A quarterly literary magazine founded in Mississippi and currently based in Arkansas sounds quiet and quaint, but the drama erupting at The Oxford American makes the current batch of New York media gossip seem positively dull by comparison. The New York Times has the measured version today, describing the firing of editor and founder Marc Smirnoff, along with his girlfriend Carol Ann Fitzgerald, last month. The action begins at a July 4 summer retreat, where Smirnoff reportedly berated young employees playing a drinking game, and then yelled again at a 19-year-old female intern the next morning before insisting she ride home with him. On the way back, he asked her to hold hands and offered to take her to his “make-out spot.”
Smirnoff doesn’t refute the story, but his extended, uncensored account is where the real action is.
The Times reports:
But 10 days after that retreat, Mr. Smirnoff was out. The magazine’s board of directors fired him on July 15 after conducting an investigation that produced detailed accounts of a workplace rife with sexual harassment, as staff members described how Mr. Smirnoff, 49, called female interns “baby” and made lewd comments and unwanted sexual overtures.
In an interview at his home in Conway, Mr. Smirnoff said his touching of employees was always “paternalistic and nonsexual.” He assigned a benign playfulness to his behavior and said his motivation was crucial to understanding his position.
“I understand that I walk a fine line with my joking, my banter,” Mr. Smirnoff said, comparing himself to the bumbling boss played by Ricky Gervais on “The Office.” “I have made bad jokes. My intent with regards to that humor is just as important.”
But that’s nothing compared to his website Editors in Love, where Smirnoff published, “Our Story of Losing The Oxford American,” a 53-page version of his firing that includes a cast of characters, a timeline, and the phrase “Fuck you disgusting cocksuckers” in giant font.
Smirnoff reproduces e-mails, posts pictures of those who pushed him out (as well as underage interns drinking), and says he was not given reasons for his termination. He calls the Oxford’s board “manipulated and insolent” and proposes that the claims against him were retaliation for firing and disciplining insubordinate employees. Of the sexual harassment, he writes:
For all my foibles, serious and otherwise — which include patting and rubbing the heads of interns I am especially close to and trust, hugging them at times, sometimes hoisting them up (publicly and comically), occasionally touching feet or arms or shoulders, shooting portraits of them (I just began contributing photo essays to The OA website) — I have NEVER sexually harassed an intern (or employee) at The Oxford American.
Neither has Carol Ann.
There is much, much more.
On a section of the site called “Our Future,” the fired editors, whose work computers were taken back, request, “If anyone has a basic Macintosh desktop computer (used is fine, if it works decently) that Marc could borrow/have, please let us know. Thank you so much!” And although they’re fighting the accusations publicly and hoping to force the magazine to change its name, they’re also open to moving on: “Marc tends to be deeply loyal, and both of us hate the idea of leaving Arkansas, but we may in fact have to do that. If you know of any small, interesting place that would welcome and encourage Marc, Carol Ann, and a few other creative individuals for a literary venture, please let us know.”