Zadiegate

[PREFACE: For those who are coming into this ridiculous issue (as quite rightly pointed out by Maud) late into the game, I apologize for giving into the kind of gossipmongering that passes so ignobly for journalism these days. In the end, all you need to know is this: Zadie Smith said something negative about England. It wasn't really that big of a deal but Smith flipped. And the statement itself can't really be corroborated because the journalist who initially asked the question keeps changing his story with additional points of "clarification" without producing any evidence. Thus, without hard evidence and with Smith's hazy memories, the real answer as to what was said lies somewhere between the two extremes. This is neither an indictment of the journalist (Boris Kachka) nor of Smith. It is, rather simply, the only conclusion that can be drawn. And this has, contrary to the steaming dollops of high and mighty ethics being preached by all parties (including myself), become the most tedious issue ever exposed on this blog.]

Earlier in the week, I was prepping to have Zadie Smith on The Bat Segundo Show. Publicist Stella Connell, a sweet lady with an adorable Texan dialect, and I talked and we confirmed the details.

I hadn’t placed too much stock in the remarks and the subsequent press reaction that Maud had dug up. The remarks originated in this September 12, 2005 New York Magazine article written by Boris Kachka. Ms. Smith had said, “I’m not interested in being stared at in coffee shops. America’s a big country. In America only a few weirdos read. I mean, it seems like a lot of weirdos, but that’s because you’re a very big country.” But what really set the Sunday Times on edge was this statement about England:

“It’s a disgusting place. It’s the way people look at each other on the train; just general stupidity, madness, vulgarity, stupid TV shows; aspirational arseholes, money everywhere.”

The UK press had a field day. But maybe Ms. Smith was having a bad day. After all, no place is perfect. Everyone vents from time to time. As passionate as I am about San Francisco, I’ve bitched regularly about the vapid yuppies in Cole Valley, the horrid policies against the homeless, and the air of corruption and favoritism that fuels pretty much every political decision that many of these genteel crooks at City Hall make. And I suspect that Kachka caught Smith during a moment when she was bummed out. It happens.

But Smith had insisted during a Radio 4 interview that this statement was taken out of context. For those who don’t have audio capabilities, here’s the selective transcript:

INTERVIEWER: This morning, you’re widely quoted as describing England as “a disgusting place.” What is it that makes you say that?
SMITH: I didn’t say that. I’m incredibly embarassed it’s in the papers. And I’ve been a bit weepy this morning because of it. [choked up a bit]
INTERVIEWER: So it’s not what you think.
SMITH: No, of course not. I was asked by an American journalist. He kept on saying, “England’s changed a lot. Hasn’t it? And we get your trash TV.” And I said, “Yes, I love England, but the things which I don’t love about it are those things.” I don’t love trash TV. And I’m sad when I see people glaring at each other on the tube. And those things upset me. But they only upset you when you love your country so much. ‘Cause you’re sad when you feel bits of it to be in decline. But you know.

Maud wasn’t the only one looking into this. Galleycat’s Ron Hogan actually tracked down Boris Kachka and had him play the tape, noting, “[S]he certainly did say those words in that order, whatever the context might have been and whether she’s willing to stand by them now.”

But yesterday afternoon, I received a voicemail from Cornell stating that “all interviews are canceled.” She didn’t state a reason and was very apologetic.

But what was the source of this decision? Did it come from the head of Penguin or from Smith herself?

I telephoned Kachka and got in touch with him this morning. He said that, in hindsight, he shouldn’t have played the tape for Ron because it sets a bad precedent. He told me that the comments regarding England had come completely from Zadie Smith’s own mouth through a tangential riff.

I was particularly curious if Kachka had asked a followup question after Ms. Smith had said those words about England. After all, when you’re talking with someone during an interview, you want to get as complete a picture as possible.

Kachka did ask one followup question, “What’s so bad about England right now?” Kachka insists that the conversation didn’t come from trash TV, but from the more general rubric of politics and about Smith being in the States during 9/11.

