In Response to My Public Shaming and “Dishonorable Discharge” from The Coffeelicious Editorial Team
Those of you who have received a message from The Coffeelicious by email, Facebook, Twitter, your Medium feed or just through the rumor mill, may be wondering how a respected editor of a publication suddenly finds herself being “dishonorably discharged” and publicly shamed without warning. From my perspective, this is what happened:
A few weeks ago, I joined a Facebook group of girlfriends and wives of widowers. This was an eye-opening experience for me. At that time I didn’t have a good reason to join other than being five months into a relationship with a widower. Perhaps I thought that this “support group” would be helpful to me down the road, which many say is a bumpy one. Our travels on the road so far have been smooth, but my feeling is that it is due to the man he is, not the part of him that is widowed.
What struck me the hardest was the bitterness in the group for the late wives of the widowers, the women they refer to as “LWs.” From the way these ladies talk about them, you would think they were villains, not women who had been taken too soon by no fault of their own. In the eyes of these girlfriends and wives, they are women to be feared, threatened by and jealous of. These LWs are no longer here and can no longer defend themselves, and this is one of many reasons I decided to write my “Widower’s Voice” story.
Now I find myself in the position in which I must defend myself to these Facebook women as well as writers and readers from all over the internet because those women contacted the editors of The Coffeelicious to accuse me of plagiarism. With no effort to contact me or seek my perspective, The Coffeelicious publicly, “dishonorably discharged” me in a way that was both unprofessional and personally shaming. I responded in writing to The Coffeelicious that same day with the following email:
To the Editorial Team of the Coffeelicious:
I am writing in response to the email I received from you today. I think you can imagine some of what I felt when I read it. I was shocked, hurt, and saddened. My response now is not intended to argue but neither is it intended to concede to your allegations or accept your characterizations of my writing or me. Take this as observations from a former colleague with whom you once shared mutual respect.
My first concern is that you, the team, apparently met to discuss this situation in secret, which is to say, without informing me. In a more professional setting, that would be seen as unethical. More typically, the object of any sort of performance review would be given the courtesy of at least being made aware of the meeting and ideally would be invited to attend. That transparency is an indication of a healthy and respectful organization. In hindsight, I feel you owe me an apology for discussing my performance, passing judgment, and announcing your findings in the most damaging of terms to thousands of people who had no need to know them, all before informing me.
My second concern is that you accepted the reports and accusations of others as true and complete without ever giving me the benefit of any doubt. Yes, I found myself embroiled in unpleasant exchanges on several occasions, and now, for the first time, you have made me aware that those situations led to complaints to The Coffeelicious. Again, in a healthy organization, we would discuss those complaints with an open mind, realizing that there would be inherent bias among those lodging the complaint. I can guarantee you that I have a very different perspective which you never heard because I was never asked. Of course, I am also biased but my perspective is just as valid as theirs. In my opinion, I feel I was misinterpreted and mistreated. I became the target of an angry group who supported each other in their condemnation of me. I feel you owe me an apology for not even giving me the opportunity to offer my perspective on these admittedly negative and emotionally charged situations.
Regarding your allegation of favoritism,let me remind you, that during my initiation as an editor, I was told in very friendly and open terms that I could publish my own writing as often as I wanted; so you can’t be referring to my own stories. You obvious meant the stories written by Thom Garrett which I published. Again, since you never spoke directly to me, I have to assume that you received complaints about favoritism, and again I have to ask why you didn’t speak directly to me about those complaints. Of course, I would have understood how that would have a negative reflection on our publication, and I would have responded appropriately. However, I continued the unwanted behavior because no one ever spoke to me about it, so, as far as I was aware, there was no problem. I feel you owe me an apology for not respecting me enough to inform me of those complaints so that I might change and improve my performance.
Regarding the alleged plagiarism, I simply deny it. Yes, I see that I unintentionally used similar phrases, but by and large we were two writers writing about very similar situations. Many of the three or four word phrases that the software singled out are almost unavoidable when writing about this, so I am not surprised that they existed in her story and in my story, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find them in other stories, as well.
What is far more troubling to me is the way you announced this to thousands of uninformed readers. “Serious complaints of plagiarism.” First, to the average reader, that translates to, “She plagiarized.” And by making it plural, you suggest that this was a wide-spread occurrence. What is someone with no specific knowledge to think? I can tell you that they will think I have been proven to have plagiarized on multiple occasions, which is entirely false. In this situation in which you have disparaged my integrity, I believe you owe me a public apology, and you owe your readers a public clarification.
In terms of ever having a working relationship with The Coffeelicious again, that ship has sailed. Neither of us wants that. However, until today, I enjoyed my role as part of the editorial team, and while I admittedly feel I have been mistreated, I also would hope to see you hold yourselves to a higher standard. I am not going to argue; I am not going to create a scene; but I do feel very strongly that you owe me a private and public apology, as well as a public clarification of the way you so hurtfully misrepresented me in your unnecessarily public announcement. If you reflect honestly on this, I think you will agree.
I have yet to receive a response from The Coffeelicious to my email, but apparently they received numerous responses from their readers, which prompted them to post yet another hurtful and shaming public announcement defending their actions and essentially throwing me to the wolves. Now uninformed people who have no knowledge of the situation and no basis for an informed judgment have been told to come to their own conclusions about my writing.
The accusation of plagiarism is hurtful and has been damaging to my reputation, but it has no merit. In addition to that unwarranted accusation, I have also been publicly chastised for showing favoritism and having “spats” with other Medium writers. The allegation of favoritism is inflammatory but misrepresents my role as an editor. I was told to publish as many stories as I could that were suitable to our publication, and I did. There was never a finite number allowed, and I have, in fact, never rejected a story. If I chose not to publish a piece, it would remain in the editorial queue for another editor to choose and publish. Perhaps writers who were not published complained, but if they were passed over, it was for legitimate editorial concerns and not because I favored another writer.
Finally, regarding the “spats,” it is undeniable that a few Medium writers and I found ourselves exchanging emotional responses after we had expressed different values on controversial issues. This occurred the previous year and was never mentioned to me as a problem in my performance as an editor with The Coffeelicious, and I don’t see how this is relevant now.
I fully understand the gravity of the problem with which The Coffeelicious was faced and, had they notified me, I would have been happy to help them resolve the issue by removing Widower’s Voice from Medium, discussing my future with The Coffeelicious publication and, if needed, writing a piece collectively upon which we could agree.