Founder Smirnoff on Editor Hodge

MARC SMIRNOFF ON ROGER HODGE, THE NEW EDITOR OF THE NEW OXFORD AMERICAN

King Richard III by unknown artist. National Portrait Gallery, London.

CHAPTER THE FIRST.

When asked what I thought of Roger Hodge, the new editor of The New Oxford American, I replied, in utter seriousness, “Anyone is better than Warwick Sabin.”

After all, it was OA Publisher Warwick Sabin who (or was it whom?) Hodge technically replaced, not me.

On July 15, 2012, the very same afternoon he orchestrated the firing of Carol Ann Fitzgerald and me, Mr. Sabin also added the title of “Interim Editor” to his collection.

In November 2012, he added another: State Representative (D-Ark.).

As of this day, December 11,  2012, the adorable/self-adoring Mr. Sabin (“The Hardest Working Child in Campaign Fundraising!”) must now be referred to with the following honorifics:

OA Publisher, State Representative (D-Ark.), Ex-Interim Editor,  Licensed Beggar, Political Insider—and more to come. (The future needn’t check its watch; Warwick Sabin will be punctual.)

To return to His Editorship (July 15, 2012–Sept. 11, 2012): In the four long years I worked with Mr. Sabin (and before Fate reunited us at The Oxford American, I babysat the precocious lad whenever his mother had to dash out to get the cushions of the family Mercedes rotated), he never once spoke of literature (let alone of this thing called Southern lit). In short, if it weren’t for his tic of quoting Shakespeare in a comic lisp, you would think there was not one literary bone to his skeleton. (All those thees and thous came out so funny! Ha ha. What fruity times we had.)

You need to look at the thing aslant. Attaining the title of Interim Editor of a literary magazine, while not being passionate about literature, shows, beyond any doubt, that there is nothing in life that Warwick Sabin can’t do, can’t have, once he turns his bounding ambition to it. Such talent deserves the brown-nosing not only of the OA Board of Directors but, arguably, of you and me. 

Restaurateur to the stars? Coming soon, ladies! Governor of Arkansas? Just around the corner, gentlemen! Little Rock’s next millionaire? You got that right, homeys! Hollywood gigolo? If he wanted to!

My most sentimental memory, vis-a-vis Mr. Sabin’s acceptance of Interim Editor of The Oxford American, the queer little Southern magazine that I founded in 1992 between a few odd Manhattan babysitting gigs, is also my most vivid. That’s because the humility he espoused as his Oxford American Board of political cronies* tried feverishly to thrust the paper crown of “Interim Editor” on him was so stirring that it silenced the Board and you could’ve heard a Park Avenue Yankee fart. Well, they are always silent—the Board, I mean. Warwick cherished them that way—the Board, I mean. But his awe-inspiring humility that day caused their silence to plumb depths it hadn’t before—that’s the point I am trying to make.

* Political cronies? Among the top financial contributors to Mr. Sabin’s political campaign, we find: * Current OA Chairman of the Board/millionaire Richard “Dick” Massey (and his wife and collegiate daughter—in the Massey household, everyone’s a political contributor of financial gifts!) * Current OA Board Member/millionaire John Rogers (and his wife) * OA Board Member/millionaire Mary Steenburgen * OA Board Member Ruth Whitney * OA Board Member Russell Dallen * OA Board Member Lisa McNeir. Source: Project Vote Smart

In the shadow of such mountainous humility, Warwick Sabin’s Board of Directors quietly went beserk. Kneeling, holding hands, they pantomimed—as one—and in the most agitated fashion possible—that they wished, they desired, they needed their beloved to add the burden of “Interim Editor” of the magazine to his list of achievements.

These words constituted his response:

Alas, why would you heap these cares on me?

I am unfit for state and majesty;

I do beseech you; take it not amiss;

I cannot nor I will not yield to you.

(By the way, when things are serious and he’s all-business, Mr. Sabin does not resort to comic lisps—no, no, no; in moments where power or money is within his grasp, he is au naturale.)

There was sniffling. Tears. There was yielding and cake and balloons—and Warwick Sabin, rising above them all (including the balloons). Maybe, at that juncture, he even rose above all of Little Rock, Arkansas (I am trying to keep my head but Warwick Sabin’s charisma defies precedents).

