Friends: it’s been a real shit week. Our house-on-fire of a parent company, Univision, tried to lay off a huge chunk of Gizmodo Media, part of their latest, totally coherent business strategy. Through months of negotiation, our union turned those attempted layoffs into generous buyout offers. Still, everything sucks, and a lot of our favorite people have left over the last few days.
Nobody knows how purely everything sucks better than Brendan O’Connor, who will be departing his role as a reporter on the Special Projects Desk. In August 2016, during the last round of tramautic work situations we struggled to explain to our therapists, Gawker was murdered by a vengeful billionaire. At the time, Brendan was a Gawker staff writer. He asked to be moved to Jezebel, where a phalanx of baffled people greeted him: who was this cis straight white dude who loved soccer and, apparently, our content? Why was he here? How hard could we troll him before he got genuinely mad?
On the last question, we never found out. We teased him about everything: his love of soccer, his love for the Democratic Socialists of America, the incredibly boring pontifications about Marx he seems to subject his girlfriend to on a regular basis, the way he answers the phone (incorrectly), and the uncontrovertible fact of his being such a freaking dude. And yet: Brendan took the semi-gentle ribbing of the Jezebel staff with aplomb, returning it with sincere allyship and photos of his cat and repeated invitations to DSA meetings, which we politely ignored. When he and I both moved to Special Projects, I continued, for a while, in my vain attempts to troll him, before realizing his impenetrable good-naturedness would make it impossible. We would just have to be friends. Ugh.
Throughout it all, Brendan did great work, both during his sojourn at Jezebel and during his time at Special Projects, where he chased down white supremacists running weird fake companies, revealed the existence of the Trump administration’s far-right Bible study group, and somehow found time to write a sweeping, extreme bummer of an essay on the resurgence of fascism in America and the people working to counter it, and drop this monster on his way out the door. (He’s fun.) And he was the dedicated and tireless co-chair of the GMG Union, fighting every day to make our work environment functional.
Brendan, and I am as surprised as anyone to be saying this: you will be sincerely missed. Here are some remembrances from your colleagues.
Brendan and I went to college together, where we spoke at least a few times, and then we worked at Gawker Media/GMG together, so in a way, we are siblings. It pains me to compliment someone who is so irritatingly confident that before the solar eclipse he literally told me he was just gonna look directly at the sun (“I played baseball”), but in the time I’ve known him Brendan has grown into an incredibly driven, passionate, and talented reporter and an extremely supportive friend and colleague.
After Gawker was destroyed by a malicious billionaire, Brendan—ally to women—eagerly joined Jezebel, where he was relentlessly trolled every day and referred to, lovingly, as “Brenda.” Which is fucked up in a few different ways, now that I’m actually writing it out, but I think he likes it. Anyway, he answers to “Brenda” now, if you ever run into him.
I am supposed to own Brendan, which should be easy, because he is a man who is dangerously defying his destiny by becoming a great reporter rather than the sorta hip freshman history teacher who gradually turns every conversation into a furrowed-brow chat challenging your received notions about socialism. But the truth is, Brendan has pulled off the ultimate own: He helped convince me to get more involved in the GMG Union, where his commitment, dedication and perseverance (some may say occasional, polite mulishness) has been a real force for good in this company. This week sucks, but it would have been a lot worse without a strong union that Brendan has helped maintain. Having successfully gotten me personally invested in the struggle, he is now leaving. BRENDAN, GODDAMMIT.
When Brendan first came to work at Jezebel he very sheepishly told me that he was a big fan of Moe Tkacik’s infamous tampon story, and also of Tracie Egan Morrissey’s extensive archives, which encouraged me to give him a pass on being a man, because apparently, he was original Jez all the way.
Brendan O’Connor (born 23 January 1970) is an Irish media personality, columnist, comedian and retired pop star. He presented The Saturday Night Show on RTÉ One from 2010 to 2015, he is also known for his columns in the Sunday Independent newspaper. He is also editor of the newspaper’s Life Magazine.
Oh wait, that is the wrong Brendan O’Connor. I am sorry, comrade. We will miss you popping into Slack with your socialist propaganda agenda. Bye Brenda.
I have been on a small team with Brendan for the last year and a half. I’ll never forget the time Brendan wound up in the middle of an alt-right brawl and I only found out when he wrote about it weeks later. This led me to believe that was just a typical weekend for him.
I can’t believe Brendan died from trying to write impenetrable jargon into all of our union statements. I had no idea you could die from that, but I guess it’s a good lesson to all of us.
