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Call off the Parker dogs!

22 comments

I was raised to believe in fairness. That means if somebody does something wrong, you give them a face smack and then move on. It doesn’t mean piling on. When Clinton was in office, the GOP attack dogs did everything they could to smear him and Hillary on the slightest pretext. And just to be fair, although I think W. Bush was a lousy President, I’ll admit some extremists on the left piled on every time they could.

The media loves piling on. They piled onto former Rep. Gary Condit when Chandra Levy disappeared, forcing him to leave office. Now we know he had nothing to do with her murder. They pile on because the media is basically a bunch of jackals, and because their bosses in management tell them to. Piling on is un-American, but it sure does sell copy.

Now the piling on Parker is in full swing with Reign of Terror’s posting slamming the guy for a “belated” response to the Miller-Squires travel brouhaha. Not only didn’t Parker respond in a timely manner, according to ROT’s standards, but when he did, ROT found it disingenuous.

Look. Parker blew it. There’s enough coulda-woulda-shoulda in this saga to raise the Titanic and re-sink it. Parker should have supervised his contractors better. He could have replied sooner to ROT’s inquiries. He says he would have, had he not been busy on the West Coast. There are probably a dozen other things he should have done and didn’t. But can we cut the guy some slack? I believe him when he says that despite the underwriting of Miller’s and Squire’s trips, their wine reviews were unbiased. There’s no reason to think otherwise. And now, he’s come as close as he needs to to a full-on apology.

So what have we learned from this? That Parker’s a lousy supervisor? Big Effing Deal.

ROT in his blog referred to my post about this the other day and called it “compelling.” For that I’m grateful. But I would ask ROT, and other bloggers, this: When something happens that embarrasses someone you don’t particularly like, then do your thing, have some fun, express some outrage — and let it go. When Wine Spectator blew it with that fake restaurant review last summer, I called for some leniency. I did so in my blog on Parker. “But let us not make mountains out of molehills,” I wrote.

In their eagerness to topple the old order the bloggers sometimes over-react, sensing blood in the water and moving in for the kill. But reactions should be judicious; the punishment should fit the crime. What Parker did was dumb and a mistake, but not malicious.

I hope this is the end of the piling on. The blogosphere can evolve to a tabloid like National Enquirer or Fox News, or it can choose to be intellectually balanced, less interested in the exposé than in considered analysis. I hope it chooses the latter.

  1. Amen. I got myself ties up in that thread over a ROT, even after I told myself to, “just let it go” but I felt there were a couple of things that were being overlooked, and I even came to Parker’s defense in a way..an unexpected twist I assure you. I’m with you you Steve, let’s just move on already, don’t we have wine to sell?!

  2. um, that would be tied up…sheesh, so I need to log off already! If you are moderating…can you fix that damn typo?

  3. Steve, the “piling on” you refer to was a direct result of the Ebob trinity (Parker, Miller, Squires) all avoiding the issue when it first arose.

    Had they actually addressed the veracity of Tyer Colman’s initial posts, none of it would have occurred. THe molehill would have remained a molehill.

    If there is transparency now, it is expressly because of the persistence of bloggers, commenters and b-board posters; that is a good thing.

    The truly sad part of this affair is not that the blogosphere got clouded with so much vitriol, but that it is being attributed to those who insisted on the truth, not those who sought to hide it.

  4. I’ve seen quite a bit of piling on related to the Parker flap, but I’m not sure I’d lump ROT’s post into that.

    I think we’ve confirmed with the Rockaway event last year that piling on itself is inevitable in the blogosphere…

  5. Tish, Dude: There’s a line, it seems to me, between investigating something and then reporting it, versus going on and on for the sheer pleasure of kicking someone when they’re down and bleeding. All of us have conceded (I think) that freebies are necessary for those of us who lack the funds (or whose magazines lack the funds) to pay for our own travel, samples, etc. So the most the Parkerites are guilty of is doing something we all agree is okay, but not thoroughly telling us about it (or not telling us quickly enough, or in a manner we wanted). This is a misdemeanor, not a felony. There are far more grave things to be revealed. One might start, for instance, with blind tasting. How much of what Mr. Parker tastes is blind and how much is open? Is the blind tasting single-blind or double-blind? It makes a huge difference. When Mr. Parker travels to California and has others set up his wines upon a long table, are the bottles in bags? Some enterprising blogger should set her sights at this level, not on who paid for somebody’s pasta.

