The story of the death of VQR Managing Editor Kevin Morrissey two weeks ago has become a topic of great interest. The Chronicle of Higher Education today features a weighty investigative piece entitled “What Killed Kevin Morrissey?”. Author Robin Wilson repeats claims that magazine editor Ted Genoways is rarely at work, that he has left his staff completing much of his duties, and that years of bullying Morrissey culminated in the employee’s suicide. (Genoways denies the charges.) And over at C-Ville Weekly, Brendan Fitzgerald updates his coverage with basically a whole new layer of the story, reporting that Genoways is now directing inquiries to an attorney.
I must again point out that I am one of the four people on the staff of VQR working for Genoways, and that it remains awfully uncomfortable for me to write about this here. Based on the sheer volume of press inquiries I’ve been getting from local and national media outlets in the past two weeks, we can expect to see quite a bit more coverage of this story in the days ahead.
39 thoughts on “Morrissey’s Death Under Media Investigation”
Wow, this story gets curiouser and curiouser. Still can’t get my head around it. I mean it’s a small staff, right? So how does this one guy allegedly have so much control? No offense, but the atmosphere sounds almost cult-like. Like a Scientology cell, or Hitler’s inner circle in the bunker. Or maybe it’s because this is such a cool, awesome, prestigious place to work and be associated with. Like working in the West Wing or something. I’m sorry, I just can’t grasp the hold he would have. If things are that bad brother…I walk, no matter what it is.
I think that’s a reasonable point, and on reflection, I think there are a few things that I feel comfortable saying in response.
First, you’re confusing Kevin Morrissey with the rest of us there. In fact, I gave notice of my resignation three weeks ago, four days prior to Kevin’s death. Why? Because, as you said: if things are that bad, I walk.
Second—speaking to the article’s allegation of a bully/bullied relationship—you disregard the psychology behind dependence and abuse. (Suicide is, after all, inherently illogical, provided one separates it from euthanasia.) Millions of women are in abusive relationships. Why don’t they just leave? Because it’s not that easy for them.
Third, Kevin was in a tight financial spot. Kevin had one very good, very specific, very marketable skill: running the operations of a publishing house. Having purchased a condo downtown in 2007—at the peak of the bubble—it wasn’t possible for him to sell his apartment to take a job elsewhere. (Many thousands of dollars in cash would have been needed to pay off the mortgage.) And there aren’t exactly a lot of publishing houses looking for managers around Charlottesville. So quitting would have meant unemployment, bankruptcy, and humiliation.
One final point. Kevin, Molly, Sheila and I have worked together for two and a half years. We celebrate one another’s birthdays, have dinner at each other’s houses, and go out socially regularly. Molly’s young daughter knew Kevin as “Uncle Kevin.” For any of us to quit our job, we would also be giving up on spending forty hours a week with dear friends, friends who we would have been abandoning to a difficult working environment.
None of this is to say that suicide is a sensible thing to do. Obviously, I believe exactly the opposite. But I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand Kevin’s action over the past couple of weeks, and this is some of what I have come to understand.
Thanks for elaborating Waldo. I think I have a better understanding now. Best wishes to all.
From the Chronicle article, a comment by a suck up intern:
First in the “high stakes, high pressure” world of commercial creativity, an intern’s opinion is worth less than the penny I found under a pile of dog poo.
(and that statement is should also be considered representative of the attitude of the powerful at the top of the career making food chain in the business of commercialized creativity- which is why I included it.)
This is the kind of ego crap that non-creative people hang on other non-creative people who work in environments managing the products of other people’s creativity.
It’s also the kind of thing that allows people to look the other way or ignore a lot of workplace abuses that would not be tolerated in any other industry other than one successfully selling creativity and related product.
From the Chronicle Article:
This is exactly the type of behavior I’m talking about. It’s unacceptable to ever scream at a subordinate. The nature of this behavior IS abusive. There is no excuse for it. It is never constructive, should never happen, and should be grounds for termination immediately.
