Conflicting tales: The unfolding tragedy at the VQR
"911," the dispatcher says.
"Hi," says the male caller. "You need to send a police car and an ambulance to the dirt road that runs off Water Street."
"Okay, what's going on?"
"Ah, there's been a shooting," says the caller.
"Okay, how many people are shot?"
The caller hangs up. The dispatcher calls back, gets an answering machine.
"Hi, this is Kevin Morrissey. Leave a message, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can..."
–Transcript of Kevin Morrissey's July 30, 2010 911 phone call.
Nearly three months after Virginia Quarterly Review managing editor Kevin Morrissey took his own life, stories are still being penned about what the tragedy revealed about the troubled inner workings of the award-winning magazine: charges of favoritism, spiraling spending, poisonous tensions between staff members, and the hot-button suggestion that the magazine's editor, Ted Genoways, bullied the 52-year-old Morrissey in the last few weeks of his life.
Documents recently made available to the Hook show that Genoways was burning through VQR's endowment, hiring an intern for a key office role without going through the usual state procedures, and–- perhaps most surprisingly–- planning to take advantage of the intern-turned-employee's million-dollar-plus donation to another program to save his own struggling enterprise.
Meanwhile, as the official UVA investigation into the management of the magazine continues (web update: the report was issued shortly after this story was posted), two recent stories have taken a different tack: casting Genoways, not Morrissey, as the hapless victim of a reckless rush to judgment.
Since Morrissey's July 30 suicide, Genoways has declined interviews (though a long email he wrote to colleagues two days after Morrissey's death was obtained by the Hook), citing the confidentiality inherent in personnel matters and referring
questions to a lawyer. Back in mid-September, however, the Hook again asked Genoways to explain how things had unraveled so disastrously at the magazine, and why he had accused Morrissey of "unacceptable workplace behavior" and banned him (and former web editor Waldo Jaquith) from the office, and from performing his duties as the managing editor, without telling him what he had done wrong.
"I really wish I could answer these questions," responded Genoways. "They're legitimate questions, and there are legitimate answers. But I'm bound by confidentiality."
However, in stories recently published in Slate and C-Ville Weekly (and presumably another one forthcoming in GQ Magazine), Genoways appears to have become unbound. Asked by C-Ville about the alleged bullying, Genoways defended himself.
“No one would be able to conceal this about themselves in this way if there was any substance to what has been said,” says Genoways. “I don’t have one face with authors and another with my staff. I don’t have one with family and friends and another with my staff. It’s just not who I am.”
Genoways appears to have chosen his interviewers wisely. The story in Slate was written by Emily Bazelon, who has famously come to the defense of the six high school students criminally charged with bullying Western Massachusetts high school student Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old ninth grader who hanged herself last January. Prosecutors in Massachusetts allege that months of bullying led to Prince's suicide, but Bazelon has argued that the bullying reports may have been exaggerated.
"It's hard to see how any of the kids going to trial this fall ever could have anticipated the consequences of their actions, for Phoebe or for themselves," wrote Bazelon. "Should we send teenagers to prison for being nasty to one another? Is it really fair to lay the burden of Phoebe's suicide on these kids?"
Replace "kids/teenagers" and "Phoebe" with "Genoways" and "Morrissey," and you have the basic thrust of her take on the VQR story.
C-ville Weekly's take on the story, too, makes no apologies about its intentions. In an accompanying editorial, editor Cathy Harding asserts that Genoways has been "recklessly accused" and touts the paper's 4,410-word account as "more complete that what's come before."
Yet there are things missing from the C-Ville and the Slate stories. For starters, there was no mention of long-time former VQR staff member Candace Pugh, the woman who won a year's salary from UVA five years ago after alleging that Genoways bullied her out of her job at VQR.
Slate's Bazelon slams the Genoways-as-bully theory as starting with a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education and moving on to the Hook and other publications. (Ironically, C-Ville was the first to draw attention to the accusations of bullying behavior at the VQR in an August 10 news story, which mentioned the term "workplace bully" three times.)
