Sam Tanenhaus Crosses the Line Between Advertising and Editorial

If there was any doubt that Sam Tanenhaus lacked integrity after his unethical assignment of John Dean to review Mark Felt’s memoir, Galleycat uncovers this disgraceful juxtaposition of an ad for Jonathan Franzen’s The Discomfort Zone running on the same page as a letter from Tom Bissell gushing about Franzen. (Bissell’s letter is in response to Daniel Mendelsohn’s review.) I observed two weeks ago that the timeliness of this review was suspect. (Mendelsohn’s review appeared almost two months after the book was reviewed by Michiko Kakutani.) Whether this had any bearing on securing the ad, only the folks inside the NYTBR will know for sure.

Even so, I haven’t seen such an obvious shill since the infamous Target-sponsored New Yorker. Ron Hogan emailed Sam Tanenhaus and Tanenhaus responded, “We don’t see any ads until we close” and further noted that “letters are neutral space, unlike reviews.” Except, of course, that Tom Bissell’s letter engages in highly subjective language that is a bit more than “neutral.”

Yeah. My dog ate my homework too.

Sam Tanenhaus sincerely believes that the NYTBR is the best newspaper book review section in the nation. But his continued incompetence leads me to believe that he doesn’t care about journalistic integrity and that he lacks even the forethought, something that every journalism major is aware of, to switch an ad like this to another page. That’s too bad. The NYTBR used to be something worth reading. Now, it’s just a joke.

[To offer something Tanenhaus’s way, I will say that the new issue has some interesting coverage. For example, how many review sections have you seen containing a full review of Fowles’ second notebook? But Tanenhaus interviewing Amy Sedaris in this week’s podcast is semi-disastrous, simply because Tanenhaus’s gruff interrogative questioning style is at odds with his desperate efforts to show how hip he is. Here’s a hint, Sam: loosen up. Also: What the fuck, Henry Alford?]


  1. Ad placement aside . . . gushing? About the only gushing thing I say is that Franzen is much funnier than Mendelsohn lets on. Hardly a geyser. My letter was written in response to a review that crossed more lines than Route 66, that went after Jonathan Franzen, human being, rather than Jonathan Franzen, writer (who is fair game). And if the ad is the result of some sort of integrity-souring conspiracy, wouldn’t you say, given the thrashing the Times has twice now given Mr. Franzen, it’s rather byzantine? From my days of having worked on the editorial side of things, I can pretty much guarantee you that that letters-section ad space was purchased long before I wrote my epistle last week. I think this is all an unseemly coincidence. My two cents, anyway. Cheers,

  2. I would certainly concur with Mr. Bissell, and see no reason not to take the explanation Mr. Tanenhaus gave me at face value.

    The real shame is that nobody is discussing how profoundly wrongheaded Mendelsohn’s interpretation of Peanuts is, or criticizing his slam of Charles Schulz as “this repugnant person.”

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