Bully pulpit: Film offers alternate view on VQR tragedy

It's been over two and a half years since Virginia Quarterly Review managing editor Kevin Morrissey killed himself following what one co-worker described as "the worst week of his life" within the offices of the award-winning literary journal, but the repercussions from this complex and tragic tale are still being felt.

A soon-to-be released documentary on the tragedy, What Killed Kevin?, by New York City-based filmmaker Beverly Peterson, takes a contemplative look at the office dynamics that preceded Morrissey's death and questions the narrative in which VQR editor Ted Genoways is cast as a "bully" and Morrissey and the rest of the VQR staff as his hapless victims.

A recent review of the film in the magazine Psychology Today, however, goes so far as to suggest that it might have been Morrissey, not Genoways, who was the bully.

"Based on the interviews in the film, Kevin’s experience at

the VQR doesn’t remotely resemble what could be defined as bullying," writes the author, Izzy Kalman, a Certified School Psychologist. "In fact, a case could just as well be made that Ted felt bullied by Kevin."

That's a take on the tragedy that has stunned those close to Morrissey. While his former co-workers decline to comment specifically, citing confidentiality agreements with the University, they all express shock at the characterization. Indeed, in previous Hook stories, Morrissey was described by his co-workers as someone who worked hard "to bring people together in the office, to be professional, and to make himself a model for how people should treat each other," and as "an honorable man–- decent, generous, kind, and reliable as sunrise."

As previously reported, accusations of abuse by Genoways began to surface almost immediately after Morrissey's death, both in emails and documents obtained by the Hook, and from former employees of the editor. The story captured the attention of the national media, including the Today Show, as well as advocates in the national anti-bullying movement.

The film, however, finds critics of that version.

Journalism ethics professor Ed Wasserman, who criticizes the Today Show coverage in the film, thinks the Hook, which covered the story extensively, was  "heavily invested in the hounded-to-death story line.

"I'm not convinced," he says, accusing the Hook of not sufficiently questioning the thesis of Genoways as bully and asking whether "the facts, even if solid, are truly emblematic of the realities they’re meant to illustrate."

"Let’s be clear," says Wasserman. "The question is whether there’s good evidence for two propositions: That Genoways bullied Morrissey, and that his bullying brought on Morrissey’s suicide. I don’t see either one."

Unlike the former VQR staff members who worked with Morrissey, Wasserman, basing his opinion on what he's read, sees Morrissey as "a sad, disturbed guy."

The new documentary by Peterson, herself a victim of workplace bullying, began as an investigation into Genoway's alleged abusive behavior, but Peterson says she found herself disturbed by the narrative put forth in the media, and by the way those in the anti-bullying movement seized on the story to advance their own agenda.

“I began this film as an advocate against workplace bullying," she tells Kalman. "But what I found instead was proposed legislation that had turned into a witch hunt, whether or not proof of guilt or innocence had been determined.”

Morrissey's sister, Maria, who has since helped push forward that anti-bully legislation in New York and elsewhere, calls Kalman's characterization of her brother "ludicrous."

"Kevin was a gentle man and a supportive manager much beloved by the VQR staff, and the very opposite of a bully," she says.

Former VQR web editor Waldo Jaquith, who has since gone on to work for the Obama Administration and is featured prominently in the film, early on described his friend Morrissey as one of the "finest human beings I've ever known."

In contrast, over the course of the Hook's reporting, we could find no one who had worked directly with Genoways on a day-to-day basis who had anything positive to say about the experience. In fact, as previously reported, one former employee called him a "dangerous" man who should "not be managing people."

Peterson, however, refuses to take sides.

"The film does not tell people what to think," she says. "Different people have different points of view and that includes Mr. Kalman. Workplace bullying is indeed devastating and the purpose of this film is to create much needed dialogue:  Can workplace bullying be defined? If so, how, and who decides?"

"It's the worst thing you can imagine, being accused of being the cause of a friend's death," says Genoways, standing in his living room with his tearful wife at his side in the film.

In the aftermath of Morrissey's death, a rare investigation into VQR operations was launched by the University. While the final report was critical of Genoways, saying his capacity to supervise and lead his staff was "questionable," and that "corrective action" should be taken with regard to his management style, he was allowed to remain as VQR editor.