And if you’ve ever worked in the Film Industry (as I have) you see it all the time. Usually in Non-creative (but occasionally creative) people, in high pressure situations, who’ve attained their positions and reputation by their ability to deliver commercially successful product from the efforts of creative people. Their skill is simply the artistry of “smoke and mirrors” and the ability to think 10 steps ahead of everyone else.
That is exactly the reason that people put up with this type of grossly abusive behavior. Because every day they can tell themselves there are 100’s of other people that would kill (figuratively speaking) for the job. Plus as Waldo pointed out the financial aspect of Morrissey’s situation, coupled with his chronic depression, effectively locked him into an untenable situation.
The problem with Depression is that it makes the unreasonable seem perfectly acceptable. Sometimes, often I think, with depression “anger” that should be turned outward toward those that deserve it is instead changed and turned inward to a self destructive result.
The act of suicide, the way it happens, where it happens, how it happens… it is not haphazard. It is, (in addition to a desire to alleviate severe mental pain), a “final statement” of sorts. With a meaning that is unique to each individual, and that those left living can only guess at.
I didn’t get that impression at all from his comment.
From the Cville Weekly article: They said that Lloyd Snook is Genoways attorney. Isn’t he primarily a criminal defense attorney? If so I think that should speak volumes about Mr. Genoways.
I would add one thing to Waldo’s comment: if the questions are 1) whether Kevin was bullied or in some other way treated inappropriately; and 2) whether the university upheld its obligations to supervise and intervene, then it shouldn’t matter that Kevin didn’t choose to quit. He shouldn’t have to quit. No one should be forced to choose between a hostile work environment and leaving their job.
Thank you Waldo and Brendan for bringing clarity to the widening discourse of these events. These experiences are not about ‘creative types’ or ‘academics’ or even about a ‘star system’ that attracts, rewards, and/or protects abusive behaviors as a trade off for institutional prestige or monetary success. Hostile work environments are a substantive problem that occur on the factory line, the retail service economy, and across a wide array of economic sectors. These events are deserving of scrutiny. But none of this softens, answers, nor fills the profound and tragic absence in the lives of this community.
You’re right, I should have been more clear. I was referring to this bit:
The only person over whom Ted Genoways is accused of having a great deal of control is Kevin Morrissey. The point that I want to make clear here is that—speaking only for myself—I control my own life, and had no problem resigning from VQR when I believed it to be necessary for my own well-being.
Will Jennings wrote:
True they are a substantive problem in a wide variety of work environments.
However you are absolutely wrong in that in none of the work environments you mentioned as quoted above are frequently “screaming” at a subordinate considered acceptable or appropriate behavior.
The only places these behaviors are considered acceptable are in environments that attract, reward, and/or protect abusive behaviors as a trade off for institutional prestige or monetary success.
You wouldn’t find frequently “screaming” at a subordinate on a factory line, or in a retail service business.
You could find bullying and abusive behavior but it would take a much different form, something less aggressive.
And that “point” as you made it- seems to me to be a very damning commentary on the work environment as created by Mr Genoways at the VQR.
“You wouldn’t find frequently “screaming” at a subordinate on a factory line, or in a retail service business.”
You sure about that? I gather you’ve never worked in a restaurant.
No, never worked in one, but I’ve been a frequent customer in plenty of them.
And I know enough about the business to know screaming at a co-worker isn’t standard practice.
Unless you’re on one of those reality based tv shows where the whole draw is to watch the lead character/chef verbally abuse his staff, the competitors, and in that instance it stops being a Restaurant situation and starts being an “Showbiz Entertainment” type of situation.
I’m taking a risk saying this by not knowing much about all the particulars, but I hope you’re not resigning as a knee-jerk reaction. Maybe you should stay and take things in a new and better direction. Just my two cents. I’m stifling myself now.
TrvlnMn. Yeah…being a customer really shows you how things work in food and bev. Better than me telling you it happens, perhaps you can just pick up Bourdains “Kitchen Confidential.”
It happens plenty.
One owner on the mall is infamous for his tirades.
