City Desk

Why Did Style Weekly Fire Chris Dovi? 1) He’s Bad at Sending E-Mails. 2) It Was Spineless.

styleAutocomplete wasn't the only thing that screwed Chris Dovi. Sure, the now-former reporter at Richmond, Va.'s Style Weekly did himself no favors: Instead of telling a persistent flack "no thanks" when pitched a half-dozen times about an upcoming seminar by blind motivational speaker Will Weeks, he punted to his editor, Scott Bass. Unfortunately, when typing Bass' name into an e-mail, Dovi either didn't notice he'd hit reply instead of forward, or that his Outlook had autocompleted the address to Weeks' PR guy, Scott McCaskey.

Oops. In that e-mail, Dovi said, "This guy is trying to kill me. He may be the most tenacious flack of all time. He’s been calling me about this blind fucker for four weeks." Later in the e-mail, he says, "He’s making me want to claw my own eyes out in the hopes that if he won’t just get lost, I at least won’t have to look at his press release anymore!"

That was Friday at 11:58 a.m. McCaskey forwarded the e-mail to his boss, Dean Goldman of Norfolk, Va.'s Goldman & Associates. "I thought about it over the weekend," Goldman says. "I really put a lot of thought into this because I felt that the e-mail was discriminatory....I could have easily pushed the delete button. If I just pushed the delete button, that means I would be complicit in this process."

So yesterday, after consulting with Weeks, who he says was "very offended," Goldman e-mailed Style Weekly's publisher, Lori Collier Waran, its editor, Jason Roop, and Maurice Jones, the publisher of the Norfolk, Va., Virginian-Pilot, which, like Style Weekly, is owned by Landmark Media Enterprises. Jones, Goldman says, agreed with him that Dovi's words were offensive.

By 3:30 p.m. yesterday, Dovi was out. On its Web site, Style published an editor's note that says Dovi used "language that violated the core values we hold sacred at Style. While he was regretful for the e-mail, it showed an unacceptable disregard for one of our chief missions at Style: to honor diversity as a company in all of our dealings with the community, and within Style’s hallways."

This is where the bullshit gets a little thick for me. (And, full disclosure, both I and my wife freelanced for Style when we lived in Richmond, so this hits a little close to home. I don't know Dovi, but I tweeted this morning that I thought his firing was stupid.) In his three years at Style, Dovi's pursued story after story about Richmond's poor treatment of its most helpless citizens, from the city jail saving money by cutting 80 percent of its spending on medications for mental health and AIDS, to the city schools botching the procurement process for ADA-compliant construction, to this piece about Richmond schools' absurd treatment of "problem students."

When I first called him, Roop declined to comment beyond the note on Style's Web site. "I just can't talk to you," he said, referring me several times to the statement. In a follow-up voicemail, he says, "We thought this was an important enough issue to involve several levels of management, and they were all involved in the decision. So no, it wasn't my decision alone, but I do support the decision."

Weeks, the motivational speaker, says Dovi's language in the e-mail, which Goldman forwarded him yesterday, "reinforced the notion to me that there's a culture set in place at Style Weekly."

"No one in their right mind," he says, "would forward that to any staff member unless you were good and sure that they were in agreement with that mentality."

But what mentality is that, exactly? Prejudice against people of color, sure, we've all heard that. Religion—well, that's pretty obvious. But who exactly is prejudiced against the blind? Weeks says he's experienced "prejudices in the public schools system growing up," as well as at work, and that he's been around "people who've said things that were downgrading" about his blindness. And there's no question that from building design to street furniture to crossing signals to our currency, America is miles behind where it needs to be as a society accessible to people with disabilities. But there's a huge difference between the sting of thoughtless planning and the hurt felt by someone left to die in a jail cell because the medication he required to live looked like a cuttable budget line to a reptilian public servant. I'll concede the possibility that there's someone, somewhere, who possesses the Herculean asshole-ness required to actually hate blind people. Dovi's words were coarse (though not intended for the dainty sensibilities of someone outside a newsroom). Were they insensitive? Arguably. Were they evidence that he intended to not write about someone because he hates people with disabilities? Faced with a PR man's bold new redefinition of the word discrimination, Roop and Waran decided to assuage an awkward situation by cutting off a talented reporter at the knees.

"I recognized that I was rude in my e-mail, but it was not bigoted," says Dovi. "If this man had been a paratrooper, I would have referred to him as that paratrooper fucker."