However, incoming President Teresa Sullivan, prompted by the VQR tragedy, would launch a "respectful workplace" program designed to promote "kindness, dignity and respect" at the University. Ironically, just months later, Sullivan herself would become the victim of what many believe was a bullying attempt by the Board of Visitors, spearheaded by Rector Helen Dragas, to remove her from office.

"It's very upsetting for me to have to think about how valiantly and doggedly Kevin struggled to be heard," says Morrissey's sister, Maria, commenting on her brother's attempts to get help from the University for the way he felt he was being treated, "only to have everyone he spoke to ultimately say there was nothing they could do without the bully's cooperation."

In Peterson's film, however, both Genoways and his wife suggest that Morrissey needed a different kind of help, and that his sister, and his co-workers, may not have really understood what was going on.

"Kevin's mood could be dark for days, weeks at a time," explains Genoways in the film, "in a way that was not always visible to the rest of the staff."

"We did so much for Kevin," says Genoways' wife, Mary Anne, fighting back tears, "but it was never enough. When he refused to get help, it was a drain, it was exhausting. I wish we could have done more."

Jaquith, too, regrets having not done more, and while in his filmed interview he says there were no clear-cut "bad guys and good guys" in the tragedy, and that there was "plenty of blame to go around" for what happened, he does use the word "bully" to describe Genoways' treatment of Morrissey.

Indeed, as emails obtained by the Hook showed, Morrissey had been in close communication with UVA human resources officials in the weeks leading up to his death–-officials who acknowledged that the situation with Genoways had been "rough for you and your staff" and that "immediate intervention" was needed.

As Jaquith told the Today Show, Genoways' treatment of Morrissey in the last few weeks of his life was "egregious...and just ate Kevin up."

Among Morrissey and other VQR staff members complaints: An early Monday morning email banning Jaquith and Morrissey from the office for a week without explanation; the hiring of a wealthy 24-year old intern who had given over a $1 million to UVA, and placing her in a position of authority; and an often angry management-by-email approach.

Genoways, however, appears to think that Morrissey was misleading his staff.

"Kevin was sinking into a deeper and deeper depression because of false assumptions," says Genoways in the film, "and those false assumptions were being reenforced by those around him who claimed to be his friend, instead of being checked."

Genoways also engages in some fine tuning of the experience of being bullied.

"They feel bullied," says Genoways of Morrissey and the rest of the VQR staff, "but there is a critical distinction between feeling bullied and being bullied."

Peterson's film attempts to show the devastating effect the deteriorating situation in that office had on everyone, including Genoways.

"From now on if someone doesn't like me," says Genoways, "they just have to say I'm a bully. It's one more mark against my name."

Still, as reported in the Hook and elsewhere, Jaquith and the rest of the VQR staff who worked under Genoways have been unequivocal about their feelings toward Genoways.

"If there is an afterlife, Genoways will be punished accordingly," wrote Jaquith on his blog shortly after his former boss resigned. Jaquith was reacting to an early attempt by Genoways, through his lawyer, to suggest that Morrissey may have been stealing money from the magazine, and that his suicide was because he thought he was going to get caught. "That was a disgusting, shameful lie," Jaquith wrote, "as of course the [financial] audit demonstrated.

"Unlike Genoways, I’m from Charlottesville, and I intend to die in Charlottesville," Jaquith continued. "Lying might buy some short-term benefit, but the truth always comes out eventually."

Indeed, as Peterson's film shows, the "truth" can be elusive in a complex tale such as this.

What Killed Kevin?, a film by Beverley Peterson

temp intro wkk.3 from Beverly Peterson on Vimeo.

This story is a part of the Turmoil at the VQR special.


UVA is swimming in a $5 billion dollar endowment, has a private militia, and complete control of local media. They can buy whatever PR they like.

".. what many believe was a bullying attempt by the Board of Visitors, spearheaded by Rector Helen Dragas, to remove her from office. "

Bullying in the workplace - Overused term to protect the unproductive employee's feelings.
Disrespect in the workplace - Overused term to protect the unproductive employee's ego.
Digruntled employee - Idiot who really believes in the 2 terms above replacing the definitions with "It just ain't fair." and "They really expect me to work."