He also noted, rather ominously, “She doesn’t realize that when journalists come under suspicion, we have the tapes to prove it.” He didn’t play the tape for me.

This morning, I also called Cornell back, hoping to get an answer. Cornell told me that Smith had been overscheduled and that she had been forced to cut back because she did not want to exhaust herself. The decision had come directly from Smith herself and Penguin supported the decision. But at the back of my mind, I wondered if the Kachka interview had something to do with Smith’s decision.

In Smith’s defense, it’s fair to say that Kachka was only one of dozens of interviews that Smith gave to New York journalists and that no author can be expected to recall the precise details of every single interview.

So what’s the answer? Possibly somewhere in between. Smith probably recalls that there was indeed a tangent, but may not recall the exact nature of said tangent. But if the question itself is, as Kachka states, a negative one (“What’s so bad about England?”), then it’s small wonder that a negative response was given.

[UPDATE: Maud points to this press release issued by Penguin Books on September 9, 2005.]

[UPDATE 2: Boris Kachka left me a voicemail this morning sometime after this was posted. To add an additional level of irony to this tale, he says that the report here has been taken out of context. Here's what he had to say:

"Hi, it's Boris from New York Magazine. I realize that I'm probably making this worse. But I read your account on your blog and it still misrepresents what I was telling you, which is that I did not ask her -- I did not lead her in a negative direction. And I have the transcript up in front of me. I'm not going to read it to you. But I will tell you exactly how it went. I asked her whether she protested the war when she was in Boston. She said, 'Well in the most minimal way. Just like anybody else. But it's the most European corner of America. So I wasn't, you know, being stood on my doorstep or anything.' And then she said, 'But in a way I'm glad that I was in America and not here. Because I would have been saddened to see what happened during that time. Now that I'm back and I can see it, it makes me very sad. It's a different country. When I talk about England now, I just think about the England I love and it's gone. It just doesn't exist anymore.'

"And that's when I asked, 'What's so bad about England?' And she said, 'It's everything.' Blah blah blah. You know the rest. So there you go. There's your full context. And I really don't think this whole thing should be scooped anymore. But there you go. I'm not going to let this be a he said, she said. That's exactly what happened. So...thanks."]

[UPDATE 3: Liz Spiers takes me to task for implying that Kachka was in the wrong. The criticism here is not about flattering a subject or even defending her (besides, I'm more focused on ferreting out the facts), but of uncovering the full complexities of what Smith was feeling about England rather than leaping to some grand assertion: SMITH HATES ENGLAND in 48 point type. I'd say that the "What's so bad about England?" question, particularly after Kachka's voicemail, still strikes me as a negative question. Was the interview conducted shortly after the London Underground bombings? If so, my hunch here is that Smith was going through some mixed up emotions. Why didn't Kachka ask Smith, "Surely there are good things about England." That would have clarified Smith's position instead of reinforcing the negative line of questioning. Human feelings often shift into gray areas. And the problem with all the hype from this article is that it fails to even consider this.

If Kachka "has the tapes to prove it," then why not release the entire tape or the entire transcript to set the record straight. Why pussyfoot around the question with the whole "And then she said" moment between two passages, as he noted in his voicemail to me. It suggests that Kachka is omitting some section of the transcript.

However, I should also note that Ms. Smith is an adult and thus fully capable of knowing what happens when she opens her mouth.

I still contend, without any favoritism directed towards Smith or Kachka (unlike Spiers), that the answer lies somewhere between the two extremes. ]

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24 Comments

  1. I don’t understand all the fuss about this. England’s a mess — so what? Why is everyone so furious? And what does it have to do with whether the novel is any good? I’m sorry you lost the interview. Maybe they’ll reconsider when this has calmed down.

