Daring to Fault the Bully Label: Making WHAT KILLED KEVIN

[This article was published in May 2012. See our recent posts below]

Two weeks ago,  the Washington Post published an article, “Documentary faults ‘bully’ label in U-Va. suicide,” about my film, WHAT KILLED KEVIN.   Shortly after the reporter amended the actual article to include allegations from Waldo Jaquith, who is featured in the documentary, that I had “cherry picked” my interview with him to fit my “agenda.”   [Note: Jaquith has never seen the film and you can see his video clip and my agenda below]  In an unusual move the editors of the Washington Post have since removed all of his allegations and restored the article to its original form with a notice at the top apologizing for their editorial “lapse.”   Why the controversy?  My film dares to take a neutral stance in exploring the incident that put the term “workplace bullying” on the map by allowing the alleged bully to tell their side of the story.  Within weeks of Kevin Morrissey’s suicide, Waldo was featured in a report by the Today Show that linked Kevin’s death to actions by his “bully boss,” Ted Genoways.  As the WaPo states: “eventually the case was embraced as a textbook example of a manager’s verbal and psychological abuse of an employee.  That reading is far too simple, argues Beverly PetersonThe film ultimately portrays Genoways as a victim — of overhyped reporting, and of exploitation by advocates of workplace-bullying legislation, who have used the case as a national exemplar.  

Here’s Waldo’s on camera statement that was excerpted for the Washington Post article commenting on press coverage of Kevin’s death.  Waldo was Kevin Morrissey’s co-worker and first to use the bully label.  It is an example of why this pivotal textbook case needs deeper analysis and why we need to question who should lead the discussion about legislative and policy responses that will forever impact all of our workplaces:

My Agenda

For the record, here is my true agenda in making the film.  I posted it as a comment on the WaPo article before Waldo’s allegations were removed:

Judging from Facebook posts and the newly included comments from Waldo in this article it appears that readers are left with the impression that the film does not include any of the information either correctly or incorrectly reported in the news about allegations of what happened in the VQR offices. The majority – if not all – of Waldo and Molly’s side of the argument is included in the film either in interviews with Maria, Waldo, the TODAY SHOW and a chunk of the press conference in which Maria Morrissey outlines her arguments. The only thing that’s really new is the inclusion of the alleged bully’s side. My “agenda” as a filmmaker remains what it’s always been and what I went on and on about with everyone I spoke to both on camera and off – to tell the story with as many points of view as possible and with my own narrative as the storyteller clearly defined as well. I don’t think that’s a bad agenda to have if you’re making documentaries. It’s not my role to decide whether Kevin was bullied or if Ted is innocent. It is my role to help encourage dialog that goes beyond the simple good guy vs bad guy framing the mainstream media and others typically use for this topic. I prefer to dig into the true complexity of defining workplace bullying and the development of sound policy and/or legislation. Remember, I too was severely bullied and I embrace and encourage this type of open discussion to ensure that whatever is put in place is fair and workable. This story begs the questions: what is workplace bullying? And, how are we going to deal with it? For some my independent voice on this topic continues to be perceived as a threat. Sadly, over the years I have had to grow accustomed to being viciously attacked by them and the ludicrous claim that I’m in it for the money. P.S. I hope this isn’t a double post – Iost the first version when I tried to submit it. – Bev Peterson

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