Robert Parker should have seen it coming.
In a way he reminds me of Bill Clinton. The former President was at the height of his populist popularity when the Monica Lewinsky scandal struck, making him look like a lying hypocrite. Some of us (me, included) didn’t care all that much. Hell, it was “just sex,” and there were lots of weightier things to worry about.
But Monica led to impeachment and the tearing apart of the country, proving that sometimes, even trivial pursuits (and let’s face it, kneepads in the Oval Office were pretty trivial) can have enormous consequences.
Cooler heads wondered how Bill could have let it happen. He was so smart — too smart for his own good? Why didn’t he see it coming? We’ll never understand what makes a person don the blinders and not see the freight train heading straight at him.
And now we have the Wall Street Journal’s account of the Parker “Travelgate” affair, which I blogged about last week. I wrote that the reporter, David Kesmodel, had called to interview me. We had a long chat but, alas, my part ended up on the cutting room floor, as it were; there was no mention of “noted wine critic Steve Heimoff,” and while that disappointed me, I’m not surprised. For I didn’t say quite what Mr. Kesmodel wanted me to. I didn’t harshly condemn Mr. Parker or his “independent contractors,” Mr. Squires and Mr. Miller, for the latter two having accepted free travel (although I did note that, if Parker had failed to alert readers to that fact, he was at fault). I didn’t condemn the air travel, accommodations and lavish meals of “crayfish on a bed of squid-ink linguini” Squires and Miller were treated to by their hosts, whose wines they then reviewed. And I did note that there is an ambitious clutch of bloggers out there who hope to be the Woodwards and Bernsteins of the 21st century, finding scandal and malfeasance wherever they can and exposing it to public condemnation and ridicule.
Look, folks. Every wine writer with any influence or connections has partaken of gourmet meals for free. Every wine writer with any influence or connections has been hosted, or limo’ed, or accommodated, by his or her hosts, to some degree, and at one time or another. I have, and so has each critic I’ve ever known — because over the years I’ve run into them at the same feasts, in the same hotels, at the same festivals whose entry fees were waived for members of the media. I don’t know Dr. Vino personally; perhaps he is that rare bird, a wine writer and critic who has never taken a dime from a winery or winery organization. If that is so, he must be independently wealthy, which few wine writers are.
As for the hypocrisy factor, if, as I said, Mr. Parker led his audience astray by implying that, not only he but his “independent contractors” never accept freebies, then he deserves this egg on his face. But let us not make mountains out of molehills. I have always insisted that, no matter what I accept, it doesn’t influence my scores and reviews. Most people, I am happy to say, have taken me at my word. At this point, I’m willing to take Parker, Squires and Miller at theirs.