I, too, signed a confidentiality agreement with the university, although I never worked there. It makes one wonder how many of those were generated during the Casteen III&IV/Genoways days. Including myself, I personally know of four people who did not work for VQR nor UVA who were bullied by Genoways.

No one has to say you are a bully Ted Genoways. We can just google it. Can't rewrite history no matter how hard you try. Here's some free career advice. Maybe you should go to another university and get the son of the president's mediocre poems published...oh wait you did that already at uva.

I didn't know Kevin personally. I did meet his sister. It is incorrect to say that the filmmaker does not take sides. Everyone who has seen even parts of the film (as I have, posted on the BullyPulpit blog) has come away with the distinct impression that it favors Genoways. I feel very sorry for the Morrissey family, as I think they must have been blindsided by this.

I have reviewed Beverly Peterson's film for the Huffington Post and weighed in on Izzy Kalman's piece. His suggestion that Kevin Morrisey was possibly a bully was inappropriate and not based on anything depicted in the film; it's unfortunate that the comment, not repeated by anyone else to my knowledge, has been given legs by repeating it here.

What I find far more unfortunate, however, is the villification of a man. Peterson's film demonstrates that he may well have handled matters poorly; nonetheless, there is no evidence that he is to blame for Morrisey's suicide. Even if his actions contributed in part to Morrisey's death, the only person who is ultimately responsible for a suicide is the one who takes his own life. Demonizing Ted Genoways as universally disliked is shoddy reporting, demonstrates a failure to distinguish between "bullying" and "mobbing," (two very distinct social processes; perhaps Morrisey was bullied, but Genoways is clearly being mobbed), and examplifies how readily those who "hate bullies" do not hate aggression. Attacking someone under the cloak of moral superiority always leads to escalating aggression. As this piece demonstrates by its readiness to lay blame exclusively on Genoways, Peterson's film couldn't be more on target.

I too know somebody who had a reasonable (but not certain) case against UVa, who signed the silence agreement and was paid off .I suspect UVa has alot of those -more than other places?, who can say.No one will say. As to VQR, I can't address the sad case.I can say VQR seems to have a loosely regulated/admin'd feifdom because it was convenient to Pres Casteen and cronies to have it that way. Casteen had distinct "old boy" affinities.

"From now on if someone doesn't like me," says Genoways, "they just have to say I'm a bully. It's one more mark against my name."

If the shoe fits, wear it! There is nothing worse than a bully, except a bully who tries to lay blame to the victim(s). Which seems to be the norm for the bullies I've known. They are usually narcissists who are never wrong. Notice the people commenting in favor of the film are not the ones who were actually there in the situation witnessing and/or experiencing the bullying. No silence agreement for them.

Long ago, a fundamental principle of UVA governance became to avoid, deny, and/or squelch bad publicity. Rather than anything Good Mr Jefferson had included in his founding principles.

Was a lot more than getting the president's son's poems published. That fellow started a whole new career midlife and is now a faculty member at a nearby four-year college. Basically, a dream job. Most people are lucky to get any faculty job, much less nearby their home in Central Va., and in the arts.

I would expect more intellectual agility in this town- any time someone dies they are sainted. Step two is looking for someone to blame. Open your mind to more possibilities.
I have worked for and with jerks, and sometimes I let them "get in my kitchen." Ted Genoways seems like a lousy boss, but if everyone with a lousy boss offed himself we sure wouldn't have such high unemployment.

This is rather droll, given how infrequently TG was in the VQR office: "Kevin's mood could be dark for days, weeks at a time," explains Genoways in the film, "in a way that was not always visible to the rest of the staff."

And I believe the e-mails show that KM did try--all over UVA--to get help and never received any.

"We did so much for Kevin," says Genoways' wife, Mary Anne, fighting back tears, "but it was never enough. When he refused to get help, it was a drain, it was exhausting. I wish we could have done more."

Beverly Peterson is a schlocky and opportunistic filmmaker--watch the opening and you will see what I mean. The movie is completely one-sided and pro TG because she was miffed that the staff wouldn't appear in her "movie."

Kevin Morrissey's suicide was a deeply felt tragedy for everyone who knew him and that is clear to any viewer of my film. Few of us make it through life without a similar painful loss and we can sympathize with the sometimes desperate desire that survivors feel to control any messages surrounding this death. Our memories, after all, are really all that still exists for us. 