When asked about how much of McCaskey's pitch regarding Weeks was about the speaker's blindness, Dovi says, "Nearly all of it."

Goldman insists it wasn't simply the characterization of Weeks as a "blind fucker" that caused him to act. "It's not just that," he says. "He uses Mr. Weeks' blindness to make what he perceives as a humorous comment about the whole process," referring to Dovi's comment to his editor that the press release made him want to "claw my own eyes out."

"My own father is disabled," says Dovi. "He's blind in one eye. He had a stroke that left him paralyzed on one side." His father, he says, has expressive aphasia and can only answer yes and no.

"The only thing that upsets me about Style Weekly," Dovi says, "is that they never gave me the opportunity to speak to what I was accused of and summarily fired me after meeting for about two hours." Dovi says he did not participate in that meeting.

I asked Goldman about the attention that this has brought to his client. "We're not charging Mr. Weeks for what we did here," says Goldman, who notes that Weeks is otherwise a paying client. "This was something that occurred that offended us, that offended him. And we acted."

Weeks says the incident feeds into the subject of his Brace for Impact 2010 tour, which stops Feb. 25 at the Holiday Inn at 10800 Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond. "The seminar I was speaking on was about overcoming adversity," he says. "This was just a prime example."

UPDATED 9:36 p.m.: Goldman & Associates has removed its Web page about this matter. When I spoke to Dean Goldman earlier today, he proudly pointed to the fact that the firm kept up the page, with its negative comments about his company.

UPDATED 9:27 a.m., Feb. 19: I happened to have the deleted Goldman page open on my work computer when I got to the office this morning and took a screenshot of it. You can click this image to enlarge. I also took screenshots of the comments and will happily e-mail them to anyone who really feels like looking at them.

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  • Bob Thompson

    This should have resulted in a sensitivity training seminar for all Style staff and a reprimand, nothing more. All this unscrupulous PR company did was hurt a community by targeting an award-winning reporter that had simply made an offhand remark in frustration to a coworker.

    Weeks should know that his PR company just significantly downgraded media coverage for the disabled (and many others without a voice)in this city in his name.

    Style should also have defended Dovi based on his body of work and substantial journalistic and personal integrity. I am disgusted by their spinelessness.
    I would add two more things:

    1. Somebody hire this guy and pay him well. He's a hell of a young reporter who cranks cover stories like nobody's business. And he is in NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM a bigot of any kind.

    2. This PR company made the entire business look bad. All reporters who get calls from now on should say: "DO NOT CALL ME ABOUT STORIES, HERE IS OUR EMAIL OR FAX NUMBER." This is a cautionary tale.

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  • Geez

    Don't motivational speakers usually talk about not letting people's comments bother you, and the power of forgiveness. Being so thin-skinned, he doesn't seem like much of a motivational speaker. But then he doesn't have much of a PR firm.

    Dovi should apologize, the blind motivational speaker should accept it, and Style Weekly should rehire him. But there doesn't seem to be a lot of adults in this situation.

  • Thad Williamson

    Style Weekly needs to reverse this hasty decision. A simple apology from Dovi to Weeks should have sufficed to close this issue. There was no purpose served by making any of this public other than to give a grandstanding PR firm an opportunity to get free publicity for its client, at the cost of depriving Richmond of one of its small handful of outstanding reporters.

  • richmonder

    This is a great summary of the situation. I would add that the PR firm removed its story, including Dovi's e-mail along with 15 comments, most of which supporting the reporter. Why did Goldman decide to take down the entire post, when people showed support for Dovi and criticism for the PR spin on the situation? If Dovi's e-mail was so horribly offensive, why take it off the web site along with readers' feedback that turned out to be hostile toward Goldman and Associates? Funny thing is that the blog entry with the first 10 comments was retrieved through google (using the "Cached" option) and the other 5 documents were posted by readers as screen prints. So now Goldman's story that he tried to remove from public view is out of his hands but still available in its entirety.

    And I also wanted to mention that this is the first time I am reading a comment from Mr. Weeks:

    "No one in their right mind," he says, "would forward that to any staff member unless you were good and sure that they were in agreement with that mentality."

    Weeks pretends to be a victim in this whole issue, but didn't take the time to consider his own words and ended up with a sentence full of grammar errors. I, as an editor, am offended by the misuse of pronouns by the "victim." Apology for me, please? Maybe cancel the event because this quote offends me?