  2. I, for one, am glad SOMEONE IS FINALLY TALKING TRASH. If one more writer talked about how her husband was “her life” (looking at you, Nicole and Zadie) or how a sense of innocence had been lost (Hilary, Vendela, DAVE, Ed) or got married or talked very seriously about George Bush and why writing matters I was going to SCREAMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.

  3. Any nation in which marmite is eaten by a large percentage of the populace is ipso facto disgusting.

  4. This is getting ridiculous.

    It seems pretty clear that contrary to what Zadie Smith would now like people to believe, she was NOT somehow “tricked” into saying what she said. Speaking out of turn is one thing: we’re all human, and if anything it’s actually refreshing that Smith doesn’t just rely on polite soundbites. And to be sure, the reaction to her comments has been all out of proportion.

    But this “it’s all his fault, he made me do it” routine is (a) from all available evidence bullshit, and (b) much more distasteful (contemptible, even) than the statements themselves.

    >> In Smith’s defense, it’s fair to say that Kachka was only one of dozens of interviews that Smith gave to New York journalists and that no author can be expected to recall the precise details of every single interview.

    And yet, she was apparently confident enough in her recollection to blame everything on him.

    >>> Why didn’t Kachka ask Smith, “Surely there are good things about England.”

    Am I taking crazy pills? Why on earth should the reporter be expected to say to himself, “Uh oh, things are getting negative here, I better raise the tone”?

    And I have to say, “What’s so bad about England” is not only a pretty innocuous question, but to me it sure sounds like an attempt to “clarify Smith’s position.”

    The best thing Smith could have said in her press release would have been something along the lines of “My comments were off the cuff and not representative of my real feelings about my country and I regret making them.” That’s how a grownup would handle the situation.

    Instead, she chose to claim (again, from all available evidence falsely) that they were “twisted and out of context.”

    I can’t understand why anyone would feel the need to serve as an apologist for this kind of crap.

  5. who cares

    i’ve said the same things about new york city and america maybe two thousand times in my life, out loud, to people, with conviction

    if she thinks something is disgusting, then that’s what she thinks

    it’s not exactly a wild, controversy, or insightful opinion

    the amount of attention being paid to this is instead of other issues, instead of issues that affect people in a life/death way, is probably the equivalent of one vote for Bush in 2004

    that is not an immature or absurd statement, but probably true

  6. “Am I taking crazy pills? Why on earth should the reporter be expected to say to himself, “Uh oh, things are getting negative here, I better raise the tone”?”

    No I believe Ed wrote “That would have clarified Smith’s position”. Clarified. Doesn’t really have anything to do with raising the tone. Depending on Zadie’s answer it could have gotten even more negative. It’s astonishing how something can be written in plain English but, depending on whose reading it, morphs into something else entirely.

    I’m just dying for Banville’s book to be released. I’m too poor to get it from Amazon UK.

  7. For this week’s tempest in a teapot I was hoping for something more, I don’t know, weighty. Substantial even.

    Let’s see if I understand. We are not to be particularly upset by whatever Ms.Smith may or may not think about England, but whether she stands by what sone interviewers claim she said? Did I get that right?

    She said, he said. She said she didn’t say. Big media guns enter fray. She cancels interviews. Oih vey. And blah blah blah.

    Anyway, I was thinking of reading On Beauty and talking to Zadie Smith. Now, I think I will finish Tommy Hays’s wonderful book, The Pleasure is Mine and Jim Fergus’s Wild Girl and pass on the unavoidably distracted Smith.

    But the bigger thing that I am weighing is whether I want to continue to talk to writers who are engaged in this increasingly unholy activity, the book tour. I can say that in the past 15 years that I have been taking advantage of authors on parade there has been a shift to a mechanization of these publicity initiatives. And I have had to work harder to make it clear that what I do is not an extension of those marketing efforts which have something to do with selling books and only peripherally something to do with literature.

    By the way, did anyone read the new Tom McGuane story, “Cowboy” in the New Yorker? Hilarious.

