Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Times Fawns Over Insider's Book...Again!

Bioimage Lynn G DolnickTimes editors can't stop lavishing praise on books linked to their corporate overlords — and one corporate overlord can't seem to keep her family members from enjoying the fruits of this self-dealing. Times board member Lynn Dolnick yet again has an immediate family member whose book is featured in her newspaper, and yet again there is no disclosure of the connection to the board or to publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who is Dolnick's cousin. And this time, the newspaper really went to town. A book by Dolnick's husband Edward about Dutch art forger Han van Meegeren got an early review ("engaging"), an "editor's choice" recommendation, a special plugon page A4, and a friendly write up on the Paper Cuts blog ("delightful book"). And the Times is not likely to be making any apologies for the situation, judging from its handling of Lynn Dolnick's last nepotism controversy.

Last year, you'll recall, it was Lynn Dolnick's son Ben who was the recipient of a helpful Times notice — one he wrote himself, in the form of an op-ed piece. The scandal made Gawker, and was then picked up in Page Six, but the Timesshrugged off the incident, setting aside its normally delicate ethical sensitivities.

How could there be a conflict of interest, the Times asked the Post, if "members of the Ochs-Sulzberger family have no more or no less opportunity to appear in the pages of the Times" than anyone else? In other words, Times editors are such ethical superheroes that there doesn't need to be so much as a disclosure when they handle a book from a member of the clan that writes their paychecks.

Later, Ben Dolnick's agent was quoted in a friendly Washington Post feature saying that it was not a challenge or big deal to get his op-ed published, as though that wasn't precisely the point.

In either Ben or Edward Dolnick's case, disclosure would at least have let readers discount the paper's praise as they saw fit. Such was the case when Times vice president Alyse Myers received both a glowing review and room for her own magazine essay this past May in connection with the publication of her book about her mean mom — and even with the disclosure, we heard, Times staffers were still in an uproar.

Readers aren't the only ones with reason to feel cheated by the way the Times has handled Ed Dolnick's latest book. A tipster — who from the sounds of things has a dog in this fight — puts forward the name of a competing author as another aggrieved party:

...a serious, competing book [is] coming out in four weeks from
Harcourt. "The Man Who Made Vermeers" by Jonathan Lopez is based on
years of archival research conducted in Dutch and English, as well as
interviews with descendants of Van Meegeren's accomplices. (Dolnick
neither speaks nor reads Dutch.) Parts of "The Man Who Made Vermeers"
have already appeared as major articles in the London-based Apollo
and as a cover story in De Groene Amsterdammer, the oldest
continuously-published news magazine in the Netherlands. The book has
already been praised as "remarkable" by major museum curators. But
it's absent from the New York Times.

The Times has had advance readers' copies of "The Man Who Made
Vermeers" for months.

...By placing Dolnick's title in so many
outlets – Sunday Book Review, daily paper, blog – it has
effectively blocked the competition from being covered in any of them,
the general topic having been so recently treated.

Unlike his son Ben, Ed Dolnick is an established writer. He is former chief science reporter at the Boston Globe and author of at least three other books. His work on van Meegeren might do just fine without all this notice in the Times, and perhaps he would have recieved some — maybe even all — of it without being part of the extended Times family. Which is precisely why the newspaper should handle his book more transparently. Keeping his extensive connections in the dark makes them look all the more sinister.

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