During my 20 year career I have created several films that explore premature deaths and the lessons we can learn in their wake. One was about a young boy dying of AIDS who I came to know while making a film about him and his Mother. My husband and I adopted Andre shortly after his mother passed and only months before he joined her. So, I too understand how uncomfortable it may be for some to see Kevin's life and death discussed by strangers who - best hope - are seeking to understand a higher truth that impacts all of society.

But keep in mind that within days of Kevin's death the Workplace Bullying Institute embraced Kevin as the Poster Child for their own anti-bullying legislation that will have an historic impact - not unlike sexual harassment laws - on the work relationships of every single employer and employee in this country. Like it or not, the minute the TODAY SHOW linked Kevin's death to alleged bullying by his boss this became the pivotal case on that topic. I was not on the scene then. That was done by Kevin's friends, family and the staunch support of WBI. 

To insinuate that I harbor grudges against anyone who didn't go on camera is bizarre and shows the lengths that some will travel to callously smear the messenger. I fulfilled my promise to everyone in the film to include all of the perspectives involved. In fact, the amazing access and input I had from Kevin's co-workers was more than enough for me to be able to create a much needed analysis of this topic. Some of the people I interviewed will only be seen in the soon to be released interactive version since it allows me to go deeper and broader than a linear documentary. It will also allow me to make public numerous emails, documents etc that are not highlighted in the film to help viewers draw their own conclusions.

Dave McNair is in WHAT KILLED KEVIN, and featured even more prominently in the interactive version. I was glad to let Dave preview the film when he emailed me out of the blue asking to see it. I didn't know he was writing an article and the only input I had was when he emailed again to say that everyone in Charlottesville was upset about Izzy Kalman's Psychology Today article. Kalman's analysis of Kevin as a bully is his own opinion and not something that is even remotely present in the film. In this very article here in the HOOK, Dave mistook the origin of the phrase "witch hunt." It wasn't something I said to Kalman. It's in the film.

Each time someone reviews WHAT KILLED KEVIN the same group of commenters come out to accuse me of slanting the story because I included the very real pain Ted Genoways and his wife feel. Typical comments on this article argue that because I allowed Ted to defend himself against claims that he bullied Kevin to death the film is biased. Really? The Virginia Quarterly Review has a long history as a vanguard of ethics and cherishing truth and pristine journalism -- and celebrating the voices of the marginalized. That is the core belief that I hold deepest in my gut when I make a film. You don't have to agree with anything anyone in any of my films says. And, as ugly as it is, personally attacking me comes with the territory. However, vehemently denying contrary voices and demanding that yours is the only truth is, at least to me, the very definition of the term "witch hunt."

"The Virginia Quarterly Review has a long history as a vanguard of ethics and cherishing truth and pristine journalism..."

But not Ted...your research was shoddy. WBI is an easy target for criticism, the Chronicle of Education not so much. Even UVA had to concede that his "managerial practices" were very questionable. You should have dug deeper.


"VQR has a long history as a vanguard of ethics...pristine journalism" What? Hardly anyone subscribed to or read it. Every journalistic outlet that has been around more than a decade trumpets the same wordy, trite BS about their supremacy. Little Casteen was published in it and where is he now? In the ivy halls of the make-believe world of college.

Much like documentary filmmakers sit in the play world of filmmaking, VQR sits in the play world of academia. By not being popular or highly marketable, one can retreat to the title of being cutting-edge or "at the vanguard." We are intellectual; the Farrelly Brothers are buffoons. Beverly, there are those who will dispute the first line of your post: it was not a tragedy felt by "everyone"...not by Genoways. However, Genoways and his wife add comic relief to this film: such a self-superior subject like Ted is reduced to a teary soundbite on film, like some bawling commoner at a murder scene who has a mike stuck under his nose on the news-at-six. Oh, he does have feelings after all!

Mental illness is certainly at the core of suicide; it is carried out by one person. Whether you can cast all of the blame on that person is another issue. This sounds like another effort to "nuance" a subject and refuse to judge an issue. Genoways is what he is. Please don't parade some teary wife and some retrospective creep to humanize an animal.