    As confident as I have been that what I bring to the literary dialogues I engage in, it has been become more clear to me that book tour gerbil wheel creates a mind set that is a burden and an obstacle. Some authors do countless “interviews” in the big cities and that’s a joke and some authors do almost none and that’s another kind of (bad) joke.

    I am clear that there are lots ( I mean really lots) of writers, who for whatever reason, write their books, do a little publicity and then write another book. I think that’s where I ‘m going. I hope some people follow me.

  8. Ed – I favor the journalist who has proof, not Boris specifically. And my rationale is based on the inherent burden of proof, which lies with the author if she is contending that the journalist misrepresented her and implicitly questions his or her professional integrity–and publicly, at that. I happen to know Boris, but would take the same position if I didn’t. This is not he said/she said. this is she said/he-said-and-he-has-proof.

    I also find it strange that you think the more palatable answer on zadie’s part was the more “clarified” one. as I stated before, I see no indication that asking her the follow up question “what’s so bad about england?” in any way led her to give a negative response. if anything, she could have said, “nothing, I’m just not happy with …” or “england is great…” Did she? No. The question did not demand a negative answer. she chose to give one.

    Also – New York magazine never releases tapes institutionally and while I don’t think they’d reprimand Boris for playing the tape for Ron–who could blame him–it’s a bad precedent to set for any publication. It’s also standard policy not to release tapes at *most* major magazines and newspapers. don’t want to take my word for it? ask your journalist friends who are staffed at those places.

  9. >>>> “Am I taking crazy pills? Why on earth should the reporter be expected to say to himself, “Uh oh, things are getting negative here, I better raise the tone”?”

    >> No I believe Ed wrote “That would have clarified Smith’s position”. Clarified.

    Except that the whole “clarified” thing is a bit of a ruse. The reporter DID attempt to clarify Smith’s position (“What’s so bad about England?”).

    How can anyone believe that saying “Surely there are good things about England” would have been less leading and more “clarifying”? Again, am I taking crazy pills? Is black white and day night?

    The “clarity” issue is just a desperately-reaching way to blame the reporter for what Smith chose to say.

    I also take issue with this:

    >> I still contend, without any favoritism directed towards Smith or Kachka (unlike Spiers), that the answer lies somewhere between the two extremes. ]

    So the fact that Spiers used to work with the reporter (which she disclosed) = “favoritism,” while the fact that Ed has been trying to get an interview with Zadie Smith and presumably would still like to get one in the future = “no favoritism”? Come on.

  10. >> Let’s see if I understand. We are not to be particularly upset by whatever Ms.Smith may or may not think about England, but whether she stands by what sone interviewers claim she said? Did I get that right?

    OK, so I get the whole “ho hum, I’m above this petty fray, what about the life of the mind” thing. But believe it or not, some of us media types actually do get exercised by little nuts & bolts issues like this one. (“This one” meaning the issue of a source shooting off her mouth and then blaming the reporter when people don’t like what she had to say.)

    As for the rest of your post, are you saying that the hellacious book tour and gerbil mentality are actually affecting the quality of discourse in, say, the interviews you’ve done? It’s not clear if that’s the case (or if it’s just inherently bad that authors are doing lots of interviews), but if so THAT would be an interesting point to follow up.

  11. Elizabeth: I think that this most inconsequential of debates has established that this is a “he said, she said” affair. If you favor the journalist who has proof, great. So do I. But the proof is now, quite literally, in the pudding. That’s how trivial this goddam issue is. Shoot me for even perpetuating it. Mea culpa big time on that score.

    Boris’s proof has not been adequately produced. It has been framed within varying points of context to me through Boris, with endless messages and varying levels of “clarification” — to the point where I can now no longer care less about the exact degrees of what was said. And all this for a quote that really wasn’t all that big a deal to begin with.

    I say again: the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes. No other conclusion can be drawn.

    Now can we go back to discussing something important and leave the gossipmongering to the Media Bistro people?

