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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Oxford American, Chapter Umpteen

Posted By on Thu, Jul 19, 2012 at 2:49 PM

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: Marc Smirnoff and Carol Ann Fitzgerald.
  • GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: Marc Smirnoff and Carol Ann Fitzgerald.

First let me say:

Marc Smirnoff, the obsessive founder of Oxford American, wore out my patience years ago. As a result, I knew with a certainty that his firing by the magazine board would not go quietly, not given his tendencies, as exhibited previously over far smaller grievances with writers here and other publications.

As I reported yesterday, his latest salvo came in letters by him and fired colleague Carol Ann Fitzgerald to UCA President Tom Courtway. UCA houses Oxford's offices, but Courtway has no direct supervisory role with the private organization.

The letters were intended to blame the firings on other people, including young interns. But they made, as lawyers would say, admissions against interest (see the link to yesterday's item with quotes from Smirnoff's letter) about the dismissed employees themselves. I believe they were written to UCA with the understanding that they'd be available under the FOI and disseminated, particularly the scandalous portions. The letters, by turns silly and too slanderous to publish, make the case, better than I could, for Smirnoff's poor judgment.

Under Arkansas law, the board can fire Smirnoff and Fitzgerald for no reason at all, without due process, without regard to alibi or defense. Smirnoff can obsess on this and create media maelstroms for as long as someone will listen and report. It won't help him (indeed, the letters should make him radioactive to cautious future employers), but it might damage the institution he nurtured and young people still there. That seems to be the point.

Smirnoff's actions have drawn a response from Rick Massey, a lawyer who chairs the Oxford American board. It's on the jump.

And, BTW, Courtway has referred Smirnoff's allegation of misappropriation of UCA toilet paper (No, this is not a new edition of the National Lampoon's high school yearbook parody, with Humphrey C. Cornholt as principal) to campus police.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

From: Rick Massey, Chairman, Board of Directors of The Oxford American Literary
Project, Inc. (“The Oxford American”)

It is unfortunate that Mr. Smirnoff is attacking the individuals involved in the Board’s investigation rather than accepting the consequences of his admitted conduct. The subjects of attack include a 19 year old female intern who was recently discharged by Mr. Smirnoff and has now been invited back. In order to carry out this attack, Mr. Smirnoff has misrepresented the facts uncovered in the investigation as well as the process the OA Board followed in reaching its unanimous decision to terminate his employment.

Mr. Smirnoff discloses only certain of his admissions to the investigators, but even his partialtruths support the decision of the Board. To protect the privacy of the many individuals interviewed over the course of our investigation, we will not offer details about the information developed.

In his statements to the media, Mr. Smirnoff has said that the Board’s decision was based on information provided by three people; that is incorrect. The investigators talked to or received statements from many current and former employees, each of whom reported inappropriate behavior by Mr. Smirnoff. Furthermore, none of the witnesses substantiated Ms. Fitzgerald’s allegations that she had been sexually harassed by the co-worker who complained about her — allegations first made during her interview with the investigators.

Mr. Smirnoff and Ms. Fitzgerald were interviewed at length about the allegations and invited to respond with relevant information, documents and witnesses. They submitted many written statements of their own, written statements from witnesses and what they believed to be relevant documents. Mr. Smirnoff complained about the deadline but did not say what information he would be able to develop if given more time. The investigation also took into account relevant text messages, a voice recording, and Mr. Smirnoff’s and Ms. Fitzgerald’s own admissions.

Although Mr. Smirnoff and Ms. Fitzgerald were directed not to talk to any employees of The Oxford American about the confidential investigation and to avoid retaliatory acts, they failed to follow the Board’s direction in that regard, and it is apparent from their many recent statements to the media and UCA President Tom Courtway that their retaliatory conduct against their presumed accusers continues. This conduct shows the wisdom of the Board’s decision not to tell Mr. Smirnoff and Ms. Fitzgerald the names of the witnesses interviewed. I am personally disappointed that Mr Smirnoff and Ms Fitzgerald have chosen to attack their accusers and, frankly, with certain members of our local media for providing them a venue for their retaliation.

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