Hey, remember that time your boss asked you to hold his hand and go with him to his favorite "make-out spot" and you didn't mind because he was being totally "paternalistic and nonsexual"?
No? Well, neither does the intern who was recently harassed by Marc Smirnoff, founder and editor of The Oxford American, the South's answer to The New Yorker since 1992. The magazine's board of directors fired Smirnoff last month, 10 days after a staff retreat during which he yelled at subordinate staffers and attempted the aforementioned "nonsexual" jaunt to his own personal Lover's Lane.
The New York Times reports that after conducting an investigation, the board concluded that staff members regularly felt sexually harassed, humiliated, and generally intimidated by Mr. Smirnoff and other editors.
It's difficult — perhaps impossible? — to imagine a worse way Smirnoff could be handling his termination. Let's break down a few ways in which one should not respond to sexual
assault harassment claims:
1. Acknowledge events took place, but deny that they were "harassment":
...After insisting that the intern ride back to Conway with him, he asked her if she wanted to hold hands. She declined, he said, saying she'd rather "hold hands with a dead dog." Still, he told her he wanted to take her to his favorite make-out spot.
During a conversation with the same intern earlier that week, Mr. Smirnoff said, he hugged her and kissed her on top of the head.
None of those things constitute harassment, he insisted.
"It was acceptable to her in that moment," he said, saying that she did not object to his behavior at the time. "My take of it was that we were trying to see if we could revive our relationship, professional and personal."
None of that is harassment, eh? What would constitute harassment? Rape?
2. Compare your managerial skills to The Office:
"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."
Dude: If you're humorlessly comparing yourself to a show that lampoons rather than endorses the actions of the most inappropriate boss ever, you're probably fighting a losing battle.
3. Act like a Sad Literary Man:
Slouched in a living-room chair, gesturing wildly and sprinkling his sentences with quotations from Shakespeare, Mr. Smirnoff gave a detailed account of the July 4 party on Petit Jean Mountain, a short drive west of Conway.
Oh. My. God.
4. Act Like an Angry Literary Man:
Smirnoff and his longtime girlfriend, Carol Ann Fitzgerald, who was also fired, have published a 53-page document titled "Our Story of Losing The Oxford American" on a website called "Editors in Love." (We know, we threw up in our mouths a little, too.) The report is like a mix between Gossip Girl (photos of underage interns with beer and notes like, "Enzinna sends urgent text messages to "best friend" (managing editor) Carol Ann Fitzgerald to persuade her to call him about his termination meeting with Smirnoff on following day."), Confessions of a Shopaholic ("Smirnoff hosts 4th of July party for editorial staff at cabin on Mt. Petit Jean. Smirnoff uses OA credit card for food but not alcohol. Editorial assistant Walker Beauchamp collects money from interns and buys/brings alcohol to Mt. Petit Jean" and, I don't know, my Grandma? ("WHEN RAISING YOU, DID YOUR MOM OR DAD TELL YOU THERE IS ONLY ONE SIDE TO EVERY STORY?")
There is also Smirnoff's "PERSONAL LIST OF THINGS HE WILL NEVER DO." On this list is "Never publish a photograph of a beat-up truck covered in kudzu," "Never visit a strip club," "Never publish the word 'eclectic' in a music review" and "Never watch The Matrix." Oh, there's also "Never sexually harass anyone." IT IS NOT EVEN NUMBER ONE! It comes after "Never buy a video game."
Smirnoff clearly has more issues than a Flannery O'Connor character, but his most egregious crime is not understanding what harassment means. From his website:
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.
Quick, someone come up with the best Shakespeare quote about delusion.