    DW: To some degree. Authors invariably have scripts that they latch onto. Inevitable, given that they are often asked the same questions over and over. But my goal as an interviewer is to steer them off the track, ideally through questions that the others aren’t likely to ask (probably because most journalists don’t even bother to read the books or do the kind of backbreaking research that I do).

    The discourse would be markedly improved if these journalists, who, believe it or not, have less time than I do, actually read the goddam books. Or perhaps it could be improved if they focused on the books in question rather than who they happen to be fucking at the moment.

  12. >> DW: To some degree. Authors invariably have scripts that they latch onto. Inevitable, given that they are often asked the same questions over and over. But my goal as an interviewer is to steer them off the track, ideally through questions that the others aren’t likely to ask (probably because most journalists don’t even bother to read the books or do the kind of backbreaking research that I do)…….

    My question was actually meant for Birnbaum (though of course your response is also appreciated).

    But I think what I’m asking is this….

    Birnbaum seems to be suggesting that even when an interviewer such as him (or yourself) DOES put a lot of thought and background research into an interview, authors are unable to properly rise to the occasion, so to speak, because their thinking and speaking has been so deformed by the book-tour hamster wheel.

    Am I reading that right?

    And if I’m not, then what’s wrong with authors doing a book tour and giving lots of interviews, which are bound to be wide-ranging in terms of substance, quality, and interest?

  13. DW: There’s nothing wrong, per se, in interviews of a wide-ranging expanse. In fact, if that was the case, then I’d be the first person here doing cart wheels. But I don’t think that this is what has been going on. Whether because journalists don’t desire to upset their publicity contacts or because it’s easier to settle with the standard questions, more often than not, in my view, they fail to initiate their subjects in either a provocative much less a thoughtful answer. It’s very easy to see this if you do a Google/LEXIS search for any given author and compare interviews. You become almost immediately familiar with an author’s voiceprint and certain boilerplate responses that authors latch onto, some of them practically transmuting themselves into robots.

    The most remarkably ignoble example of this banal favoritism (not specifically in the book world, but in the larger territory of entertainment journalism) is probably the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the remarkable perqs and tchochkes used to bribe them so that when they do, in fact, interview their subjects and vote for the Golden Globes, it is, indeed, a deck stacked in the subjects’ favor.

    As to the subjects themselves, I too would be interested to hear what Birnbaum has to say. I think there are varying levels of conversational skills and intelligence within any subject. One can’t really make a generalization, nor be unduly prejudiced by this, because a brilliant author might not necessarily be a brilliant conversationalist. Or vice versa.

  14. “have more time than I do” — I meant above.

  15. Ed, you have successfully baited me yet again. I have not once changed my story. Nor have I left you “endless” messages. You called me, remember? Then I left you one voicemail, defending myself, and after you printed that undigested, I sent you an email for your own edification outlining how foolish your reasoning has been, and how tenuous your grasp of journalism. How else was I supposed to respond to your attacks? Don’t worry, this is the last you’ll hear from me. I certainly hope it’s the last I hear from you.

  16. stop wasting my time by making me come here to read… i don’t even know what

  17. Boris: Slow day at the New York Magazine office?

    Again, these are not attacks.

    It may not have been “endless,” but three voicemails from you within an hour strikes me as a tad obsessive. The problem here is that you view what I have presented here as an attack when I am only reproducing WHAT YOU HAVE TOLD ME (with admittedly a bit of snark from me thrown in for good measure). Since that isn’t enough, you get your friend Liz to weigh in with a post that views the journalist as RIGHT and the author as WRONG. No room for gray areas. Only absolutes. That’s an absurd perspective by just about any measure.

    To give you the benefit of the doubt, I posted your clarification (include the text of your voicemail to me with scant editorializing) and yet you still believe I am attacking you.

    It’s very simple, Boris. I haven’t heard the tape in its entirety. So I have no reference point other than trusting you. But since your story keeps changing ever so slightly with each new voicemail and email, I’m not really sure that I can do that. So I’m forced to conclude that “the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes.” That is, I think, a kind and generous estimate. And it’s certainly not an attack or libel, but the ONLY CONCLUSION that one can form.