I actually resigned several days prior to Kevin’s death, which is to say that it was not a reaction to that. You are quite right—I have been sorely tempted to do just as you describe, but it’s just too hard. Emotionally, mostly. I regret that I can’t (or, really, shouldn’t) say more now, but suffice it to say that many of the factors that made me conclude that I needed to leave are unchanged.
Incidentally, I just want to acknowledge something about this story. As it is awkward for me to write about it here, I know it is likewise awkward for y’all to write about it, since you know that I am personally involved in this emotional ongoing story. There are no solutions that I can offer to this (for either of us), but it’s important to me that I acknowledge that this is difficult for us all.
Waldo, thanks for posting this as well as what you wrote on the VQR blog. I appreciate your courage in telling your side of the story, because without that, it’s just the Ted Genoways show. And thanks for putting Kevin’s suicide in the greater context of feeling trapped by the combination of his financial obligations, his love for his colleagues–and dear friends–on the VQR staff, and the unlikelihood of finding a similar job in Charlottesville. From what I’ve been reading about the effects of workplace bullying, it’s similar to domestic abuse in that the target feels like they have no where to go, or that leaving would be as bad or worse than staying. As Brendan so perfectly put it,”No one should be forced to choose between a hostile work environment and leaving their job.”
What I found most enlightening about the reality of the situation–absent the rhetoric from Ted’s paid contributors–was your statement from the VQR blog:
“Kevin was our point man for coordinating with our designers and our printer, he handled author contracts and payments, he shepherded each issue from concept to finished product. If Kevin had been a normal managing editor, we’d be in a tight spot. But Kevin was not a normal managing editor. He made sure that we all knew what he did and how he did it. He met with us often—more frequently as each issue neared completion—to make sure that we all understood the status of every essay, poem, story, and illustration in the issue. And, just in case, he wrote down all of that information, logging each new edit of each story into a big spreadsheet and every contract into a database.
The result of Kevin’s careful planning is that we are, somehow, ahead of schedule for the fall issue. The issue was left nearly complete by Kevin, finishing it will require only some final copyediting passes, a few rounds of revisions with the designers, and getting it off to the printer.”
Quite a different picture than that painted by Elliot Woods: “Mr. Genoways ran the magazine almost single-handedly.”
One final note, I spoke with the university on Friday to confirm the claim Ted made to the reporter for the Chron article: “Mr. Genoways told The Chronicle that the university had already “reviewed all the allegations being made against me and found them to be without grounds.” They assured me that the review is most definitely still ongoing. Hopefully they will put out a statement to that effect next week.
Waldo, thanks for your continued coverage. I know it has been awkward–painful might actually be a better word. Is it ever possible to be a journalist and not be part of the story in some way? Your dedication to your friends and to your work really shows, and I want to say how much we appreciate it.
Dear Mr. Jaquith,
Has the university made any effort to try to convince you to stay?
Also, I’m confused about the number of staff who resigned. Was it more than just you?
Thanks for this important and enlightening post.
Yes, much of what I do is as a criminal defense attorney. Certainly, what I do that gets my name in the papers tends to be criminal cases. I also handle personal injury cases, whether the injuries are caused by car accidents, assaults, domestic violence, slip-and-fall cases, civil rights violations, computer trespass or libel and slander. I also advise people on employment law matters, construction contracts, and consumer disputes. I write wills and incorporate businesses. I litigate boundary line disputes, and do just about everything except bankruptcy and tax matters.
Mr. Genoways is not under any criminal investigation. Period.
One reason that I have been handling press inquiries is that Ted takes seriously the absolute requirement to maintain confidentiality on matters pertaining to University employment matters. Even when he is under attack by those who are not bound by, or are not willing to adhere to, the confidentiality requirements, he is trying to follow the rules.
The article in the Chronicle of Higher Education contains a LOT of factual errors, and we have been consulting with the University about addressing those errors. However, consistent with the confidentiality policy, if there are corrections about matters that pertain to University affairs, we expect that the University will make those corrections.
Ted Genoways will explain himself to the University at the appropriate time, but we will not be litigating this in the press.
