeatedly offering to send explicit photographs to his unpaid copy editor.
The accusations against Cohen aren’t even an “open secret”. They’ve been out in the open for a long time and GNM management as well as Private Eye have just ignored them.
— Mic Wright (@brokenbottleboy) July 13, 2022
“Cohen’s reputation was widely known in the newsroom, according to 10 former colleagues, both male and female,” The Times reported. His rapacious unwanted sexual advances were also an open secret among British journalists for many years.
But when he was finally suspended by The Observer in July 2022 pending investigation over sexual misconduct, then formally resigned on “health grounds” the following January, the entire British press remained silent. In the meantime, Cohen received a financial settlement for leaving quietly, and he and his employer signed a confidentiality agreement to publicly conceal the circumstances of his departure.
Having served for decades as a top columnist at The Guardian, Cohen aggressively advanced the interests of the British state behind left-wing cover. Whether it was tubthumping for “humanitarian” intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere, talking up the bogus “anti-Semitism crisis” within Labour and libeling its former leader Jeremy Corbyn as a virulent Jew hater, or denigrating WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange and his supporters, he was invariably a dependable trench warrior in London’s most notorious propaganda blitzes.
As The Times documents, a Financial Times investigative reporter named Madison Marriage sought to break the impenetrable wall of silence around Cohen’s misconduct. Starting in late 2022, she began accumulating evidence of his misdeeds, securing extensive documentation of his abuse and pledges from two women to go on record about it. Marriage’s team eventually interviewed five of Cohen’s accusers.
But that December, Marriage’s editor, Roula Khalaf, reportedly “shackled” the investigation, first telling Marriage not to contact any new sources, then proposing the story be run not as news, but an op-ed. Neither that piece, nor an intended “broader look at sexual misconduct in the British news media” to follow, ever materialized.
Meanwhile, Private Eye, which prides itself on holding the British media to account, and frequently publishes salacious scuttlebutt about journalists and the publications for which they work, incongruously failed to report on Cohen’s exit from The Observer. In response to a reader who asked why this was, editor Ian Hislop brazenly explained it would be “obviously…problematic…due to the fact that he used to write a freelance column for the magazine.”
‘Everybody knows about it’: British media covers up for Cohen
Cohen wrote for many years for Private Eye under the pseudonym ‘Ratbiter’, using the column to routinely attack and defame enemies and detractors in the British media. On several occasions, he targeted me. In one instance, Cohen heavily implied that my breaking the news of regime change activist and serial online harasser Oz Katerji’s firing from Mail Online in late 2019 was somehow inspired by Russian intelligence.
Anyone who has worked even peripherally in the world of British media knows that it is highly incestuous and gossip-driven, with offices of major outlets leaking like sieves. Cohen’s history of sexual harassment was therefore an open secret among journalists. The British media’s refusal to tell the rest of the public what it knew about an influential member of its clique serves as an indictment of its insular, unethical culture.
Though Cohen might not have known it at the time, I myself was trying to help some of his victims go public with their allegations. In the end, these women concluded there was too much risk and trauma associated with taking matters further, so they resolved to move on with their lives – far away from The Guardian offices, and Cohen. Some remain frightened to speak out today.
“Literally everyone knows about it, but nothing ever happens,” a sympathetic coworker reportedly told one of the women abused by Cohen.
They may have been intimidated when they learned that another person encouraging them to go public received a legal threat from a high-priced law firm acting on Cohen’s behalf. The lawyers warned that individual of “inevitable bankruptcy” unless they issued a full retraction, made a public apology, paid Cohen’s legal costs, gave a £1,000 donation to charity, and ominously, disclosed the identities of his accusers. In one particularly twisted passage, the legal threat asserted The Observer columnist was “a long established advocate of free speech.”
It was not until activist barrister Jolyon Maugham went public with evidence of Cohen’s sex crimes and Guardian News & Media’s resistance to investigating these transgressions that the Observer began to take complaints against him seriously. So it was that in July 2022, the paper finally turned on its star columnist.
In the space created by Dr Gurdasani and others having tweeted about these allegations against Nick Cohen, I am now going to share what I know. https://t.co/QQtqooGA8C
— Jo Maugham (@JolyonMaugham) July 13, 2022
A month prior, when allegations against Cohen were beginning to circulate widely online, Private Eye pumped out another unhinged attack against myself and The Grayzone’s editor, Max Blumenthal. The evidence-free rant heavily implied we were Russian intelligence operatives, due to our reporting on Paul Mason’s leaked emails. While unattributed, the style, tone, and language was indistinguishable from that of ‘Ratbiter’, raising the obvious question of whether Cohen continues to contribute to Private Eye anonymously today.