Sure, there were other people in the office mistreated by Genoways who went on to success; they all did not kill themselves. But does every overwieght middle-schooler with acne who is called a fat pig on a daily basis fail in life? Not at all; however, it does not make those who inflict the torture any less of human beings because of the outcome.

R.I.P.: Jeff Conaway

Apparently the author of the Psychology Today article concluded that Genoways was falsely painted as a bully based solely on the content of this very subjective documentary. Here's a link to the article:


If you are interested in a less nuanced narrative of what occurred, you may want to check out this case study, published by the Journal of Case Studies, which includes many details missing from the film:


The more I read these comments the more it strikes me that there is absolutely no fundamental difference between "a bully" and many of the commentors chiming in. The virtual blood lust and demonization of a person under the guise of moral superiority are the very tactics that enable a "bully" to form a mob and go in for the kill. Having been a target myself, and paid monumental costs as a result, since studying this issue and the social movement surrounding it, I'm convinced it's one of the most socially aggressive, self-rightous movements out there, attracting rabid haters and mental incompetents who appear incapable of approaching a complex problem through critical thinking and reasoned discussion.

Bullying behaviors are destructive and potentially deadly, they do need to be addressed through a range of tactics and approaches, and those who engage in bullying need to make some changes. So, too, do those who find themselves targets--no conflict, however unequal in power relations, is one-sided. But stopping bullying by destroying people is like waging war to make peace. It's absurd, and so are the attacks against Ted Genoways. To anyone who cannot show compassion to all involved, you very well might take a good long look in the mirror before pointing any fingers, because it's not bullying you oppose, it's bullying certain people. Once you determine someone (who many of you do not even know) is deserving of abuse and destruction, you've demonstrated that as long as someone can be placed in the category of "deserving target" any attack, however aggressive, is considered fair game.

"Rabid haters" and "mental incompetents" because we disagree with you? Huh....interesting analysis.

Not because you disagree with me, but given the vitriolic and immature nature of so many of the comments, mostly by people who have never even seen the film.

A few other notes...
1. Comical that the comments of a "school psychologist" would be introduced to speak about bullying. That is kind of like asking Freddie Mercury about abstinence.

2. Re: Ms. Harper's comments on "the cloak of moral superiority"...Moral superiority is not a cloak if one is morally superior on the point of which one is opining. For example, I have faults and am sometimes immoral, but I can say I am morally superior to Mumia abu-Jamal. I can say that the government of the USA has faults, but is morally superior to the government of North Korea.
This is a small town--not like Seattle or Houston. People know things before they "villify" (sic) a man. If a person believes in certain morals and good/evil, then certain things clearly paint a picture of immorality. This case is a clear picture or immorality, regardless of how "nuanced" the filmmaker wants it portrayed.

3. Did Ted "cause" Kevin's suicide? Of course not. However, Kevin's suicide certainly brought clarity to the warped picture--financially, ethically, morally and administratively--that was VQR under Genoways.
Morals and other "nuancing" aside, this is the story of a jerk who kissed up to his boss, garnered lots of awards for a publication that a only tiny niche audience cared about, practiced nepotism, and left the publication worse off than when he found it. That he did not care about the esteemed service Kevin provided to VRQ so that he let him flounder only ramps up the jerk factor exponentially.

4. Be wary of those casting Genoway's as a "brilliant editor." They might be the same folks clamoring for more government funds for floundering arts projects.

R.I.P.: Officer Danny Faulkner

Ms. Harper,

Charlottesville is a small town and many of us had very unpleasant run-ins with TG, who was well protected behind the coat tails of Prez. Casteen.

As for name calling, your comment hardly rises above it: "I'm convinced it's one of the most socially aggressive, self-rightous movements out there, attracting rabid haters and mental incompetents who appear incapable of approaching a complex problem through critical thinking and reasoned discussion."

And I hardly think that comments in a public forum--free speech!--are the moral equivalent of a hostile and abusive workplace with a boss responsible to no one for his behavior.