  6. The immediate cause of my post was the new statement Mr. Parker issued on his site Sunday evening (5/31) in response to the WSJ article. My understanding was that for him this statement was ‘for the record’, his official response to the tempest. Inasmuch as the above is correct I felt it was an appropriate topic.

    I do not feel I was piling on. The purpose of the links to your blog, WL’s and Dr. Vino’s was to point folks to the multiple points of view that could be found on those threads. Indeed, the piling on, if that is what it is, was well under way long before I expressed an opinion. Indeed, I could have easily linked to many other threads, those at WS and wineberzerkers, for example, where, as you must know, this matter was also being energetically discussed for quite some time.

    And, importantly, my readership differs significantly from yours.

    Bear in mind I had recently been in contact with the FTC about their proposed guidelines for the blogosphere. The Parker tempest is an excellent example of just how interested the public is with disclosure, and how a blogger ignores this basic matter of fairness at their own peril.

    Lastly, I feel it is grossly unfair to intimate my work feeds into the National Enquirer and Fox News mindset. I suggest you read through my archives. I do not believe my interviews with the director of CCOF, CCVT, Will Bucklin, Dan Berger, Margaret Duckhorn, Aime Guibert, Randall Grahm, Alice Feiring, Bryan Babcock, Andrew Jefford, and a dozen others, represent a coarsening of internet discourse.

  7. In a universe where there are a thousand voices, all of whom want a piece of the action and all of whom think they are paragons of virtue, it is inevitable that large volumes of writing will occur when an event of great magnitude unfolds. If the blogosphere is to have any validity, it must be free to let each voice speak.

    And it is further inevitable that some voices are going to speak with more vitriol than others, that some are going to be fair and open-minded and some are going to be apoplectic, that some are going to make biting satire out of the issue and some are going to see molehills rather than mountains.

    Some are going to get out ahead of the story and some are going to think about it and then post. In the case of ROT, he said he was going to post on it later on and he has. He is undoubtedly repeating much of what has been said, but he is definitely not piling on in my view. I don’t much care for the name of his blog because it is anything but a Reign of Terror, and the joke is lost on most folks because his blog is also not a Reign of Terroir in which he somehow speaks to issues of place. Besides which, I think it was Randall Grahm who first made the terror/terroir joke. Nonetheless, ROT is a sane and thoughtful voice and I appreciate that.

    As the late Mr. Nixon found out, the coverup can be worse than the crime, and, Steve, I think you have hit one nail directly on the head when you ask where is the discussion of tasting methodology and the openness of Parker in that regard. He says only that some tastings are not conducted blind. Nowhere does he say which ones or when they should be or should not be. I am personally apoplectic (well, not quite–maybe astounded is a better word) that Parker has not addressed the issue that all 600 wines tasted by Jay Miller in Chile were served to him by the winemakers with the labels showing and tasted at a rate one every minute or two. That pace is not acceptable to retain or elimiate sessions of the so-called Fair judgings let alone as a way to get rational tasting notes by which to recommend wines to folks who are paying you for independent, accurate recommendations.

    Joe Dressner has loudly disagreed with those of us calling for a more rigorous and transparent tasting methodology. That’s a good thing in that we need to hear thoughts on all sides of the subject. I think that it will serve the blogosphere well for the discussion to now shift to itself. Some folks reaction to the Rockaway gambit by Rodney Strong serves as proof that there is good and bad behavior everywhere. The blogosphere is not one entity but thousands of entities and it has no rules. If it does not want to wind up in the funny pages of the daily newspapers and the internet, then it ought to look at itself–because surely it is being looked at by Gov’t and by outsiders.