Of course, Morrissey took the reason for his decision to end his life with him. VQR staff members describe him as distraught during the final weeks of his life, and some feared he was suicidal, but he provided no specific reasons in the suicide note he left, saying only that he couldn't "bear things anymore." The 911 call, a recording of which the Hook has obtained, doesn't reveal much either, save for the business-like way Morrissey handled his suicide.
"To diagnose someone or render a judgment about causation is almost always a dicey undertaking, even with extensive information," says David A. Jobes, a psychology professor at the Catholic University of America, and a nationally recognized suicide expert. Of course, no one would be speculating publicly on why Morrissey killed himself if it hadn't been for what his act began revealing: questionable emails to staff; a temper tantrum by Genoways after being denied tenure; unrest among past and current VQR staff; and the creation of a fundraising position to which a donor was appointed.
Still, as characterized in those recent stories, Genoways was unaware of how bad things had gotten at VQR, focused as he was on a "bold and urgent plan" to revitalize the magazine's finances and its future–- as well as a Guggenheim fellowship that kept him out of the office.
“There have been multiple reports of the staff individually and collectively going to people in the president’s office in the month before my [Guggenheim fellowship] leave to complain about me,” Genoways tells C-Ville. “I wouldn’t have taken the leave if I knew that there were complaints that severe and that pressing. But I didn’t know.”
"I was really surprised by that quote," says Pugh, who was the VQR's business and circulation manager for over 30 years before, she says, Genoways forced her out in 2005. "Everyone who has worked under him has been to the President's office to complain about his management."
As Pugh points out, Genoways was admonished by the President's office for the way he had treated her after she filed a formal harassment complaint, which resulted in the President’s office handing the responsibility of supervising VQR employees to Morrissey, she says.
"But the harassment didn't stop," says Pugh, who describes it as calculated and incremental. "He would constantly accuse me of, or imply that I wasn't doing my job, or criticize me for things that weren't my responsibility. He obviously wanted me out of the office."
In the end, Genoways succeeded, but only after Pugh had hired a lawyer and negotiated her severance package with a year's salary under the condition that she wouldn't sue. After over 30 years of service, for which Pugh and other long-time employees were honored by the University during a 2001 banquet ceremony, it was not exactly how she had imagined leaving UVA.
"The President’s office just stood by and let it happen,” she says.
In the email to colleagues sent two days after Morrissey's death, Genoways appears to be contradicting his comments to C-Ville about "not knowing," admitting that tensions in the office had begun growing "poisonous" several months before his leave. He also claims that Morrissey's family had told him of the existence of a suicide note blaming him, a claim the family denied and one the actual note showed to be untrue.
“In the last six months, my attempts to conceal the inner conflicts of the office were unsuccessful," Genoways wrote in his e-mail. “And many of you saw or sensed the unfortunate rift that grew up between [me and Kevin]. I don't doubt that these conflicts fed Kevin's depression, but I cannot accept the final blame he laid on me."
Oh, oh, Alana
The VQR story often returns to the young wealthy woman with little or no experience in fundraising who arrived at the magazine last November, and whose family are major UVA donors (she herself donated $1.5 million to a UVA program). In spite of her apparent lack of experience, she nonetheless made a quick rise into a position of authority at the prestigious journal.
In C-Ville, 24-year-old Alana Levinson-LaBrosse admits that Genoways was seeking an exemption from a "legal search" for her position, but the reporter never questions that potentially improper hire. Slate, too, glosses over the apparent breach of UVA procedures.
According to UVA hiring policy, "all University Staff positions must be posted in Jobs@UVa," and hiring officials are "responsible for proactively recruiting and hiring from a diverse applicant pool." Indeed, UVA also has an Office of Equal Opportunity Programs for making sure all UVA departments comply with hiring laws, with the advertisement of open positions being the first step.
