"I'm still here, and in good standing," Doug Simmons, the beleaguered acting editor-in-chief of the Village Voice, told Gawker by phone just a few minutes ago. Then he laughed. "Well, maybe not in such good standing."
Simmons was returning a voicemail we left for him about 24 hours ago — he's had some things on his mind, we imagine — to apologize for his delay and clarify that he has not in fact quit the storied alt-weekly, which yesterday retracted its cover story after learning parts of it were fabricated. Mediabistro reported this morning that "interim editor Doug Simmons has left the paper (according to a PR rep)" in wake of the revelations about the cover story, by star young writer Nick Sylvester. Sylvester's piece examined how men in New York are employing the pick-up strategies described in Neil Strauss's The Game, and how women are developing countermeasures.
The Voice posted a note from Sylvester on its site last night acknowledging that the final scene of his piece was fraudulent, and the paper said that the 2004 Harvard grad, a Lampoon vet, had been suspended while the piece is reviewed.
"I just adore that kid," Simmons told Gawker, reporting that his review, currently in progress, is not turning up problems beyond the fraudulent conclusion. "The thought of firing him is a painful one for me. I hope this review can bring an understanding to the paper — and to Nick — about the boundaries of journalism."
This incident has raised other questions about Sylvester's Voice work.
"Dolly," the proprietress of blog The Truth About Cocks and Dolls, which was quoted extensively in the piece, wrote a letter to the Voice about the piece, which she posted to her blog before news of the retraction and suspension broke yesterday after. She disputed the premise of the article, but, more than that, she charged that she's previously pitched the piece to Simmons, who'd rejected her query. Dolly wrote:
I read "Do You Wanna Kiss Me?" with great interest, especially since I pitched a similar article idea to you more than a month ago, after I had my first encounter with a pick-up artist. I never heard your thoughts about my pitch, but you must have liked it because you ended up not only exaggerating my idea into a cover story, but quoting my blog as well!
Simmons defended himself against the charge of theft. Sylvester pitched the piece to Simmons, the editor said; it wasn't an assignment. Indeed, the pitch was initially rejected before Sylvester honed the idea further and Simmons accepted it. Simmons also says he's checked his file of old pitches and doesn't see one from Dolly, though he doesn't rule out the possibility she pitched it to another editor at the paper.
The AP, in its report on Sylvester's suspension, raised questions about a piece he wrote for the Voice's Education Supplement, published in August. Several paragraphs of the short wire dispatch were devoted to the August piece:
His few full-length feature articles included several interviews with characters who told somewhat fantastical stories.
In an August story about cheating on college campuses, Sylvester described interviewing a student who spent $500,000 to have a multiplication table tattooed over his entire body; a Harvard Medical School graduate who cheated with Morse code; a Boston College junior named Simeon Criz who cheated using a specially designed deck of playing cards; and a Manhattan doctor named Noam Feldstein who delivers "a hundred newborn babies each day."
Boston College said it had no record of a student named Simeon Criz. The board that licenses doctors in New York said it had no record of a physician named Noam Feldstein.
We read "Crib Sheet Confidential" yesterday evening, and in this case we can jump to Sylvester's defense. (At least partially.) The outlandish story is clearly a satire — it's just not a funny one.