  • http://urbancommunique.blogspot.com/ Matty B

    As the sole copy editor for a small, all-volunteer community newspaper (nonprofessional staff writers = unprofessional reportage), I exchange much more offensive, vitriolic e-mails with my chief editor all the time. The only people we're biased against are bad writers and disagreeable PR hacks.

    I assume this prejudice flourishes in all newsrooms. The only reason why the Style Weekly brass would suddenly find that such conduct "violated core values" is because the e-mail accidentally went public. Rehire him, make ammends, and move on.

  • Cheryl

    What in the world has happened to us as a society of people. First of all, i believe that Mr. Dovi got exactly what he deserved. As a professional myself, i feel as though they took entirely to long to dismiss him. Style Weekly has a lot of work ahead of them, and its going to take more than some sensitivity training to fix the internal issues they have.

  • Mrs. Anderson

    Oh my God, I cant believe what Im reading.. the fact still remains that the comment that was stated by Mr. Dovi was very much discriminating to any persons with a disability. What needs to happen is the entire disability population should pull together to put a stop to this type of ignorance.

  • http://anarchymo.wordpress.com Mo Karn

    Chris Dovi is the reporter who cares the most about social justice issues at Style Weekly.
    Totally fucking stupid to fire him.
    But Style Weekly without him is totally fucking stupid.

  • http://dcdl.org KCinDC

    Clearly Scott McCaskey is the one who should have been fired. Generally PR isn't supposed to be about irritating people to the point that they don't want to hear another word about your client, and then trashing the reputation of your own company by getting the person you've angered fired because he reacted in a normal human way to your provocation.

  • richmonder

    Mrs. Anderson, do you know Chris Dovi and his previous work?
    We as a society are so sensitive that one single four-letter word was offensive enough to get the man fired regardless of his previous work. And let me remind you that advocacy groups for people with disabilities stand behind Dovi in this; prime example being Mrs. Carol Wolf -- go ahead and google the name to see her comment on the issue.
    On top, the four-letter word was taken out of context and twisted for PR purposes. It is not a fact that "the comment that was stated by Mr. Dovi was very much discriminating to any persons with a disability" -- that was exactly what the PR spin is.

  • Chris Combs

    Moral of the story for reporters: work with P.R. people from Goldman & Associates, get fired?

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  • Pat in Falls Church

    Great story. Sure, Chris Dovi was a crude in his email. I don't know him, but I know of him. He directly worked to help the State Police arrest a woman who embezzled from my Richmond small business. His work is the only reason that this woman was arrested and brought to justice.

    Some balance of a private email message against his record of public work, stories and skill is appropriate.

  • Scott

    My vote goes to Dovi. As a reporter and editor, and briefly as a PR hack, I've seen all sides of this type of issue. This is a sentiment common to every newsroom I've been in and does not mean for a second that Dovi is filled with hate for the disabled. That's just absurd. Completely abusrd. Sensitivity training? Come on!

    Least surprising of all in this sad story are the corporate types. They did exactly as one would expect -- fail to stand up for a good employee, stabbing him in the back. It's just business. Nevermind the lives involved. This is why many employees care more about their personal lives than their careers these days. Who knows when your employer will toss you out the window.

    I agree the PR hack here was the one at fault for being so stupidly aggressive that he turned his target off COMPLETELY to his client. Weeks would do well to find himself a different PR firm, one that doesn't alienate those who would publicize his efforts. And worse now, he and that PR firm are dipped in shit, as they say. Weeks should ask for his money back.

  • Michel

    How stupid do you have to be to put something like that in writing to *anybody*?
    So they fired him without "consulting" with him? WTF?

  • OfRichmond

    Has Style ever been considered a serious publication? I'm sure the atmosphere over there is anything but professional. It seems to me the whole publication exists to help its editors talk about and meet the Richmond elite. Dovi was the only writer that brought any substance to Style. Oh, and the music reviews are awful.

  • Niki

    It galls me to see people suggesting that Dovi's comment was discriminatory. Clearly, if you read the entire e-mail, he's taking out his frustrations on the PR firm, not Weeks. And it's quite obvious to me that Dovi would have used that term to describe any of Goldman and Associates' clients, regardless of their disability (or, more importantly, lack thereof). I'm a journalist in Huntsville, Ala., and I've had to put up with hundreds of comments in the last week claiming that a fatal shooting on a college campus here was a racial issue simply because the three who died were not white. Maybe that's why this disgusts me so much. We've become so hyper-sensitive to others being "different" that we scream discrimination where there is none. Dovi shouldn't have said what he did, but the real sleazeball in this case is the PR firm that manipulated his words to get more attention for a client while costing this man his job.