Yes, Mr. Snook. A LOT of factual errors, such as Ted’s assertion that the university had already “reviewed all the allegations being made against me and found them to be without grounds” for starters. Perhaps you might advise your client to be slightly more circumspect in making statements that can be easily disclaimed by the parties involved.
I look forward to Ted Genoway’s explanation of why he exiled Kevin from the office for one week for “unacceptable workplace behavior” and forbade him to speak to his colleagues. I look forward to Ted’s explanation of why he accused Kevin of ignoring “someone asking our assistance with saving [a journalist in Mexico’s] life” when that journalist never asked for help of any kind. I look forward to Ted’s explanation of why he attacked my dead brother and expressed not the slightest hint of remorse or introspection in his letter to “undisclosed recipients” dated August 1, 8:48 p.m.
Bring it on, Mr. Snooks. Bring on ALL the explanations. I’ve got nothing but time as the video of my brother spending a week at home feeling humiliated, anxious and alone plays through my mind… as the video of him reading that email from Ted on the morning of July 30 accusing him of nearly causing the death of a Mexican journalist plays through my mind, followed by the video of him typing his suicide note shortly thereafter, printing it out and putting it,his will, and a gun in a bag, and walking to the coal tower to put a bullet through his brain plays on an endless tape loop in my mind.
Bring. It. On.
I’m afraid that I’m not comfortable talking about that. I can say that the university community has been very helpful, that the new department for which I’ll be working has been very enthusiastic about getting me to work there, and I see many reasons why I should continue to work for the university.
I wouldn’t be comfortable talking about others on this topic. I’m sorry.
Also, I should point out that Lloyd Snook and I have been acquainted for a long time. Both of us have been active in local politics, served on our party’s steering committee, and been involved with the same political campaigns. I’ve written about Lloyd’s cases on cvillenews.com before, and he’s commented on this site when the topic interests him, beginning nearly a decade ago. I know that Lloyd and I agree that everybody dealing with legal problems deserves an attorney, and that attorney has the obligation to provide his client with zealous representation. There’s nothing wrong with that!
“No, never worked in one, but I’ve been a frequent customer in plenty of them.
And I know enough about the business to know screaming at a co-worker isn’t standard practice.”
Yes, it is. In retail and the kitchen it’s all yelling, all the time.
And, also, your comment:
Aug 14th, 2010 at 8:07 pm
From the Chronicle article, a comment by a suck up intern:
“Ted is the creative genius responsible for the magazine’s success,” says Mr. Woods, who worked as an intern at the magazine in 2008. “Ted is the fulcrum of the discussions about the future of VQR and, honestly, the future of journalism…. Ted is the star at the center of VQR’s constellation of writers, poets, and photographers.”
First in the “high stakes, high pressure” world of commercial creativity, an intern’s opinion is worth less than the penny I found under a pile of dog poo.”
Elliot Woods reported from Afghanistan. Probably about the same time you reached off your couch for another handful of nachos.
That has nothing to do with Genoways pros or cons…just you, talking like somebody who knows something, but doesn’t.
ffj criticizes TrvlnMn for “talking like somebody who knows something, but doesn’t.”
but ffj also writes, regarding TrvlnMn, “Elliot Woods reported from Afghanistan. Probably about the same time you reached off your couch for another handful of nachos.” (emphasis added).
unless ffj knows TrvlnMn extremely well, ffj doesn’t know whether or not TrvlnMn is a nacho-eating couch potato OR someone doing coolio heroic macho work of the kind ffj seems to idolize in Elliot Woods OR someone who, like most of us (including ffj?) who do a little bit of both.
is this not a case of ffj “talking like somebody who knows something [about TrvlnMn], but doesn’t”?
I don’t care if “TvlnMn” walked on the moon with Neil Armstrong.
Bottom line – he said Woods is an intern whose opinion is worth less than dog poo.
Like I said, Woods reported from Afghanistan, Gaza, etc. He’s obviously a little more than an intern. To not be aware of that, or to discount it, means “TvlnMn” doesn’t know what he’s talking about. If he wants to compare that experience to dog poo, he’s a disgraceful person, but I’m not saying he’s doing that.