While it pains me to say anything nice about a man, let alone Brendan, I really only have nice things to say about him. Brendan and I had the absolute misfortune of working as the weekend editors of Jezebel and Gawker (RIP) respectively. It’s hard to impress on anyone how thankless that job is, but Brendan was good company, especially when commenters spent the weekends yelling at us for company drama well beyond our control. After Gawker was killed, he moved to Jezebel where he endured our endless (and very good) jokes at his expense; he wrote some good blogs and outraged America with his take on Mike Pence’s dead dog. Brendan is a smart reporter and I’ll miss working with him, particularly on our union’s bargaining committee where he was both passionate and patient. I’ll especially miss the pleasure of watching Anna own him on a semi-regular basis. I won’t miss hearing about the DSA or the importance of organizing techniques.
I was surprised when I learned that Brendan lives on Central Park East and manages a vast portfolio of extractive mineral company stocks but that’s just how Brendan is: a capitalist to the bone, constantly in search of the next investment, always seeking to maximize value for major shareholders. See you on the political prisoner cell block my man.
I would say that I’m uniquely qualified to roast Brendan, but in general I think it’s very good that he exists so I’m not going to be a total asshole on his last day. I will, however, make him uncomfortable! Before I actually met B nearly two years ago, based on some of his old Gawker blogs, I pictured him to be a bit of an intimidating, self-assured asshole. Thankfully, I learned very quickly that most of my preconceptions were wrong — notably, when on our second date, I went to the bathroom and came back to find him half-out of his chair, playing with a stranger’s baby, which is an objectively weird thing to do — and that he’s one of the few reporters who can write these incredibly smart, discerning pieces, and isn’t secretly a total prick.
It’s been remarkable, having sat next to (or close to) Brendan over the past few years, to witness his growth as writer and reporter, from documenting the contradictions of New York City real estate, to becoming a meme, to investigating the far right. And it’s been inspiring to see his leadership within the GMG Union, where he’s helped guide its anxious members through and around the existential turmoil that has come to define this industry.
I’m also happy, though, because Brendan needs a break. The destruction of Gawker changed him, radicalized him, even as others resorted to apathy and resignation. And he continued to work, at the scene of the crime, for the next two years. You would be exhausted, too. Changing the way things are is an energy-intensive task. So I hope Brendan is able to regroup and recharge and refocus, and then some.
I am loathe to speak so effusively and kindly of a man, especially a cisstraightwhiteman who for months has tried to recruit me into the DSA. (I’ll vote that way, but I’m NOT going to any meetings, brah.) But I must, unfortunately, do so now, as we lose our beloved Brenda O’Connor, keeper of the red bandanna, one of the GMG Union’s superforces and a man who, when Gawker was bankrupted by a Trumpite billionaire, actually requested to be placed at Jezebel because he really just loved a piece we published about periods. (I can’t recall which one, but he was SO earnest about it.)
That wasn’t the day I realized that Brenda—his Jezebel moniker—was one of the good ones (actually, when he told me the thing about the periods, I was perhaps a bit more skeptical about him). In January 2017, almost the entire staff of Jezebel had traveled to Washington to cover the inauguration. Upon our return, right about the time we were pulling into a Waffle House, he said something so fully in support of women and yet so unseeking of praise or recognition for doing so that the entire van, including Anna Merlan, Kelly Stout, and myself, was rendered speechless.
Unfortunately, the span of time since that day has zapped my memory as to its substance, but I remember that it happened (these guys can back me up) and we then forever accepted Brenda into our cabal.
Of course, he later fucked up all our goodwill by pointing out and expounding upon the PRIVATE ALL BOYS PREP SCHOOL he attended in New Jersey as we drove by it (EYEROLL), but those two incidents formed my impression of a pretty good dude: a righteous person in it for the right reasons, and someone who will forever allow the women of Jezebel to dunk on him mercilessly with nary a peep back. Now THAT is allyship!
[Editor’s note: I remember exactly what he said and how genuinely moving it was and will never repeat it lest we encourage him. - AM]
Back in 2017, Brendan, Maddie, Anna, Julianne, and I drove to DC for the cursed inauguration of Donald Trump and I, for some reason—I guess because I was sitting in the front seat—agreed to feed him, one of only three Jezebel Men, a slice of pizza while the car was in motion. What the fuck? Could we not have stopped for like one second to eat a slice of pizza? It was degrading and also a hazard to ourselves and the other drivers on the road. And yet, I couldn’t help but totally love Brenda.
This was a friendship I did not necessarily see coming. But when we started ordering the same sandwich (Eisenbergs’ the Jake, if you must know) for lunch a lot, and then using the walk to pick them up to talk about the mob, capitalism, and my dogs, I realized we had aligned world views. When we worked together on the GMG Union (join a union; if you don’t have one build one!) we developed a way to wordlessly agree, from across the room, that what we were hearing from some member of Matchbox Twenty or the other was total bullshit. He gave me good hugs when I was crying and gave my dog Louise walks she was crying. He didn’t even get mad when she peed on his rug! The best part of all was editing his stories, though. Brendan is a smart, thorough, sensitive reporter with the smallest ego of any man I’ve ever worked with. He is completely inexhaustible, with the ability to keep tons and tons of corrupt characters straight in his head. There are so few people with the investigative appetite that he has, and it’s been a gift to watch the arc of his career develop.
