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Drama Desk chief Wolf fires back; dissenters say they've been gagged

May 18, 2008 | 10:28 am

Hubbub surrounding the Drama Desk Awards scandal continues to grow. In response to Gold Derby's report of serious charges made against him by several prominent members, President William Wolf sent a heated e-mail to membership equating the article to excrement and slamming internal sources who criticized his leadership.


At least two of those critics did not receive the e-mail directly because, they say, Drama Desk leaders removed them from the Yahoo group that enables them to communicate via e-mail with other members, thus censoring fellow journalists belonging to a media organization. Matthew Murray set up a rival Yahoo e-mail group and is eagerly recruiting members to join Drama Desk Uncensored (click here to sign up).

Leonard Jacobs, national theater editor of Back Stage, is outraged and sent this e-mail (text below) to Charles Wright, Drama Desk treasurer and second vice president, who is also VP for legal and business affairs at A&E. It is reprinted here with Jacobs' OK. He says he has not yet received a response.

Drama Desk leaders have also been accused of gagging the member whose criticism triggered the current scandal. Tony Phillips insists that he hasn't technically resigned yet from the Drama Desk because he was never able to submit his notorious letter of resignation. He says leaders removed his access to the Yahoo group when they got tipped off ahead of time about his letter from New York Post columnist Michael Riedel. To read the resignation letter never officially submitted to the Drama Desk, CLICK HERE. At this point Phillips insists he is still a member and one who is also being gagged.

"The idea of being censorsed by this administration is not sitting easily with me and I've already been in touch with the attorney general's office about it," Phillips says. "They also stripped me of my voting rights even though my dues are paid up through September, so will see what happens."

Here is Leonard Jacobs' e-mail to Drama Desk officer Charles Wright:

Dear Charles,

As you are Treasurer and 2nd Vice President of record of the Drama Desk, I am writing to convey my shock that President Wolf would unilaterally remove Matthew Murray, myself and other dues-paying Drama Desk members from the Drama Desk listserv. That the head of an organization of media professionals would comport himself in such a manner only suggests a validation of the charges leveled against President Wolf and Ms. Siegel in Tom O'Neil's article on the Los Angeles Times website.

After reading the screed President Wolf emailed to the membership today, I wrote a reply that I hoped to publish on the listserv. The letter's intention is to make clear what I find to be one of the more disturbing aspects of this episode: President Wolf's refusal, despite repeated and well-documented requests, to furnish several dues-paying members with a copy of the Drama Desk bylaws. I am given to understand that the bylaws are antiquated — and, indeed, I applaud any effort to update them. I hope you will agree, however, that President Wolf should not stonewall any request to distribute the bylaws to dues-paying members who wish to read them and have taken the liberty of putting their requests in writing.


Below I am pasting the contents of the letter to President Wolf that I had hoped to publish on the listserv. Certainly the language is strong — the matter is rather serious.

As a lawyer, Charles, I'm sure you're aware of the board's responsibilities as stewards of the Drama Desk. For the record, I've no desire to be on the board or the nominating committee. I do have the desire to ascertain the truth. I'm sure you'll agree the truth is in the best interest of everyone, and that it's not in the Drama Desk's best interest to have its President engage in either censorship or stonewalling.

I therefore appeal to you to ensure that President Wolf immediately, and without hesitation, restores the ability of dues-paying members to post on the listserv should they wish to, and to provide a copy of the current bylaws to any dues-paying member who has requested, in writing, to receive a copy.

I further trust that President Wolf will not punitively expel from the Drama Desk any of the same hitherto qualified, dues-paying members who exercised their right to free speech.

I also trust that I will receive a timely response from you in this matter.

Leonard Jacobs

P.S. — For reference — and as President Wolf and others are choosing to demonize those who have spoken out as unqualified hacks — my title at Back Stage is National Theatre Editor. In addition to being a Drama Desk member for several years, I am a Tony voter, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, and a member of several other organizations.