And the paper crown? First it was on his lap. Then it was on his breast (I think at that moment he was just making a visual pun). And then it was on his head. Where it fit like a glove—a tight, sweaty glove. Or, more specifically, like a pre-measured crown on a pre-measured head. Which is to say: orgasmically.

No witness will forget the scene: A man. A crown. A kingdom. The only thing missing was a horse. Although Lady DeLoach, who at the time was a mere fiancée (she is now queen), robotically eyeballed the polished apple he so considerately held out to her.

In addition to being his fiancée, and integral in raising both consciousness and money for her future hubby’s political campaign, Lady DeLoach who is currently the President of the Young Democrats of Arkansas, was hired by her Lordship and given an OA title (which came with an OA salary) and that was: “Oxford American Development Associate. ” In commoner’s English, this meant she was the servant who must be thanked for helping her Lordship collect $290,000 from the federal government to build Warwick Sabin’s dream-come-true restaurant. Located in OA Board Member Lisa McNeir’s building, this restaurant will soon comp Southern foodstuffs and liquor to local politicians and regional celebrities like Mary Steenburgen and Joey Lauren Adams. It is the University of Central Arkansas (another government agency) that actually paid for The Oxford American to exist and that college, and the magazine’s editorial offices, reside in Conway, a town 30 miles away from Mr. Sabin’s Little Rock Oxford American Corporate Headquarters and Little Rock Palace. If Mr. Sabin were more interested in being mayor or king of Conway (rather than Arkansas State Representative for the wealthiest part of Little Rock), the magazine would have just one address in Conway, Arkansas, but that is not the case.

Phew. I realize this is all very complicated but that’s how politics is played. The person who is smartest at figuring how to take financial advantage of the complicated Political Rulebook wins. You already knew that, right? 

Warwick Sabin is nothing if not cunning. And he’s nothing but a winner.

I’m sorry. Where am I going with all this? I could’ve sworn I said I was going to address Roger Hodge.

CHAPTER THE SECOND: ROGER HODGE

I’ve never met or spoken with the writer/editor Roger Hodge, but people whose views I trust tell me he is smart and kind. He edited Harper’s from 2006 until 2010 (when he was fired) and the issues I remember from that time were exemplary. But I find two attitudes he’s expressed since becoming the new editor of The New Oxford American both revealing and offensive.

1A.

My friend Julie Bosman of the New York Times reported on Sept. 10 that Mr. Hodge “has deliberately stayed uninformed of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Smirnoff’s departure.” If Bosman has distorted what Mr. Hodge said to her, I will retract my words, but for now I will accept that her writing, in this instance, is accurate. I will also remind you that Mr. Hodge has never called or e-mailed me with questions about our firings.

At its highest, journalism is a quest for truths. Great reporters have given much in their quests and braved much; an absurd number have even died. During Mr. Hodge’s reign as editor, the journalism at Harper’s was provocative, engaged, and assertive—his own writing is that way I am told. Such journalism borders on the radical and is typically very sensitive to the little guy or gal who is smashed by corrupt hierarchies and power-mad assholes.

But now, suddenly, in a matter that just happens to touch him directly, he’s unconcerned with the “circumstances” of a story?

It almost sounds like he’s all for rooting-out chicanery and abuse of power so long as it doesn’t touch his bank account. Mr. Hodge is trying out the ruse that being “deliberately uninformed” will keep him innocent. (You know, because what he doesn’t know can’t touch or hurt him.) But since when do journalists, and those who coach journalists, advocate for anyone to be “deliberately uninformed”? I thought the job of journalists was to deliberately inform people.

Mr. Hodge’s strident lack of interest in the controversy that preceded him at The Oxford American certainly makes it easier for him to believe that the love (and money) he gets from his new cronies is untainted. But it likewise strikes a false note.

His strident lack of interest conveys not only the idea that the past is past, but that it’s irrelevant.

When I complained to a friend of mine who respects and is friends with Mr. Hodge that Hodge is now collaborating with a group of liars, he said (I’m paraphrasing): “Marc, you gotta understand that he has only heard their side of the story. He doesn’t know you.”