Maybe we have more insight into the matter than you realize. Maybe like Ted and Kevin's former co-workers we are limited in what we can say publicly about the inner workings of Casteen's administration. Maybe we aren't-- as you put it--being vitriolic and immature. As far as Ted being a bully, maybe you should consider what the people who actually worked for him had to say:

Molly Minturn
“I have avoided using the term ‘bully’ publicly in the past because I think it is a catchphrase. I think ‘created a toxic work environment’ is more precise. But for Genoways to say, ‘No one with first-hand knowledge of events — not former staff, not university officials — now describes what happened as “bullying,”’ is not true. I hope it will become clear to Ted that I absolutely consider him a bully and many others do, as well.”

Sheila McMillen
...described his behavior as belittling

Candace Hugh (who had worked successfully under Ted's predecessor)
Was pushed out by Genoways in 2005 I believe.

Waldo--well we all know what Waldo thinks.

So at this point it becomes a numbers game. Are all these people lying? Or is Ted? Was this all some conspiracy to bring Ted down? I don't think so. Do I think employers should think twice before hiring Ted into a management role? Based on his past record, absolutely!

*Is* the reporter of this Hook article (or other Hook staff) featured in the film as the filmmaker says in her comment? Shouldn't he disclose that?

26 world,

click on photo number 4.

I finally saw the caption on picture 4. I still think a disclaimer is in order in the article itself, coming from the reporter himself, and not something the reader has to go looking for and *maybe* find. That seems pretty basic.

A teenage first year UVA student committed suicide last week. The coverage so far by the Cavalier Daily makes sure to avoid any mention of why. The Hook and other local media are also staying away from the story, like they did when a student dropped dead inside the SERP House a few years ago. No offense to Kevin Morrissey or those that loved him, but once again we see that some deaths at UVA are "coverable," while others quickly vanish at the behest of the UVA Public relations machine. This usually means that the tragedy was in some way related to something that UVA doesn't want anyone to know about. And around here, they get what they want.

26 world,

Not sure I understand the concern. You can go see the film, hear what I say. What does it have to do with my reporting, past and present?

Seems as though poemspublished is having trouble getting his/ her own poems published. Cue the tiny violins... Could be because your fact checking is rusty...

Sheila McMillen says she can't comment publicly on this case because of the nondisclosure agreement she signed with UVa. (Even though she has posted on this website many times -- and twice on this article -- as "blue damsel.") But there's a simpler way around her gag order than anonymous posts: she should release the recordings of her conversations with Ted Genoways and Tom Skalak.



Dave McNair: copies of those recordings were issued to McMillen at her insistence and (as statements made prior to her severance) would not be covered by the gag order. That would allow her to release hours of conversations explaining her side of the story, would it not? And under Virginia law only one party has to give consent to make a recording public.

But maybe she doesn't want to let those recordings out because of what they contain. Those of us who worked with her inside Skalak's office have heard them -- and everything she had to say about her former VQR "friends" and co-workers when she thought that throwing them under the bus might get her a promotion. That's the real reason McMillen keeps quiet; she knows there are multiple copies of those recordings floating around UVa -- with the sound of her voice angling for Kevin Morrissey's old job.

One last thing, Mr. McNair. You should request the recordings from McMillen if only to hear what she had to say about you. I wonder what you'd think about her then.

PS--The Hook's motto is "You can handle the truth," right? I'll believe that if the moderator resists deleting this post.

@Enough While the tone of your comment concerns me, many have indeed heard the tape. She did speak about McNair, and also said my film would never be made. Portions of documents, emails and audiotapes etc I gathered from a variety of sources while researching the film will be available in the interactive version of the documentary that will be released in a few weeks.


No, I am not going to delete your post, though I should point out that runs the risk of violating our policy on "posting unverified and/or potentially libelous allegations." If you are indeed a UVA employee, with access to the goings on in Mr. Skalak's office, I assume you are aware of the risks of posting something like this. Why you think that Ms. McMillen is posting as "blue damsel" is curious to me as well, as even we are not aware of the identity of those who wish to post anonymously on our website, such as yourself, outside of an approximate location indicated by the commentor's IP address.

I've spoken to Ms. McMillen a number of times during the course of my reporting, and I have spoken to her co-workers at the VQR about her and her comments and about her version of events. I have also known Ms. McMillen for a number of years, as a teacher, writer, and contributing editor/reader to the VQR. I have no reason to question anything she has told me. That said, I welcome any information/tapes you would like to share with me. Please feel free to contact me directly.


434-295-8700, ext. 239