LETTER- McNair's VQR story unfair

Dave McNair's August 18 article on the tragic suicide and the ordeal unfolding at the Virginia Quarterly Review ["Tale of woe: the death of the VQR's Kevin Morrissey"] is an objectionable piece of tabloid-style journalism from top to bottom. Mr. McNair replays quotes of mine from a similarly poorly-sourced article that ran in the Chronicle of Higher Education; he also notes that VQR arranged a $6,000 payment to me for my recent work in Afghanistan. Mr. McNair never contacted me (neither did the Chronicle writer, I contacted her) to inquire as to the nature of that payment, and he implies that $6,000 is a hefty sum for a contracted piece from Afghanistan.

Had he contacted me– my email is freely available on my website– he would have learned that $3,000 of that sum was to cover my expenses in Afghanistan, which included hotels, translation, food, and transportation to seven different provinces of this war-torn country, for a period of three weeks. I used that budget, conservative though I am, and then some. Mr. McNair would have also learned that I paid for my plane tickets myself, to the tune of about $2,500. Suddenly that heaping $6,000 dwindles down to about $500, if I'm lucky. And I would have to ask Mr. McNair: would he travel unprotected through Afghanistan for three weeks, and write an 8,000-word essay, and compile a photo-essay under the stress of a magazine in the process of falling apart, all for $500?

Mr. Genoways has been my editor and friend for nearly three years. I have worked on six stories for the magazine and given VQR several blog entries and a video piece for free. Neither I nor any of the other contributors work for VQR to get rich; we work for VQR because it is a joy to work for Mr. Genoways and to feel like we're part of an important journalistic project that is, or was, going somewhere.

Mr. McNair had every opportunity to reach out to me or any of the other frequent VQR contributors. He chose not to. His story is riddled with unattributed quotes and statements that could not be confirmed because the person quoted had not responded by press time. Though I am in Kandahar at the moment, I would've responded to Mr. McNair's inquiry immediately. The fact that he chose not to contact any of us – and to run information about me without contacting me – shows poor journalistic ethics on his part and makes me suspect that he had already decided on how he would portray Mr. Morrissey's suicide and Mr. Genoways' character well before he sat down to write his piece. The "Tale of Woe" here is that one man's death was tragic enough, and now another man is suffering slander and abuse at the hands of reckless journalists despite the fact that he is innocent of responsibility.

Oh, and Mr. McNair didn't even spell my name correctly.

Elliott D. Woods
Writer / Photographer

McNair merely pointed out that pay rates had risen by VQR's historic standards–editor.