Reply All Cancels Test Kitchen Series Following Its Own Racism Controversy

Reply All Cancels Test Kitchen Series Following Its Own Racism Controversy
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Reply All co-host PJ Vogt has stepped down from the podcast after being accused of contributing to a toxic work environment for people of colour as well as anti-union efforts. Following the revelations, Reply All announced that the Test Kitchen podcast series would be scrapped.

Reply All is one of the most popular podcasts in the world, particularly in the technology category. It covers everything internet culture, from strange tech support mysteries to chasing down Snapchat hackers.

Some of its most lauded episodes include the infamous Case of the Missing Hit and Long Distance — which saw host Alex Goldman travel to India to track down a phone scammer.

This story was first published on February 18, and has been updated as new information came to light.

What is happening with Reply All?

On Wednesday, former Gimlet Media (owner of Reply All) staffer and host of The Nod, Eric Eddings, wrote a Twitter thread detailing a toxic work culture at the company.

Included in the thread were claims of a lack of diversity at Gimlet, anti-union efforts and discrimination against people of colour (POC).

The timing of this thread was particularly poignant as Reply All is currently releasing a multi-part series about the discrimination against POC at Bon Appétit (BA).

“Last week I got an email from Sruthi about Reply All’s Test Kitchen series. I had been avoiding listening but once I did I felt gaslit. The truth is RA and specifically PJ and Sruthi contributed to a near identical toxic dynamic at Gimlet. This will be a longer thread, apologies,” Eddings wrote on Twitter.

What does Bon Appétit have to do with this?

In June 2020 BA came under fire after a photo of editor-in-chief, Adam Rapoport, in brownface surfaced. He stepped down from the role soon after.

This resulted in POC employees coming forward saying that there was pay inequity at the brand. This was first driven by Assistant Food Editor Sohla El-Waylly on Instagram, who said that white employees were compensated for their appearances on BA’s hugely popular YouTube channel while POC were not.

Since then, most of the POC stars of the YouTube channel have left, along with some of the white employees. After months of inactivity the channel was relaunched with a mostly-new and diverse cast, but the viewer numbers are a fraction of what they once were.

This is where Reply All comes in

Reply All producer, Sruthi Pinnamaneni, began reporting on the problems BA (both the publication and YouTube channel) has with diversity as part of a multi-part series on the podcast.

In episode two she admitted she was not involved in Gimlet Media’s own efforts to unionise and that her time reporting on BA has made her regret this.

However, Eddings claims that things were more serious than inactivity on the part of Pinnamaneni and PJ Vogt.

“The BA staffers’ stories deserve to be told, but to me it’s damaging to have that reporting and storytelling come from two people who have actively and AGGRESSIVELY worked against multiple efforts to diversify Gimlet’s staff & content,” Eddings wrote on Twitter.

“I’ve talked to PJ multiple times asking him to do more to contribute to diversity efforts at the company. Asking him to join the diversity group. To lend a voice when I spoke up at staff meetings. Anything to show the staff that he cared about the issue.”

Being the biggest of Gimlet Media’s podcasts, Eddings also said that it was like a clique and claims the Vogt said that he liked it that way.

“When Gimlet unionized, many POC’s felt that it was their last chance at creating an environment within Gimlet where they could succeed. I joined the organizing committee. We put together a robust list of demands related to working conditions, equity, freelancers, diversity, & IP,” Eddings wrote.

“So RA found out about the effort last. They were pissed. The team led by PJ, Sruthi, and Alex G used their weight as a cudgel against our efforts at voluntary recognition. Sruthi personally held an Anti-union meeting, trying to rally people against it.”

Eddings went on to claim that he had seen “harassing messages” sent by Vogt to the union organising committee members. He also said that he had a meeting with Vogt where he asked him not to attack the union.

In another tweet he detailed an interaction where Vogt told Eddings that Sruthi Pinnamaneni was calling him a “piece of shit” over the union work.

“They weren’t obligated to support me, diversity efforts at Gimlet, or the union. I haven’t spoken to Sruthi since the POS comment. I saw PJ last fall and we had a fairly civil conversation. His first words to me were “You were right about the union,” Eddings wrote.

PJ Vogt steps down

On Thursday, PJ Vogt responded to the accusations on Twitter. He apologised for his actions and stated that he would be stepping away from Reply All.

“I deeply failed as an ally during the unionization era at Gimlet. I did not intend to stop the unionzation effort, and I am very glad it succeeded,” Vogt wrote on Twitter.

Vogt went on to say that he considers his behaviour at the time humiliating and that he will be taking some time to “reflect and listen.”

“I’ve asked for the team’s permission to step away from Reply All. The people making the show are the same people who made all the things you’ve liked, and I hope you’ll support them.”

Pinnamaneni also posted a statement to Twitter to apologise.

“My conduct around the diversity and union organisation efforts at Gimlet was ill-informed, ignorant, and hurtful,” she said.

“I did not pay enough attention to the people of color with less power at Gimlet and I should have used my power to support and elevate them further.”

An internal email sent by Gimlet’s managing director, Lydia Polgreen reveals that Vogt is taking a leave of absence from Reply All.

This email was shared by Vulture reporter, Nick Quah, on Twitter.

Polgreen also states in the email that the Test Kitchen series was to be Pinnamaneni ‘s last story for the podcast before moving onto other projects within Gimlet.

Pinnamaneni will now be stepping back from the show effective immediately. According to Polgreen, the future of the Test Kitchen mini-series will be decided in the coming days.

“From the moment I arrived at Gimlet, it was clear that our culture needed work, and that there were big things that needed to change to make this a better, more equitable place,” Polgreen said in the email.

“We have spent a lot of time working to make those changes in partnership with many of you. These events are a reminder of how much work remains.”

Reply All cancels the Test Kitchen series

Update 26/02: In a two-minute podcast released Friday morning Australian time, Reply All’s Alex Goldman said that while existing episodes would not be pulled down, the remainder of the investigative series will not be broadcast.

“We now understand that we should have never reported this series as reported, and the fact that we did is a systemic editorial failure,” Goldman said. “We are not going to be continuing this series, and PJ and Sruthi have decided to leave the Reply All team.

Goldman also apologised to those who spoke to Reply All for the Test Kitchen series, since those experiences will not be aired.

“We plan to find a way to get to the bottom of what went wrong here, both with the series and our show,” Goldman said, adding that Reply All would be on “pause” while the company investigated its failings. “Once we fully understand it ourselves, we also want to tell you as best we can what happened.”