    I disagree with you that this discussion has been about molehills and tempests in teapots. It is really about more than Parker. It is about the standards that ought to be followed when someone says “I have tried this product, and I recommend it to you”. The discussion has already changed my behavior and I am not even a blogger at this point. When the WSJ reporter asked for my experiences, I read him a passage from my published trip reports on Sicily. I was perfectly clear in my comments about how the recommendations came about, but then he asked if I mentioned that the trip had been paid for by the Sicilian Govt, and I had not. From now on, I am going to give all the details. My readers, and readers everywhere, are smart enough to judge for themselves as to the independence of my comments when they can see the whole picture.

    I think we all should follow some version of that procedure, and that includes Parker, the blogosphere, you and your publication and me and mine. The debate now should turn, and you should be among those who turn it, to appropriate standards for salaried reviewers in subscription magazines, for amateurs with semi-professional blogs, for housewives with blogs, for people like Josh who has a blog for the expressed purpose of selling his winery’s products if and when they finally arrive. The truth will make all us free, and those that hide the truth will become pariahs.

  8. JD in Napa says:

    The whole Parker thing was interesting for about a week, and has now become a snore. I do agree with Steve that consideration of tasting protocols is of greater interest than “who is treating whom to what”. Let’s get back to wine, and forget the whine.

  9. I agree, this story is fatiguing at this point. It would be nice if Parker and company truly tasted blind placing similar wines over a broad price range into a flight. It would not be double blind, but with a mixture of price levels, one cannot calibrate the scoring floor and ceiling to the cost of the wine. And stylistically related tastings would ensure that like wines are compared to each other on level footing. In other words, do what the NYT and Eric Asimov do!

    An individual of Parker’s influence could probably say, “may I take a split home with me to verify my tasting notes?” And if wineries can afford to pay for writers’ trips, a split would be a rather small request in comparison. But this is neither here nor there as it’s unlikely that the major critics will follow a methodology that is well-known to remove even unintentional bias. I know you make the point that you taste objectively, but price levels and branding will nonetheless produce a bias on a subconscious level, even if it is small.

    I pay attention to critics whose methodology and tastes are compatible with my own. Jay Miller hands out 90+ point ratings like they’re candy, so even before the payola controversy, I took his notes with a grain of salt. Maybe this controversy does helps explain why Miller is so horribly unreliable. Asimov, meanwhile, is certainly one of the best. David Schildknecht is another thoughtful wine writer with a keen intellect. Jamie Goode is well-versed in the scientific side of winemaking and he provides a very valuable perspective as well.

  10. A certain Don Henley song comes to mind here…

  11. Morton Leslie says:

    I would like to see Parker’s statement regarding his own personal standards vis-a-vis special treatment from the industry. Being an attorney I am sure it is very carefully worded. Probably says he pays for own air fare and hotel. Nothing else. Probably talks about now, not before.

    As a winemaker I personally have taken him to and paid for dinner at a fine restaurant. That was years ago, but do we really believe he has never taken a meal at any of the fine homes in the Napa Valley or Bordeaux? Never a bite to eat at Bob’s house at the top of the knoll? Never fine meal at a Chateau with a lineup of great vintages?

    Only the new unknown bloggers, critics, and other newbies don’t accept special treatment from wineries. But they will when it is finally offered to them. The only thing that gives this a story legs is the fact we all know the claims of “standards” are bullshit.

  12. Once again Morton tells the truth.

  13. Once again, it is all about disclosure. For the sake of your readers. It is utterly baffling to me that the idea that ‘standards are bullsh*t’ passes as truth. I was under the impression the entire point ‘calling off the Parker dogs’ was that Mr. Parker had issued the proper mea culpa. He had met a standard the blogosphere should respect.

    Further, I insist that the only thing that prevents us from sliding into the National Enquirer/Fox News swamp are standards.
    The difference between an ambulance chaser and a lawyer? Standards.
    And whether tasting blind? Standards.