Asked why such an exemption was granted, UVA spokesperson Carol Wood says that Levinson-LaBrosse's exemption was based on her "qualifications, prior experience, and familiarity with VQR." Asked to detail the specific qualifications and experience, Wood replied that personnel information was confidential.
A Hook Freedom of Information Act request turned up a document in which Genoways created the position by claiming that UVA's Development Office had failed to raise any money for the magazine despite six years of his entreaties. In May, the development manager position was approved.
Being a wealthy donor would seem to have its advantages in a fundraising job, as Levinson-LaBrosse likely knew other wealthy individuals to solicit, but C-Ville reported that she also "made her editorial interest clear" to Genoways, who “assured me that my value as an employee was greater than a check.”
Though hired on the basis of her qualifications and experience, according to Wood, there appears to be no evidence that Levinson-LaBrosse raised a dime for the VQR during the nine months she was there, or had ever raised any money for an organization, school, or publication other than by opening her own–- or the family's–- checkbook.
In a recent email, Levinson-LaBrosse expressed an interest in taking questions from the Hook, but when asked if she had any past fundraising experience, she declined to respond. However, according to a June 2010 VQR document obtained by the Hook detailing Genoways' plan to transform VQR, Levinson-LaBrosse had managed to find one source of cash: a pile she had already donated.
According to the plan, Genoways wanted to create a new program at UVA called the "Center for Reporting and Research." Moved out of the president's office and over to the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Center would comprise VQR, the currently independent LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph, and the object of Levinson-LaBrosse's $1.5 million largess: UVA's Young Writer's Workshop.
The plan also called for "significant funding" for three directorships, faculty status for the VQR editor, and a $6 million fundraising initiative.
Strangely enough, while Slate's Bazelon revealed the plans for the VQR merger with the Young Writer's Workshop, she neglected to mention it as the object of Levinson-LaBrosse's $1.5-million gift, vaguely pointing out that she'd given "some of her own money" to UVA.
Also missing from the Slate and C-Ville accounts: that the reorganization plan rests on the largesse of Levinson-LaBrosse's father, Silicon Valley tycoon Frank Levinson. According to the plan notes, Frank Levinson has "tentatively committed" $150,000 over three years; and, according to a reliable source, had already cut a check made out to VQR for $75,000 in July.
After Levinson-LaBrosse's position was approved, Genoways basically put her in charge of the transition to the VP's office. However, while Genoways has claimed that the transition had a July 31 deadline, UVA s Wood has said repeatedly that nothing had been finalized, and that it was only one of several ideas being discussed.
According to some VQR staff members, the decision to place the young intern-turned-staffer in such a position of authority over seasoned veterans may have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.
"I feel Alana was a major component in Kevin's despair," says VQR circulation manager/assistant editor Sheila McMillen, "in that he felt he was being shoved out as Candace Pugh had, by an inexperienced intern nearly 30 years his junior, simply because she was rich."
As for the week-long banishment of Morrissey that Genoways ordered, allegedly motivated by a report from Levinson-LaBrosse, Levinson-LaBrosse tells C-Ville that Morrissey and Jaquith were banned "because their pattern of unprofessional and, at times, explicitly rude behavior toward me in the office was preventing us, as a staff, from getting the transition materials together."
"Waldo and Kevin were never rude and unprofessional to Alana," counters McMillen, mentioning that Morrissey had even invited Levinson-LaBrosse over to his house for dinner to try to improve relations. "When I first told her that Kevin and Waldo were banned, she seemed rather shocked and said something like, 'I talked to Ted but didn't mean to get him all mad.'"
VQR staffer Molly Minturn says she never witnessed Morrissey being rude or insubordinate, or ever heard such accusations about him. "To the contrary," says Minturn, noting that Levinson-Labrosse's comments were particularly egregious considering that Morrissey is not here to defend himself, "he always seemed to work hard to bring people together in the office, to be professional, and to make himself a model for how people should treat each other."
What's more, Bazelon reports that Genoways says he consulted UVA Human Resources before sending the email banning Morrissey and Jaquith from the office, a claim that puzzles Minturn.