For my comment to be interpreted as “idolizing” anybody, when all I’m doing is pointing out Wood’s actual real-world experience, is also not based on reality or evidence.
Thanks for your responses. I understand why you don’t feel comfortable disclosing those answers.
I hope your new position goes well.
Maybe Elliot Woods’ opinion of Afghanistan is really valuable, and maybe his contributor’s-eye view of Ted Genoways as an editor of a journal is really valuable, but it’s quite possible that his uninformed opinion of Ted Genoways as a day-to-day office-based boss is not worth a whole lot.
A link and the perspective of the Director of the Workplace Bullying Institute:
I’m getting a whiff of a “wrongful death suit” warming up in the slow cooker. Notice I didn’t say “crock pot”.
“Maybe Elliot Woods’ opinion of Afghanistan is really valuable, and maybe his contributor’s-eye view of Ted Genoways as an editor of a journal is really valuable, but it’s quite possible that his uninformed opinion of Ted Genoways as a day-to-day office-based boss is not worth a whole lot.”
I basically agree with that, though anybody working with any publication will have SOME idea about the day-to-day, though obviously a much different/limited POV than the staff. I suppose TG could put on some kind of act for contributors, but that’s hard to pull off longterm.
What I mostly didn’t agree with saying Woods’ opinion was only worth dog poo…Just nonsense.
I keep seeing myself referred to as a former employee of VQR. For the record, I submitted my resignation on July 26, effective August 6, but rescinded it after Kevin’s death in order to assist in the process of finishing the fall issue. I intend to leave when that is accomplished.
Re: the Restaurant Biz and Screamers.
danpri- You’re right. A customer P.O.V. isn’t enough to say it doesn’t happen. And I don’t patronize the Cville celebrity chef scene. So I was wrong to say it doesn’t happen in the Food and Bev industry.
But if it’s the Chef as “Artiste” scene (where the selection of the menu, and presentation of the food is as much part of the show as the taste), even if it’s only local, then I would still want to put that in a category separate from normal business. Because I don’t think the “Primadonna Chef” environment should qualify as a “Normal” work environment. Everyone is at that restaurant because of the Chef.
I offended ffj with the above comment.
I quoted the pertinent part because I think the 2nd paragraph (in parenthesis)explains my reasoning for making the comment. Which I will now re-iterate.
To those who are “the creative genius responsible for” a creativity based business’s success- even or especially when that person’s role is not a creative role- my quote- the first paragraph is representational of their attitude toward their lessers- in this instance an intern- the average intern- who is by virtue of the title intern- working and doing grunt work for free.
To the “creative geniuses who some how are creative geniuses despite the fact that they’ve never been creative in their life- to those people an intern, regardless of what they later accomplish during in their careers, are at the time they are interns and their opinions are not valued at the time they are interns.
No, I didn’t walk on the moon with Neil Armstrong, but I did work in the Entertainment Industry in L.A. for 12 years, before I decided to hang it up. So yes I’m talking like someone who knows something (with regards to the comments I made) – because I do.
I do not have first hand experience and information regarding the VQR situation – but I have not made that representation either.
And I’m not sure I know what ffj means by Nachos (Corn tortilla chips covered with fake cheddar cheese?- never eat them), but I generally avoid potato chips, corn chips and the like, although once in a blue moon I’ve been known to indulge in a small bag of Doritos.
I botched this paragraph.
It should read as follows:
That should also not be construed that I too think their opinions – generally speaking, are not to be valued. Only just that’s the way it is.
Just to clarify: I interned at VQR in 2008 as an undegrad. I was a 27 year-old undergrad who came to UVA after serving as a combat engineer in Iraq with the US Army. While interning, I was also producing my first story for VQR, with the help of a grant from UVA, about veterans’ reintegration into civilian society. In the two years since then, I’ve reported five additional stories for VQR, including two from Afghanistan. Two of those stories, including the most recent from Afghanistan, are forthcoming, though with the current dilemma at VQR I am unsure of their likelihood of being published.