  • chickenbot

    I think the worst part of all this is that the EDITOR of Style, being a supposed JOURNALIST, wouldn't comment to the writer of this story. Jason Roop is a spineless weasel anyway, everyone who has worked with him knows that, but this is beyond laughable and totally unprofessional. How can you take him seriously in this field?

    Dovi has, apparently, had a bunch of calls from interested employers. He'd be well shot of Richmond, but who there is going to step up and fill his shoes? This is all such a shame.

  • dreaming

    Any newsroom I've ever worked in is unanimously rife with the same attitudes Dovi displayed. No one was ever fired for referring negatively to pols, crooks, cops, annoying readers, editors, managers, bureaucrats, right wing military types etc., and especially PR flacks, of all things. Good luck to this PR firm in getting anywhere with the rest of Richmond media. They successfully put themselves out of business with this absurd episode. The editors who fired Dovi need firing.

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  • http://www.sharpercontent.com Paul in Denver

    So much hypocrisy. I'd never do business with that PR firm. What every happened to integrity? Did the email incorporate a poor choice of words? Of course. This was a total over-reaction fueled by the PR firm seeing an opportunity to spin this totally one way.

  • Another ex style employee

    Who gives a fuck what he wrote in an email... An EMAIL! Not published in the paper...but an email! The bigger question is how does Jason Roop, who is a full time DJ and barely a part time editor have any authority to fire someone for stupid behavior.
    The people who run the place need to take a look in the mirror.....but something tells me it would make them want to tear their own eyes out.

  • Bertram

    Come on; those of us who have worked in newsrooms know exactly what this PR firm did and how it used its weight in this instance.

    Style's management should be ashamed for throwing this reporter under the bus!

  • miss_msry

    Wow, Goldman truly is what he is accused of being. He should be fired.

  • miss_msry

    Make that McCaskey. But the same goes for the whole Goldman firm.

  • Dave of the South

    I'm in the industry and - believe it or not - have, too, been harassed by advocates for the blind. I don't know where the gross sense of entitlement comes from, but they can be pushy, pushy, pushy.

    Were Dovi's words offensive? Sure. Did they really compromise the values/ethics of the publication to warrant termination? I have serious doubts.

    And I'll agree that in a newsroom, when tolerating the intolerable, blind f****r, paratrooper f****r, city council f****r, school board f****r, zoo f****r, editor, etc., helps us get through the day and we'll thank you not to question or judge our way of coping.

  • Keith B

    Glad they fired the journalist fucker =)

    I don't use that kind of language in ANY work email, even to people I'm familiar with outside work. That's what your personal email account is for. Anyone who knows anything knows that work email is to be treated as if anyone in or even sometimes outside the company might one day read it. Be it because of hacking, court orders, IT staff or plain stupidity on the part of the sender.

    Seriously, LRN2EMAIL Dovi. You haven't needed an invite to use gmail for a while now...

  • LA

    I can't believe they fired him for this.

  • richmonder

    nice write up.
    you can't shill your client's disability then get pissed when someone else brings it up.

  • Grione

    Sure he made a mistake. Make him apologize to the blind guy, and then move on. Management is way too PC and just plain wimpy. I guess this is the direction journalism seems to be going.

  • annie

    So incredibly stupid. These flaks think they scored a victory for disability rights? They look like self-righteous jackasses. The newsroom is a very different environment than most and Dovi is a reflection of a culture that can be crude and filled with gallows humor. That's all this was. Dovi was frustrated.

    In fairness, I fully expect them to fire everyone else who says/writes anything that could possibly be perceived as offensive to anyone. No one will be left.

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  • http://www.unclejuniorsbananarodeo.blogspot.com/ Uncle Junior

    They should have deported the crappy writer. Don't think you know the whole story. Dovi has thrown the same kind of crap attitude toward a lot of us in Richmond. He's a crappy flake.

  • richmonder

    I want to focus on a part of this story:

    "No one in their right mind," he says, "would forward that to any staff member unless you were good and sure that they were in agreement with that mentality."

    Yes, this is the quote by the "motivational" speaker. What is motivating about someone who can't put together one clear sentence? What are his credentials to talk in front of an audience, other than being blind? We've all faced difficulties in our lives -- disabled or not. So from what I read about this man, I think he needs some grammar classes before lecturing others about life.

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