Balls to the left of him, Crosses to the right
It remains to be seen whether and how The New York Times’ exposé will deleteriously impact Cohen’s career. Despite losing his long-running, well-remunerated Observer job, he remains a ‘made man’ in British media.
And certain mainstream journalists have still sought to defend and even make excuses for Cohen.
.@NickCohen4 bravely faced down libel lawyers to write this in support of me & my publisher when we were facing the crushing weight of 4 oligarch lawsuits & the Kremlin. I’d never met him but he’s a shining light combating abusive lawsuits by the superrich https://t.co/vjdnNSUmjM
— Catherine Belton (@CatherineBelton) May 30, 2023
Yet some of Cohen’s friends and colleagues have begun to throw him under the bus. Among them is James Ball, who worked for The Guardian at a senior level between February 2011 and June 2015 was in close proximity with Cohen, working together in the same building.
What’s more, the pair routinely went after the same targets, including Assange and Corbyn, and enjoyed a convergent political perspective. It may be for this reason that the covert British intelligence cutout known as the Integrity Initiative invited both to appear at an event it convened at London’s prestigious Frontline Club, Tackling Tools of Malign Influence, in November 2018.
By this stage, Cohen’s sexual delinquency was so well-known within the halls of The Guardian that senior staff began warning new female recruits to steer clear of him. It is therefore almost inconceivable Ball was not aware of his colleague’s actions. Invited in an email from The Grayzone to categorically deny knowledge of Cohen’s actions, he referred this outlet to the author of The New York Times investigation, “or to mutual colleagues from the time.”
Cohen’s Twitter archive points to frequent interactions with Ball over many years. The language typically used by Cohen evinces a warm, distinctly personal rapport with his colleague, which endures to the present day.
Yet, Ball’s own archive does not contain a single mention of Cohen. If he conducted a Twitter cleanup operation to conceal the relationship, he would hardly be the only public figure to have done so.
When Cohen announced the launch of a personal Substack blog in November 2022, many mainstream journalists lined up to mourn his departure from The Observer. The overwhelming majority have since purged their well-wishes from their Twitter timelines.
Immediately after Jolyon Maugham went public against Cohen, Wikipedia editors updated the perpetrator’s profile to reflect her claims. But within moments, a notorious Wikipedia editor named ‘Philip Cross’ moved in to scrub all reference to Cohen’s sexual transgressions from the page.
Cross is best known for his frenzied, daily crusade to vandalize the entries of anti-war figures while whitewashing establishment shills and deep state actors. His industrial grade, 24 hour-a-day editing sprees became a mainstream scandal in May 2018.
As ‘Cross’ worked frantically to defend Cohen’s reputation, he also removed tweets Cohen’s victims from the entry’s citations, asserting that they were “unreliable sources.” Another Wikipedia editor eventually challenged the systematic whitewash, triggering a bitter “edit war,” which eventually prompted one editor to exasperatedly declare ‘Cross’ to be “acting in the interests of Nick Cohen.”
There are indications that the advocacy of ‘Philip Cross’ on Cohen’s behalf may have been influenced by a personal relationship the two enjoyed. One of the most curious and under-researched aspects of the ‘Philip Cross’ imbroglio was revealed by former British ambassador turned journalist Craig Murray.
According to Murray, the individual behind the ‘Philip Cross’ profile maintained an obscure Twitter account of the same name, which overwhelmingly retweeted public figures, posted virtually no original content, and had racked up just 160 followers at the time the Cohen scandal broke. The followers of this minuscule account consisted overwhelmingly of influential and politically-connected individuals – including many mainstream journalists, like Cohen. In the wake of Murray publicizing this revealing fact, Cohen promptly unfollowed ‘Cross.’
Walls closing in
Back in June 2012, Cohen trashed supporters of Julian Assange for daring to suggest allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against him might have been black propaganda designed to destroy his reputation. He branded Assange’s defenders the “definition of paranoia.”
“Activists,” Cohen sneered, “who claim they are the enemies of patriarchy, dismiss allegations of sexual abuse as a CIA conspiracy.”
Fast forward to the present day, when Cohen has dismissed the allegations against him as “a campaign by his critics, including advocates for Russia.”
Perhaps the disgraced writer might want to update his definition of paranoia.