"I was told explicitly by HR officials, as well as a representative from the President’s Office, that Ted did not consult HR before sending the emails to Kevin and Waldo banning them from the office," says Minturn. "I now wonder where the truth lies."
Minturn and McMillen add that the staff tried to have as little interaction with Levinson-LaBrosse as possible, because she was "extremely" sensitive, a major donor to the University, unaccustomed to working in an office, and because they believed she was reporting to the on-leave Genoways.
"Neither Kevin nor Waldo got in the way of her getting transition materials together," says McMillen. "Alana was just very offended that they asked whether Kevin ought not to be at some of the meetings about the future of the magazine."
Asked about these and other comments from VQR staff, Levinson-LaBrosse said she could not respond to "hearsay."
However, Minturn alleges that Levinson-LaBrosse was aware of Genoways' treatment of the staff, telling Minturn once that she would quit if "Ted treated me like he treated the rest of the staff."
As the C-Ville reports, Levinson-LaBrosse was recently told through her lawyer that her position at VQR was "no longer available" and that she could work in central development or resign.
"Given the fact that the University had stood by while I had been accused of buying my job as a donor at the institution," she told C-Ville, " I did not accept this offer. I resigned.”
"I wonder if [Alana] even realizes what havoc she created at VQR," McMillen says.
So who was in charge?
In the Slate story, Genoways complains that Morrissey made "substantive editorial changes" to the VQR's Fall issue without consulting him.
"This is just not true," says Minturn. "Kevin tried to get Ted's permission about any editorial changes we made while Ted was on leave. Kevin never decided to kill any articles."
Genoways also said that he had "not ceded any of that editorial authority" during his leave of absence. However, UVA spokesperson Wood says that "Kevin was asked to become acting editor in Ted's absence," and McMillen says that Morrissey was to "operate as editor in Ted's absence, with all that implies."
"Ted told us we could make changes, as he didn't want to be bothered with this while he was on leave," says McMillen. "We made some changes because two articles Ted told us were coming hadn't arrived, and there was a big hole in the issue."
Indeed, a July 26 production schedule obtained by the Hook closely matches the version of the VQR currently on newsstands, aside from two long essays Genoways added after Morrissey's death.
Morrissey eventually forwarded the message to Genoways, Slate's Bazelon writes, "but not until 10 days had elapsed. When Genoways realized the e-mail was 10 days old, he wrote to Morrissey, 'Just so I'm clear: Why did it take you ten days to forward a message from someone asking our assistance with saving his life? A period during which you sent or forwarded twenty other e-mails to me?'"
Morrissey would never respond to that email, as it came about an hour-and-a-half before he killed himself. Morrissey's sister, Maria, has said the email was open on her brother's iPhone, but said she couldn't be sure if he had read it.
Bazelon, of course, acknowledges none of the painful irony in what may have been Genoways' final words to his friend and colleague, projecting such urgency about "saving the life" of a journalist in Mexico while his own managing editor prepared to take his.
Again, Bazelon also fails to mention key details. Two days before, Morrissey, Jaquith, McMillen, and Minturn had been assured by the President's chief of staff, Nancy Rivers, that Genoways' treatment, particularly his management-by-email, would cease.
However, Minturn, too, received a testy email from Genoways that same morning, chastising her for not responding to an email from a writer Genoways was sending on assignment to Iraq who was requesting travel money. Given the assurances from Rivers, the tone of the email was disturbing to Minturn, who replied by saying she knew nothing about the details of the arrangement and didn't normally handle contracts anyway.
"After what I've been hearing from HR this week –-the word that the staff has threatened to quit en masse–-my collegiality is a little threadbare," replies Genoways. "So let me rephrase: Please see to it that one of our authors has the money he needs to travel on our behalf."