In January 2009 I went into Gaza on a grant from the Pulitzer Center to write a story for VQR about Israel’s offensive against Hamas, Operation Cast Lead, and its aftermath. The story that resulted, “Hope’s Coffin,” received an Overseas Press Club of America citation in the Madeleine Dane Ross Award category for best reporting in the print medium with a special focus on the human condition.
So, I think it’s fair to say that I’m a bit more than an “suck up intern.” In fact, I am a regular contriutor to the magazine and have been heavily invested in ensuring the magazine’s continued success in the future.
I was saddened by Kevin Morrissey’s death, and I am saddened further by the ordeal that has unfolded around the VQR office in the weeks since. I am also saddened by the fact that hundreds of people who do not know Ted Genoways, did not know Kevin Morrissey, and have no familiarity with any of the VQR staff or contributors or any idea of how the magazine runs, still feel confident analyzing the workplace dynamic and the personalities involved — and with no shortage of vitriol.
Impressive Resume Mr. Woods, and thank you for your service to our country.
An intern is an intern regardless of their age. I’ve worked with people who had law degrees but chose to intern because it was the industry they wanted to be in.
If it wasn’t a comment by a “suck up intern” it still sounded like a “Sucking up” comment. That’s my opinion, I’m standing by it. Knowing your resume doesn’t give any additional weight to the opinion you expressed in the quote you made, used by the Chronicle.
I am curious-
Did you know how the comment was going to be used when you made it?
Did you understand when you provided the comment that Mr. Genoways was being accused of workplace bullying which resulted in the death of a subordinate by suicide as a result of the bullying?
Or did someone without providing any background, just ask you, “what do you think about Ted Genoways?”
God Bless the First Amendment which your service to our country (theoretically) fought to uphold (although with regards to the war in Iraq- I am uncertain as to how).
While I am not “hundreds of people”, I feel comfortable with the opinions I’ve formed and expressed. The dynamics of a high profile lit magazine is not much different than any other type of entertainment company where prestige is one of the factors why people choose to put up with a lot of abuse they wouldn’t put up with at a job with no prestige at all.
I had the pleasure of working with Kevin a few years ago, and I can say without reservation that he was a kind, detail-oriented, fair editor. His level of professionalism and his attention to the smallest details really meant a lot to me as a writer.
I am very sad to learn about his death. Saddest of all is that what’s being lost in all of the scandal surrounding his suicide and his work situation at VQR is the contribution he made to the journal. I keep reading about what an outstanding editor Ted Genoways is (and this is likely true given the magazine’s rising reputation), but a meteoric rise in stature takes the efforts of a team–in this case a team managed on a day-to-day basis by Kevin.
I wish we could hear more about his contributions because having worked with him, I know he made many. Waldo, your description of Kevin’s interactions with the staff around deadlines starts the conversation, but I know I would love to hear more larger-than-life Kevin stories.
Amen to that quote.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say- based on my personal (but unverifiable to cvillenews readers) experience- that I think without Kevin Morrissey, VQR under Genoways alone will tank.
Having witnessed this social/relational dynamic before in very similar workplaces- I’m going to say that Morrissey was most likely the creative person at VQR and Genoways was the P.R.extrovert most comfortable with the Political aspects of running the show- and thus he “Took” and got all the credit for the magazine’s successes.
It wouldn’t have mattered that Morrissey may have done the actual leg work or generated the creative ideas (speculation on my part- based on my experience of similar dynamics in other very similar workplaces) but Genoways had the degree that Morrissey didn’t have- which might’ve made all the difference in institutional public opinion.
Morrissey was older than Genoways. Morrissey had more “practical experience” but without a degree.
Genoways had the youthful face, the degree, and the social skills to create the perception of a “creative genius” where there wasn’t one.
But didn’t Genoways get hired first **”and then”** bring Morrissey on board? If so that should be one item in support of this.
Lloyd Snook wrote:
No. He isn’t. Not yet. But he should be.
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