Except for his blogs about soccer. That has been boring for me.
Brenda’s advice is usually to tell the truth, to be a straight-shooter, and to do the right thing. I think there are only so many times in our lives when we make a best friend at work, and I feel so lucky to have made one. If this all sounds too sappy, fret not; I am saving my best burns for the toast I intend to give at Brenda’s future wedding to Jane Mayer. Here’s to you, Brenda, a whale of a colleague!
In a newsroom full of unnervingly intense people, Brendan was perhaps the most intense and the most unnerving. I imagine anyone who’s ever had a story meeting with him can picture him sitting there, hunched over, various parts of his body in motion as if there was no other way to stop himself from leaping across the table, with an expression that read that he did not believe a word you or anyone said and that nothing could make him do so. I am glad that he mostly directed this into interrogations of neo- and crypto-fascism and racial capitalism and confrontations with management, partly because this involved him exposing the truth and doing good but mostly because I didn’t end up getting killed. Fuck Spurs.
Tom Scocca, Former Managing Editor, Special Projects Desk, Current Editor of Hmm Daily (launching July)
Sometimes, as an editor, the most important thing you can do is learn from a writer as you think through pieces together. With Brendan, one of the most important lessons was much larger than the piece itself. We were talking one over—I can’t begin to remember what it was—in quick blurting bursts of talk, stretched out between long, arduous spells of ruminative silence. At each sticking point, Brendan would tip his head back and roll his widened, pale eyes upward, as if through sheer force of thinking he could knock the right phrasing down from the ceiling pipes. With sudden uncanny force, looking through my own widened, pale eyes, I realized: oh, hell, that’s how I stall for time, too—and if we’re both doing it, back and forth, we’re gonna look like the most ungodly dipshits. I lowered and narrowed my eyes and started talking to fill the dead space. One person doing that shtick was enough.
John Cook, former Special Projects Editor, Former Executive Editor Gawker Media, former Editor in Chief, The Intercept, former Editor in Chief, Gawker.com, Current New Jersey Dad
The first email Brendan ever sent to me was in May 2013. It was:
This is a great event that The Nation Institute is hosting. Please find the information below. The Facebook event page is here.
We were wondering if Gawker could co-sponsor the event, which would include promotion on your website and outreach to your event list serves. In return, we will list Gawker as a co-sponsor, as well as display any literature that you would like to make available.
Please let me know if you are interested in co-sponsoring and/or live streaming the event. Thanks!
I never responded. Sorry Brendan! Here are some other emails Brendan sent me, prior to joining Gawker:
“Hey John, for sure. This week is iffy as I’m at Rolling Stone and it’s never certain when I’ll be able to go. (Magazines, man.) I’m free on Friday and all next week, though. Also happy to do coffee if that’s more convenient for you.”
“Hey John! Let me know if you’re free to meet up after work tomorrow. Otherwise I’m free next week.”
“Hey John. Don’t mean to be a pest but just thought I’d check in again. Looking forward to meeting you!”
“Hey John, shall I just swing by Gawker HQ at 5:30?”
“Hey John! Great meeting you yesterday. I’m working on a few pitches to send you early next week. I’ll also keep an eye out for an email from Max.
Enjoy the long weekend!”
Put together a couple feature ideas for you to look over when you get a chance.
Thanks again for having me help out this weekend, I really enjoyed it.”’
“Hey John! Saw the news about the Recruits program. Was just wondering if this changes your hiring strategy w/r/t the weekend editor position and/or commissioning freelance pieces. Let me know! Thanks.”
“Hey John. Hope you enjoyed your week off. Let me know if you are free to talk assignments / subsites anytime this week. I am pretty much free until Friday.”
“Hey John! Just wondering if you have a sense of your schedule tomorrow and when you might be free to talk?”
“Hey John. Wanted to congratulate you on the new gig. I’m really excited to see what kind of trouble you all can get into over there.”
“Hey John. Heard you’re hiring angry young journalists who hate phonies and liars and love dick jokes. I’m definitely interested in working at The Intercept, so please keep me in mind as you’re thinking about hiring.”
“Hey John. Think you were in a meeting when I left, so just wanted to thank you again for thinking of me to work on this story with y’all. Hopefully we can do it again sometime!”
“Hey John! Hope you had a good holiday weekend. Just wanted to preemptively raise my hand if you are thinking ahead to hiring any researchers to help out with the new Gawker project. Even if you’re not, I’d still really like to hear more about it! So maybe we can get coffee sometime soon.”
I encourage any and all hiring managers to get coffee soon with Brendan, a polite and diligent young man.