Shaken, Minturn took the email exchange to the President's Office and HR, where she was unofficially diagnosed with “post-traumatic stress syndrome” by an HR counselor certified in diagnosing such things and advised to go on medical leave. Minturn says she's been somewhat embarrassed about how this has appeared in the press, as if she were so sensitive that one grumpy email from Genoways had sent her crying to HR, but as Minturn explains, it had come after weeks of office tension, and only days after Genoways had been told to stop reprimanding the staff via email.
As for the email from the Mexican journalist, Bazelon makes an even bigger omission: neglecting to mention that it had arrived during Morrissey's office exile. And according to McMillen, Morrissey and Jaquith had at first thought the note–- sent to a general mailbox–- might be a hoax or a scam when they read it upon their return to the office. Ironically, after Morrissey forwarded the supposedly urgent missive, Genoways waited three days to respond with his admonishments.
Ironically, VQR staff say it was Genoways who often withheld information from them about important matters, something Genoways acknowledged to Bazelon. "It's taken me all this time, and the story playing out in the press," said Genoways, "to understand that the staff really meant they didn't feel they were being included in decisions enough."
Indeed, as McMillen told Bazelon, "I wouldn't use the word bully, but he [Genoways] was belittling to us; treating us with contempt, not giving us feedback, not responding to e-mails."
Pugh uses stronger language about her former boss.
“That man should not be in charge of other people," Pugh told the Hook in August. "He’s a danger. I can understand why Kevin did what he did."
The C-ville and Slate stories also present the VQR's financial situation through Genoways' eyes, suggesting that the editor was trying to control operating expenses and cut costs. C-Ville suggests that it was the recession that affected subscriptions and led to the VQR's financial troubles.
What had actually changed was the amount of money being spent on the magazine. In 2002-2003, during former editor Staige Blackford's last year at the helm, the VQR's fiscal year budget was around $200,000. But under Genoways' watch the budget nearly quadrupled, to $796,000 in 2009-2010.
Despite critical attention that included several national magazine awards, circulation had see-sawed and then fallen back to about 2,500, according to circulation manager McMillen (1,650 in subscriptions, 150 complementary issues, and 900 newsstand copies, though McMillen points out that only about 30 percent of those are sold), considerably less than the estimated 4,000 to 5,000 readers the magazine was reported to have had when Blackford retired.
According to McMillen, she and Morrissey had expressed their concerns about the editorial direction of the magazine, which had grown less literary and more grimly topical, as a possible reason for subscription losses.
"Subscription numbers had dropped, but Ted was convinced it was the result of the economic depression," says McMillen. "We were not able to persuade him otherwise."
Under Blackford, the magazine contained a section called the Green Room where Blackford wrote a very small comment about the issue and then proceeded to introduce contributors. Genoways, however, began introducing his own vision for each issue in long essays from the 'Editor's Desk." While VQR had always included some politics and public affairs reporting under Blackford, under Genoways, journalism became an often singular purpose, particularly war reporting. Indeed, three of the last four covers of the VQR feature soldiers carrying weapons.
"I canceled my subscription because the journal was no longer a literary magazine, too topical," says VQR contributor Mariflo Stephens, who now teaches creative writing at Hollins College. Stephens says that three of her collegues at Hollins, also VQR contributors, have canceled their subscriptions as well.
In the last issue of the VQR under Blackford, long-time Sewanee Review editor George Core offers some advice: "Any successful editor of a given quarterly must establish or continue an editorial program (that is largely based upon the history of that magazine) and hew to the line involved."
In her Slate piece, Bazelon says that Genoways was able to pay for international war reporting because "he'd inherited an $800,000 slush fund" from Blackford. However, sources close to Blackford point out that it was a "rainy day fund" that Blackford had managed to save over his 28-year VQR career, with the hope that it would be used to sustain the magazine during tough times.
"The University told me, you have to spend it fast, or we will reclaim it," Genoways is quoted in Slate. "So he invested the money in the writing and photography that placed the once-staid journal in the literary limelight," Slate's Bazelon adds.
Asked if all this were true, UVA's Wood responded, "As I told the reporter from Slate, I am unaware of any such directive to spend down the endowment. That would not be consistent with University policy."