    I urge you to look up a word called “hearsay” in your dictionary. Please allow me to edify you when I tell you that this there’s a reason why hearsay is not acceptable as court testimony. And that’s essentially what we have here.

    So there’s no story here. No one can confirm what was said unless you produce the tape in its entirety. Which you’re not willing to do — for understandable reasons. So it’s essentially a non-issue. Besides, it’s not as if Zadie Smith said anything particularly seditious here.

  18. >> Since that isn’t enough, you get your friend Liz to weigh in

    So “hearsay” isn’t admissible, but assumptions like this one are?

    Seems pretty obvious that you’ve painted yourself into a logical / ethical corner by trying to get into Zadie Smith’s good graces, So instead of addressing any substantive points on what is admittedly a minor issue (albeit one that’s understandably of great interest to real journalists), you just keep hammering away on the same very vague talking points.

    Oh, and just to cut off the next assumption, I don’t know any of these people and no one’s been “getting” me to “weigh in.” Believe it or not, not everyone who disagrees with your specious reasoning has personal motives.

    (And since Spiers has obviously followed your blog and commented on it before, the above attack on her motives seems unwarranted and shameful to me.)

  19. DW: Okay. Fair enough. Liz’s post may have been motivated by one friend looking out for another. But just so you know, at this point, I could care less about getting into anyone’s good graces on this subject. Apparently, it’s impossible or “specious” to even consider that Smith’s answer to Radio Four had some element of validity. Or for that matter, it’s “specious” to not agree entirely with Boris because (quite understandably) he won’t produce the entire transcript.

  20. To me what’s specious is the idea that a reporter bears any responsibility for what an adult subject chooses to say in an interview. (Even if they DO ask leading questions, frankly! Though I must also say that I simply do not believe Smith was led down a garden path.)

    And the idea that “Surely there are good things about England” would be somehow better journalism than “So what’s so bad about England” (which is the thing that got my blood boiling and prompted me to get into this whole mess in the first place) strikes me as, yes, specious in the extreme.

    That said, I realize I’m repeating myself here and I’m sick of listening to myself talk about this (as is, I’m sure, anyone reading) so I’m happy to cede the field. If some kind of more general and substantive discussion of what it’s like to interview authors springs out of this, then maybe that’s the best thing that could happen.

  21. Hatergate? Okay, everyone, be honest: you’re just jealous someone got to interview Zadie before you did. And now you won’t.

  22. Geez, I leave you guys alone and all (well okay, a little) hell breaks out.

    First, DW I am going to make an exception and respond to you, although I am disinclined to answer an anonymous correspondent— not because I am above anything—let’s say it’s a personal choice.

    I made another personal choice which apparently irks you enough to attribute an attitude to me that is quite foreign (to me)— certainly if I thought I was above any fray, as you put it, then I wouldn’t be announcing or participating in it, even to dismiss it. I would be silent.

    Also, please keep in mind that I started out my comments with questions—not rhetorical, but sincere I- don’t -get- it -questions. If you want to infer an attitude from that that would be your choice—but I think it’s a bad one that discredits your intentions.

    And if you are miffed that I or anyone missed/dismissed this as a “nuts and bolts issue”—you might allow for varying perspectives. “The issue of a source shooting off her mouth and then blaming the reporter when people don’t like what she had to say” might have been of concern if the “she” was Condi Rice or Hillary Clinton talking policy or issues. But an offhanded remark by an exhuberant artist who decides to recant or second guess her own innocuous, marginally controversial remark(about England)—that’s a non starter for me. And your gratuitous “life of the mind” thingy—what was that ? A barb? An implication that some jejune, effete nonsense was being proferred? What?

    My suggestion to you —if I may— is that if you want to engage people on issues with which you are concerned, you might temper the assumptions that you make (or at least have the good sense to keep them to your self).

