A court of no appeal:Renata Adler & Individual Writers vs. The New York Times & The Business of Personalities(Analysis, Opinion)
An absolute "must" read for any professional writer who must face down veiled business interests and the cult of personality. Having myself already faced jail for not revealing a source, as well as thugs trying to scare me off a corruption probe, I find myself agreeing with Renata Adler: hidden agendas on the part of publishing businesses and attempts to smear and suppress are about more than words. Interestingly enough, the publications and businesses that are the most liberal--and often darned proud of it-- are those that are the most frightened by the freedom of individuals, and most especially strong individual writers.
A long read, with many references, but darned well worth it. Happy weekend! (Note: commentary is an opinion, as indicated in the headline.)
How one obscure sentence upset the New York Times
By Renata Adler
In January of this year , Simon & Schuster published my book Gone: The Last Days of The New Yorker. I had been at The New Yorker since 1963–with an absence of about fourteen months, during which I was Bosley Crowther’s successor as the film critic of the New York Times. Although I had written for other publications, I thought I knew the magazine pretty well. The New Yorker, I wrote, is dead. I did not expect everyone to agree or to welcome my account of what happened to the magazine. Perhaps not surprisingly, the colleagues whom I had loved and admired through the years tended to share my views. Those of whom I thought less highly, and whom I portrayed less admiringly, did not.
Throughout the book, I referred to matters in the outside world, politics, travels, issues, assignments taken and not taken, discussions with William Shawn, the great editor, who, over a period of more than thirty years, naturally grew old, declined, and lost control of his magazine. A young editor whom I met in January said he thought I had treated The New Yorker as though it were the proverbial canary in a mine shaft. Its death meant something about the capacity of any living creative enterprise to survive within the culture. The thought had not crossed my mind. It has crossed my mind now......
It must be said that, although I was not, as far as I know, discourteous, I was not particularly deferential or awestruck either........
........This, I would say, raises issues, fundamentally, of ethics. So does covering up conflicts of interest: unsigned editorials by writers mentioned unfavorably in books the editorials disparage; quotations, without any acknowledgment of conflict, from “sources” whose work, whose very methods, has been attacked by the person under discussion, in the pages of the Times itself. So does the concealment of undeniably relevant information: the fact that Jack Sirica was not just the son of Judge Sirica but a reporter at Newsday, a journalist, a colleague (imagine the Times coming to the defense, against a single passage, of the father of anyone who was not a fellow journalist); even the omission of virtually defining facts about John Dean. And, finally, the bullying, the disproportion, in publishing eight disparaging pieces (seven in non-reviewing sections) about what was, after all, one little book. The Times, clearly, was cross about something. But there are ethical issues, I think, raised even by this sort of piling on.....
And this, this last issue–retraction–is where the stakes are inescapably, dangerously, raised. And why the whole series of attacks addresses something more serious than my little book. Look again at Barringer’s formulation:
As it stands, Ms. Adler and Simon & Schuster, a unit of Viacom, are either cheaply smearing Judge Sirica–with legal impunity–or they have evidence…. But neither the publisher nor the author shows any urgency about resolving the issue, either by retracting the accusation or establishing its accuracy.
This is nothing if not a coercive formulation, pressure not just on a writer but on her publisher, and even her publisher’s owner, “Simon & Schuster, a unit of Viacom,” to retract. Whenever–and I think this is true without exception–you find a publication, or a journalist, calling for a retraction by, of all things, a solitary writer (and actual pressure on her publisher, “cheaply smearing”), you know what sort of realm you are in. It is a realm where received ideas are not just propagated but enforced–and it is an unmistakably totalitarian realm.