  14. I would comment more about this topic, but I’ve already moved on.

  15. Damn, Morton

    Make that TWO Don Henley songs…..

  16. Morton tells the truth? Are your claims about what you do untrue? I know you better than to think that your standards are bullshit.

    If the only standard is abstinence, then we are all out of business. It seems to me that the first “standard” is transparency. After that, we can have a debate about all esle.

  17. Morton Leslie says:

    Dept. of beating the dead horse… If a critic tastes wines they think they love along with wines they think they hate… mixed together and tasted truly blind…and then calls the results fairly, reporting accurately the results of the blind tasting… then they can go on all the junkets they want, go to the French Laundry once a week with their favorite winemaker, and take cash gifts from the wineries at Christmas time. The special treatment could have no affect on what they report. So who would care?

    The first standard is objectivity and the only way it can exist is through rigorous standards of sensory analysis. This is why those critics who do not understand their own bias, refuse to taste blind, insist on tasting wines with labels showing often in the presence of the owner or winemaker are so sensitive to any appearance or suggestion of “special influence.”

    And my guess is this is why Steve doesn’t sweat it.

  18. There is really only one solution, proffered by some other wise souls, which I’ve injected numerous times in these never ending discussions on standards and evaluation. That “solution”–group tasting results. CellarTracker is the new Robert Parker, as I like to say. The “best” critiques come from the compilation of opinions from those who put out their bucks to enjoy vino with their meals or in tasting groups–what the Wine Market Council calls the “core” wine drinkers, the 10% who purchase 80% of fine wine. Whether its Snooth, or in other fields, Zagat, Yelp.com, or TripAdvisor.com, sophisticated consumer assessments offer a superior methodolgy for determining “best”, even with some ballot stuffing. And they dispense with the need for handwringing about “standards”.

  19. JD in Napa says:

    Hey, Arthur, is “the head dead yet?”

  20. Morton–

    I appreciate your added comments. You do believe in standards after all. And your comments here are insightful and helpful.

    Tom Merle–

    Nice try but Zagat, which I read religiously, exists because restaurants are different from wine, easier to rate because people have more familiarity with food than wine and because there is no other competition.

    Trip Advisor is OK for hotels but a joke for restaurants. It is pure popularity contest with far too few samples to be valid. And try reading the City Search ratings–worse yet.

    Zagat is the best of the rating polls, but I would rather rely on Michael Bauer than on Zagat. He knows the difference between authentic Italian and ersatz. He knows the difference between creative fusion and ersatz fusion. How else do you attribute the popularity of Roy’s? No experienced professional reviewers give it much credit beyond OK/average. The ordinary punters love it. That would be OK except that when people’s tastes graduate to higher levels of knowledge and expectation, expert opinion still has a role.

    All kinds of new ways of getting wine information are developing in the 21st C. and some will prove valuable. I would be surprised if they kill of the expert media. Now, if you are predictiing a fifty year change, then I am further not worried. I won’t be here to see it. Will you?

    Interestingly, Zagat is about to launch a movie rating service. Give me the Chronicle review any day.

  21. I’ve heard that restaurateurs get all their friends and family to recommend in Zagat, so the results are manipulated.

  22. I don’t know how Zagat operates, but I have the sense that they need more than a few comments in order to mention restaurants. I have two favorites here in Alameda and I always write them in, but they never make the printed version so clearly one vote does not count.

    Trip Advisor often has as few as five comments for its ratings. And if they have more, they are often years old.

    There are tens of thousands of labels out there, and it would hundreds of thousands of amateur reviewers all banded together to accumulate enough reviews to make sense. It may happen some day, but it is not going to be so soon or so extensive that it will make much of a dent in the professional critic ranks.

    Besides, talk about ratings-driven. Zagat reviews are almost useless as clues to what actually goes on inside the restaurant. Trip Advisor reviews are worse, and one has to wade through dozens of reviews to be sure that one is not getting a jaded view for one reason or another.

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