    As to Ms Spiers I am not yet prepared to take instruction from her on ethical and journalistic matters —she kind of reminds me of Gil Scott Heron’s reference to Norman Schwartzkopf in his powerful anti war paean,Work for Peace—okay, forgive the digression. And her rejoinder, loaded with legalisms, solecisms and the like: “favor the journalist who has proof “, “inherent burden of proof” , “questions his or her professional integrity,” ” bad precedent to set for any publication” ,” standard policy not to release tapes ” are pretty much beside the point…

    And then there is this , ” In a lot of the book blog coverage I’m reading, there seems to be an odd willingness to automatically defend the author as if the reporter has some responsibility to protect the author rather than to treat her as a subject. ” blah blah blah. This kind of statement is out of the Fox Network playbook. “A lot of blog coverage”? sounds like “Some say…” and then the introduction of some looney theory or allegation —one of the Fox flying monkeys favorite tricks. For someone so concerned with journalistic practice I wouldn’t be bandying this kind of stuf about.

    I have been taking advantage of the book tour to bring writers to my doorstep for well over 15 years. I don’t see it as being a controversial statement to say that things have changed. In the early pages of Brett Ellis’s Lunar Park he ascerbically describes the book business back in the mid 80′s —except it sounds like now.

    See that elephant in the room— I want you not to think about it. Which is my way of suggesting that the book tour and various charm initiatives do—must— have an effect on the content of the interviews that sprout from it. It’s a bigger topic— the apportionment of attention —but I do wonder about the many writers not on tour and who don’t have the (a) publicity machine behind them. Just like I wonder about Ellis or Moody or Smith or Rushdie getting zillions of reviews and book page attention and Steve Stern and Stephen Dixon and Fred Busch and Lee Smith and Maria Flook and on and on being ignored as the pack rushes to the next big book author (to their credit, Dan Wickett and Ron Hogan don’t do that.) And I don;t see that as contriversial either

    Lastly, a while back I mildly rebuked a writer/critic for what I took to be a silly recantation of his original review.
    The fellow , of course, took exception and and hectored me about giving publicity to a such a horrible( on further reading this guy seems to discover the worst book he’s ever read every other week) book. And that’s what really rubs me —that what journalists do is reduced, even by them, to mere publicity.

    Now I am happy if the attention I and others provide have some postive effect on some one’s fortunes. But I and my fellow practioners ought NOT be an extension of the publicity juggernaut. Right?

    Like that.

  23. Oh boy. Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in.

    To Birnbaum: Granted, “above the fray” was a poor choice of words, and the “life of the mind” bit was indeed a gratuitous (and meaningless) barb for which I apologize. You’re right to call me on that.

    However, I really can’t swallow this:

    >> Also, please keep in mind that I started out my comments with questions—not rhetorical, but sincere I- don’t -get- it -questions. If you want to infer an attitude from that that would be your choice—but I think it’s a bad one that discredits your intentions.

    The passage in question is below. I have a hard time believing that any reasonable person (to keep up the legalese) would take those question marks to be sincere rather than rhetorical.

    And the attitude I inferred is one of “why are we wasting our time talking about this,” which would seem to be confirmed in your very next para.

    (Though believe me, it’s an attitude I’m certainly starting to see the wisdom of.)

    >> Let’s see if I understand. We are not to be particularly upset by whatever Ms.Smith may or may not think about England, but whether she stands by what sone interviewers claim she said? Did I get that right?

    >> She said, he said. She said she didn’t say. Big media guns enter fray. She cancels interviews. Oih vey. And blah blah blah.

    The only other thing I want to respond to:

    >> But an offhanded remark by an exhuberant artist who decides to recant or second guess her own innocuous, marginally controversial remark(about England)—that’s a non starter for me.

    Recant away. Second-guess away. Got no problem with that. What all this has been about, at least for me, was the decision to blame the reporter for her own words.

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