To which I replied: “But that’s my problem.... Even I know that rule number one in Journalism 101 is: Get both sides of a story.”

To which the mutual friend replied (and now this is verbatim; I still hear his words): “That’s...actually...a good point.”

1B.

As Julie Bosman has shown in her treatment of Carol Ann Fitzgerald and me (see our article here at editorsinlove.com), she, Bosman, is very prone to editorializing about the people she writes about. Her silence with regards to Hodge’s “deliberately uninformed” infantilism is simply a silent method of agreeing with him, of editorializing. 

Out of respect for Vladimir Nabokov’s dictum that writers should “caress the details, the divine details,” I would like to make that attempt here via an inspection of Mr. Hodge’s “deliberately uninformed” philosophy:

Detail 1: By not editorializing about Roger Hodge’s confession that he wishes to remain “deliberately uninformed” about the firings of Carol Ann and me (the firings that essentially allowed him to receive our paychecks), is Bosman implying that she agrees that professional editors and reporters should be “deliberately uninformed” about matters that pertain to them?

Detail 2: Does Bosman know that she could refrain from editorializing about Roger Hodge’s “deliberately uninformed” confession but still probe it in a most professional manner by simply asking him a follow-up question about his stance?

Detail 3: Does Bosman realize that, in her industry, follow-up questions are considered not only acceptable but, in very many scenarios, essential?

Detail 4: Do Bosman and Hodge have New York friends in common? Are they themselves acquaintances or friends?

Detail 5: By confessing to being “deliberately uninformed” about our firings, does Mr. Hodge mean to suggest that he has not read Julie Bosman’s August 8 New York Times article about Carol Ann and me?

Detail 6: When he is in the company of his new bosses OA Publisher Warwick Sabin and OA Chairman of the Board Rick Massey and they talk about Carol Ann and me, does Mr. Hodge, in order to stay “deliberately uninformed,” put his fingers in his ears and say, “Nyah, nyah, I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!”?

2.

There is an inferiority complex in Southerners that expresses itself in this way: they sometimes will not accept an artist or artwork until approval has been conferred by somebody of importance in either New York or Hollywood. I have spoken of this elsewhere, in other contexts. A current example: It was not until the Coen Brothers’ new “Big Hollywood” version of True Grit came out (the other, older film version had been forgotten) that Arkansans began to get excited that they had a comic genius in their midst. Thanks to Hollywood, Mr. Portis is losing his status as “cult” author. I’ll argue that, first and foremost, and long before now, Southerners themselves, and not Hollywood, should have led the charge for Portis’s excellence.

I think this inferiority complex is also at play in the lack of annoyance that has been expressed regarding the distance and specific locale from which Mr. Hodge will be editing his New Oxford American:

Brooklyn, New York.

Mr. Hodge is editing “The Southern Magazine of Good Writing” from Brooklyn, New York.

To the Chronicle of Higher Education, Mr. Hodge said this:

My family is in no hurry to pull up stakes and leave Brooklyn, so yes I’ll be commuting back and forth.... Fortunately it is very easy these days to collaborate across great distances.

Yes, it is easier to collaborate across great distances these days. But that says more about how the job is convenient for Roger Hodge than it says about whether it makes good sense for a Southern magazine to be edited from Brooklyn, New York. He’s lighthearted and jokey about it, but does he truly think that where people live is irrelevant? That where we live doesn’t affect us deeply?

Reactionaries will point out that Hodge is more Southern than I because he was born in Texas and I was born in California. I have never claimed to be a Southerner. I merely contend that living in the South while editing a magazine from and about the South is beneficial.

To generalize, Easterners don’t self-loathe as much. If you reverse the edit-from-afar model, few in the East would think such arrangements cute—i.e., does anyone for a moment believe that Tina Brown could have gotten away with editing The New Yorker from Buckingham Palace or Liverpool? Or that the great Atlantic editor William Whitworth would have been allowed to edit that magazine (when it was in Boston) from his hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas? And so on.

Mr. Hodge said, “Fortunately it is very easy these days to collaborate across great distances.” Yay, he’s got an Internet!

Are you fuggin’ kidding me? Nobody else thinks this is silly?

“That’s all.”