Former New York Times Magazine writer Andrew Goldman is accusing the paper
of firing him for asking impertinent questions of a Times advertiser. Goldman, who publicly scuffled with author Jennifer Weiner over accusations of misogyny in 2012, says in a new documentary that the Times canned him for asking fashion entrepreneur Diane von Furstenberg—whose company DVF advertises in the paper—about her gay husband Barry Diller.
Goldman was suspended from the Times gig for a month after he tweeted an insult to Weiner’s appearance in response to her suggestion that some of his interviews were sexist. Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote at the time that Goldman was lucky he wasn’t fired for his “hideous misjudgment.” He returned from that suspension in November 2012 and continued to conduct interviews and write features for the magazine until July 2013, when he quietly left with no public explanation.
Since then, Goldman has been producing and directing a documentary called The Desk, which makes the case that former Times executive editor Jill Abramson fired him over a contentious interview with Von Furstenberg, who objected to Goldman’s questions about her husband’s sexuality and her family’s Nazi ties. The Desk, which began screening at the Florida Film Festival on Thursday, uses a strange blend of documentary and lightly fictionalized recreations to chronicle Goldman’s fall from Timesian grace, and his obsessive attempts to launch a U.S. career for a New Zealand broadcaster named Paul Henry. (Gawker is planning to host a New York screening of the film this spring.)
Until his dismissal, Goldman wrote the magazine’s “Talk” column, delivering a weekly interview—often a probing or off-kilter one—with a newsworthy or otherwise prominent subject. In June 2013, after being aggressively lobbied by her publicity department for an appearance in the column, Goldman visited Diane von Furstenberg at her New York City office* to conduct an interview. The transcript and audio recording of the hour-long conversation, obtained by Gawker, show that it was an occasionally uneasy conversation. Von Furstenberg bristled, for instance, when Goldman asked about the fact that her husband, IAC CEO Barry Diller—who is commonly understood to be gay—appeared on Out Magazine’s 2013 Power 50 list.
Andrew Goldman: You told Interview Magazine that you were the first woman [Diller] had been with.
Diane von Furstenberg: Listen, I am writing a book right now, I don’t want to deal with all of that because my publishing house would be so unhappy. What is the question?
Goldman: I think people see it as an unorthodox relationship. This is a man who’s No. 9 on the Out Magazine power list—people just don’t understand it.
Von Furstenberg: I don’t understand what is there to understand? This man has been my lover, my friend, and he’s now my husband. I have been with him for 35 years, I don’t understand. Do I ask you how many times you’ve slept with your wife? It’s just unbelievable, I don’t understand. My relationship with Barry is the most real relationship I have ever seen, experienced or had, that’s it.
Goldman: Alright, that’s fair. Do you think it’s an unfair question? People are curious about it.
Von Furstenberg: No, it’s not an unfair question but I can only answer you the truth, right? You asked me if read your column, and I said, “No.” So I am an honest person. Do you want to ask me if I sleep with Barry Diller? Yes. Okay?
Goldman: Here’s the thing: I interviewed a woman three weeks ago who is an 80-year-old lesbian who has gone all the way to the Supreme Court fighting for gay marriage. I just feel like this is a world where everybody is free—
Von Furstenberg: Yes, but for me it’s not—I mean, it’s not an issue. I don’t understand, you know what I’m saying, we are married and we are married and we have had a real relationship. At times we were separated, at times we were only friends, at times we were lovers, at times we’re husband and wife. That’s our life.
Goldman, who at the time of the interview was on a tight leash with his editors in light of the Weiner debacle, says he cleared the Diller line of questioning with then-Times Magazine editor-in-chief Hugo Lindgren beforehand.
He also asked von Furstenberg, who is Jewish and whose mother escaped the Holocaust, about her former mother-in-law’s friendship with Adolf Hitler, which was first documented by Howard Rosenman in Los Angeles Times Magazine in 2009.
According to The Desk, shortly after the interview, Goldman was summoned to the office of “The Chief”—a fictional stand-in for Lindgren—who, along with a subordinate editor, informed him that they were ending his contract. (Though the recreated scene obscures the identities of the characters portrayed, a subtitle assures viewers that “all lines spoken by actors were actually said.”)
The von Furstenberg interview, they told him, had gone too far. Specifically, they objected to the “tone” of Goldman’s questions, citing in particular and exchange in which Goldman asked about von Furstenberg’s belief, noted several times before, that her own birth was a “miracle”:
Goldman: I’ve heard you use the line, or I’ve read you say, that your birth was a miracle. Do you literally believe that?
Von Furstenberg: Oh yeah.
Goldman: When I think of miracles I think of Moses parting the Red Sea, virgin birth, Jesus...
Von Furstenberg: My mother came out of the death camp, okay, so not many people did. Six million Jews died. My mother was one of the few of who didn’t die. That is a miracle.
It is not clear whether “Chief” and the other editor (who, like Lindgren, is lightly fictionalized) actually believed Goldman’s tone was problematic to the point of compromising his ability to interview subjects for the magazine. In the firing scene, Goldman retorts: “You know what you call that? When somebody answers, ‘Yes, I thought my birth was literally a miracle’? A good fucking question.”
A still from The Desk shows a DVF ad in the Times’ T Magazine.
According to the The Desk, it was actually Abramson herself who, after requesting a copy of the von Furstenberg interview tape, ordered Goldman fired. The Desk also points out that Diane von Furstenberg is a major advertiser for T, the Times’ glossy fashion magazine, and accuses Abramson of terminating Goldman on behalf of a sponsor—a clear violation of the paper’s ethical standards, as enumerated in its handbook, Ethical Journalism.
The published von Furstenberg interview obliquely refers to “curiosity” about her marriage, but doesn’t address why people are curious. It refers to her mother’s escape from Auschwitz and her first marriage to Prince Egon von Furstenberg, but not to Rosenman’s public claims that the prince’s mother was a friend to Hitler.
Goldman, who serves as the film’s narrator, attributes the (previously unreported) involvement of Abramson to unnamed sources within the Times; he declined to elaborate on their identities in an interview with Gawker. The paper, Abramson, and Lindgren all declined to comment on Goldman’s characterization of his dismissal. When asked about the film generally, Lindgren wrote in an email: “I have respect for how hard Andrew worked on the interviews he did for the magazine and I wish him well.”