December 7, 2017

Lorin Stein has quit his job, presumably to head off a meeting today at which his board will discuss a months-long investigation into his sexual misconduct

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Lorin Stein. Via WikiMedia Commons.

In October, we wrote about the “SHITTY MEDIA MEN” doc that had been making the rounds, unofficially tallying some names for possible inclusion in 2017’s crimson tide of men discredited by their sexual misconduct. At the end of that piece, Melville House editor Taylor Sperry wrote:

I think the document achieved a lot of what it meant to achieve — for some women, it may have validated an experience; for others it may have served as a warning; for many I suspect it forced us to confront our own complicity in an “open secret.” But another powerful effect of “SHITTY MEDIA MEN,” which its creators may not have anticipated and which was perhaps only made possible by the amount of controversy surrounding its existence, is this: There are probably a lot of men whose names were not on that list, but have reason to wonder if it might be, and it is to the benefit of us all that now these men know that the women are talking.

We now know that efforts have in fact been underway to substantiate at least some of the allegations in the doc — news that was brought forcefully home yesterday when the New York Times’ Alexandra Alter and Sydney Ember reported that Paris Review editor Lorin Stein has been under an internal review by the magazine since the doc began circulating. The board is scheduled to meet and discuss the findings of that investigation today; Stein—pre-emptively?—resigned his post in a letter yesterday. He also resigned his at-large editorship at FSG.

According to the report, at least two writers at the magazine have officially complained about Stein’s behavior. Alter and Ember spoke to numerous women: one who’d had him reach under her clothes and touch her underwear at a professional dinner, another who’d had sex with him in the Paris Review office while he was her editor, and who said the magazine stopped publishing her work when they broke up.

In the resignation, he apologizes for “any hurt I caused” to colleagues and contributors. He acknowledges having made them feel “uncomfortable or demeaned.”

A few stray details:

  1. The last time I was in the Paris Review office, it was small and decorated with taxidermied birds. (Did I dream this?) But even in a big office not festooned with laminated dinosaur flesh, don’t do that.
  2. Something seems to have happened, because Stein sent two letters to the PR board yesterday: an earlier one, which the Times reporters described as  “expressing his remorse and suggesting any missteps would not happen again,” and a later one, in which he resigned.
  3. The Paris Review’s lawyers are still from Debevoise and Plimpton, the firm where the father of Paris Review co-founder (and video game hucksterGeorge Plimpton worked for most of his career. They’ve done all kinds of stuff, but have been noted for their especially vigorous pro bono defense of Guantanamo detainees, which may be the nicest part of this story.

What would George Plimpton say?

Anyhow, response across the publishing world was swift. New Inquiry senior editor Maya Binyam pointed out on Twitter that, just a couple of climates ago, the New York Times was referring to Stein as “the Paris Review’s new party boy” and “a somewhat unlikely sex symbol.” Washington Post book critic Ron Charles picked up on a line in the Times piece predicting Stein’s resignation would “roil the literary world, where he is a widely respected figure” — Charles noted he was “feeling distinctly unroiled so far.” The New Republic’s Sarah Jones recalled that Stein had been “one of the very first men people in this city warned me to avoid.”

Huffington Post editor Nick Baumann noted that Stein had been quoted just two weeks ago in a Washington Post story on the allegations that have cost Charlie Rose his job; Stein had rejected a fictionalized version of one woman’s evening in Grampa Charlie’s Manor House of the Unspeakable, and included a note that the story had “the ring of truth (alas).”

And another Washington Post book critic, Carlos Lozada, remembered last year’s lovely Guardian profile of our own Jessa Crispin, which ended with an observation about writers that now seems all the more resonant:

“Everything is so precarious, and none of us can get the work and the attention or the time that we need, and so we all have to be in job-interview mode all of the time, just in case somebody wants to hire us,” Crispin added. “So we’re not allowed to say, ‘The Paris Review is boring as fuck!’ Because what if the Paris Review is just about to call us?” The freedom from such questions is something Crispin personally cherishes.

We live a world beshitted by the shitty decisions of powerful men (alas), and the hour is growing very late (alas). The board of the Paris Review will presumably still be meeting today, but having a different conversation than the one they’ve been planning for (alas).

Alas.

 

 

Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.

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