Stop making financial sense
Any way you slice it, $796,000 a year is a risky investment for a quarterly literary journal. And while C-ville Weekly breaks down the sources of VQR's funding (one-third from endowment funds; one-third from income generated by the journal through subscriptions, advertising and licensing; and one-third from “a University allocation”), they neglect to note another possible motive for Genoways' aggressive fundraising efforts: his $170,000 compensation package, which amounts to nearly one-fourth of the magazine's total budget as well as being the approximate amount of the annual deficit the president's office was covering.
Asked if allocating nearly $470,000 for staff salaries and fringe benefits makes good financial sense, Genoways responds by saying it "wasn't his call."
"I advocated for additional staff, but the President [John Casteen] himself had to decide whether or not those requests were appropriate," says Genoways. "Once those positions were approved, it was up to University human resources to set salary-range and benefits."
Genoways also adds that "financial sense" is the wrong way of approaching an organization like VQR. "It's a nonprofit, mission-driven publication," says Genoways, "and by its very nature it is not intended to make financial sense."
In his formal proposal to the Vice President for Research, Genoways attempts to sell them on the idea of supporting the VQR and the idea for the journalism center. He can't be accused of lacking chutzpah.
"In short, these times demand much more than mere competence or even excellence," writes Genoways. "We are now pushed to anticipate and innovate on a daily basis in ways that require personalities invigorated by working on the very forefront of the field, those who can see a new future rising where others see only the crumbling ruins of the past."
Meanwhile, of course, Kevin Morrissey is dead. And many wonder if his death could have been prevented. "There was a lot of communication between Kevin and HR, and I know they were on the brink of mediation beginning," UVA spokeswoman Wood tells Slate. "It was so close."
While Genoways may not have literally bullied Morrissey to death, evidence suggests he certainly didn't help the man.
As Jaquith told a reporter from the Today Show in no uncertain terms, “It was a toxic environment for Kevin. Ted’s treatment of Kevin in the last two weeks of his life was egregious, and it just ate Kevin up.”
According to research by the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) which expert David Jobes recommends as a source of information, any number of things can be what's called a "trigger stimulus" for suicide, including being humiliated and losing status. Add to that other known factors, such as job or relationship stress, guilt, shame, defeat, or rejection, and it becomes a list of nearly all the things that cause spiritual anguish.
Indeed, the energetic discussion about the Phoebe Prince case, or Morrissey's alleged treatment at the hands of Genoways, might be stand-in subjects for a national discussion about how we ought to treat each other. Alarmingly, AAS research shows that suicide rates among young adults ages 15-24 have increased more than 200 percent in the last 50 years, and that rates among people over age 85 are climbing as well. While suicide among middle-aged people like Morrissey is less frequent, AAS research shows that has also been rising. Most suicidal people, the research shows, give definite warning signals, desperately want to live, but are unable to recognize alternatives. Of course, major depression is the most frequent diagnosis associated with a suicide. About two out of three people who kill themselves suffer from depression.
"A trigger only partially causes suicide in an already highly vulnerable adult," says suicide expert Ron Maris, who heads the Suicide Center at the University of South Carolina. "Suicide is the result of a multi-faceted aetiology over many years, what I call a 'suicidal career.'"
Maris, too, declined to comment on Morrissey's case specifically, citing the risk of doing so, but he did weigh in on one of literature's most intelligent suicidal personalities.
Was Hamlet's reasoning that taking one's life and ending "the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to" is a "a consummation devoutly to be wish'd" a result of his severe depression? Or is it an intelligent person's reasonable response to the pain and suffering that is often endured in life?
"In a sense, Hamlet's reasoning is correct," says Maris, "but most suicides are not rational like Hamlet is. Suicide is more basic than reflective poetry. The locus for suicide is in the gut and heart, not in the mind."
