Between 2016 and 2019, Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg used her political clout to bury two news stories about a restraining order filed against Activision Blizzard exec Bobby Kotick, according to a bombshell report this morning from The Wall Street Journal. Sandberg was dating Kotick at the time.
For the past three decades, Kotick has sat at the helm of Activision Blizzard, which has been at the center of a series of lawsuits alleging a deep-seated culture of harassment, abuse, and discrimination. Per Journal reporting from last November, Kotick didn’t just know about all the mistreatment happening at the company—he was also reportedly shitty to women himself. In February, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing subpoenaed Kotick’s criminal record as part of its ongoing investigation into Activision Blizzard.
In 2014, an unnamed ex-girlfriend of Kotick filed a temporary restraining order against him in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleging, according to the Journal’s reporting, “that he harassed her at her home.” She initially wanted a longer-term injunction. But the order, which prevented Kotick from coming within 100 yards of her, was pulled from court records three weeks after it was filed, reportedly at the request of both parties. The unnamed ex now states that she filed the restraining order under false pretenses.
“I told the Wall Street Journal that what I said eight years ago about Bobby was false. It is still false. In fact, in 2014, I signed a sworn statement making clear that what I had said was untrue,” the woman told Kotaku through a representative.
This is where Sandberg, who’s known for running ops at Meta (née Facebook)—and for writing Lean In, a book about empowering women in the workplace, and running an organization by the same name—comes in. In 2016, per the Journal, the Daily Mail, which had obtained a copy of the order, planned to run a news story about it. Sandberg reached out to the Mail to say the woman had retracted her statement. The Mail did not publish a story.
The Mail, according to the Journal, planned to publish a story about the order again in 2019, at which point Sandberg reached out again. And again, the Mail did not publish its story. According to the Journal, Facebook is currently reviewing Sandberg’s behavior to see if she violated company policy in reaching out to the Mail.
The exact nature of communication between Sandberg and the Mail is in dispute. Citing sources who have remained unnamed but are familiar with the matter, the Journal relayed a game of telephone in which Kotick told the Mail that Sandberg said publishing a story could put the publication’s “business relationship” with Facebook in jeopardy. (Facebook is a prominent source of traffic to news publications.) Kotick and Sandberg, who dated from 2016 through 2019, regularly traded PR tactics.
With every situation like this, there’s always some element of yakety sax, however. Take, for instance, this nugget from the Journal’s report: “In 2016, Mr. Kotick forwarded an inquiry from a Journal reporter to a Facebook employee who worked for Ms. Sandberg, among others. He inadvertently copied the Journal reporter on the email.”
Representatives for Sandberg did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Kotaku. When reached for comment, representatives for Kotick sent over this statement, attributed to Activision’s board of directors and pasted in full below:
The Board has been aware of the circumstances reported involving an incident in 2014. Around the time of the incident in 2014, Mr. Kotick notified the senior Independent Director of the Board, has subsequently updated the full Board and has been fully transparent with the Board. The Board, through its counsel Skadden Arps, has done a thorough examination of the facts and circumstances of the events, satisfied itself that there was no merit to the allegations, and notes that they concern a personal relationship that has nothing to do with the business of the Company. The Board continues to have full confidence in Mr. Kotick’s leadership and his ability to run the Company.
Activision Blizzard was recently scooped up by Microsoft for an earth-shaking $68.7 billion, for which acquisition talks began three days after the Journal’s big report last November. Microsoft hasn’t said whether or not Kotick will remain in his position after the deal goes through next year. You can read The Wall Street Journal’s report in full right here.