Reducing risk, building support
Sadly, suicide prevention relies heavily on the person's willingness to talk about the suicidal feelings with someone, research indicates, something that Morrissey apparently did not do. Someone's willingness to listen and empathize is also important, but it can be difficult since dealing with a person who appears to be suicidal can be frustrating and emotionally draining.
Indeed, in Genoways' much-quoted email, he appears more annoyed with Morrissey than sad or empathetic, referring to him as "prickly, mercurial, often brooding," criticizing his work performance, and calling his demeanor "often unacceptable for the workplace." Not exactly the way one might be expected to describe a friend or colleague only two days after their tragic death.
“He was occasionally grumpy, no doubt,” said McMillen during an August 6 memorial service, “but he was an honorable man–-decent, generous, kind, and reliable as sunrise.”
Asked in September how he felt about the beating he's taken in the press, Genoways shied away from the the "Ted-as-victim" approach adopted in the Slate and C-Ville stories.
"Whatever pressure and anxiety I've felt in the face of media attention pales in comparison to my sense of loss over Kevin's death," says Genoways. "People seem to forget that Kevin and I worked side by side for the better part of a decade, and hung out together a lot outside of the office. I miss my friend."
Of course, any number of people close to Morrissey might feel they should have done more to help, or perhaps should have acted sooner, but as the AAS research emphasizes, the safety of the person "cannot be guaranteed by anyone–-the goal is to reduce the risk and build supports."
The bullying label
At the end of her Slate piece, Bazelon suggests that the ongoing investigation into the VQR's finances and management, and the canceling of the magazine's winter issue, might not entirely be the result of "internal strife" at the magazine, but the result of the "bullying label being applied [to Genoways] where it doesn't fit."
Ironically, Genoways himself may have been the first one to use the the label "workplace bully," as it appears in the defense against such accusations in his post-mortem email. Also, Genoways and Levinson-LaBrosse were conspicuously absent from the August 6 memorial service for Morrissey, before many media accounts appeared about the office tensions at the VQR. In fact, their names were not mentioned at the service, and when UVA issued its official press release on Morrissey's death, neither Genoways or Levinson-LaBrosse were quoted or named.
At the memorial service, the frustration and anger that VQR staff members and Morrissey's family members felt concerning Genoways' alleged treatment of the deceased, and the slow response by University officials to the staff's requests for help, was palpable. Had the entire staff attended the memorial service, remembered their coworker, and shown support for each other, it's unlikely the story would have ever been featured on the Today Show.
Also, while Slate and C-Ville question the "bullying" label, they seem content with the "depressed" label applied to Morrissey. Indeed, both stories characterize the VQR's managing editor as a depressed, dissatisfied employee who was neither willing to nor capable of embracing Genoways' ambitious new plans. It's a characterization that has infuriated those who worked under Morrissey.
"Kevin was dogged at his work, meticulous in his detail," wrote Jaquith on his blog, cvillenews.com, the day Morrissey died, aknowledging his friend's struggle with depression, "and one of the finest human beings I’ve had the privilege to know."
And as McMillen points out, while 30 VQR contributors have condemned the media coverage and rushed to Genoways' defense, praising him as the person who "turned a previously small and obscure literary quarterly into one of the leading U.S. journals," it was Morrissey–-whom the letter writers referred to as merely "valuable and productive"–- who fine-tuned their work for publication.
Of course, the most shocking omission in Bazelon's piece, and C-Ville's too, is the absence of Pugh's story, and what it suggests about Genoways' history managing his staff at the VQR. Yet Pugh tells us that only one other reporter has attempted to reach her since her comments in the Hook, the person working on a planned feature in GQ Magazine.
Indeed, Pugh's story is absent from nearly all the coverage of the VQR tragedy. Yet, as detailed in the Hook, she was willing to speak out about the harassment complaint against her former boss.
"Those VQR contributors who showed their support for him, they benefited from knowing him," says Pugh, referring to Genoways, "but they never had to work directly under him. I'm glad you're not letting this story die, because I hope the President's office is aware of what happened to me and others."