My first and final post on Natalie MacLean
I’ve stayed clear of the Natalie MacLean brouhaha over the last three weeks for a number of reasons, even though I’m kind of involved. First, I wasn’t sure how I actually felt. Secondly, I thought there was some piling onto Natalie by elements of the blogosphere and wine media, and I didn’t want to be part of that. Finally, I watched Natalie struggle under the onslaught of criticism, and I thought it was only fair to give her some time to figure out how she wanted to handle it.
Background: Although I personally had never heard of Natalie before all this came down, evidently she’s quite well-known in Canada, and not only there: she was “named the World’s Best Drink Journalist in 2003 at the World Food Media Awards” (whatever that is), according to this article in the Toronto Star.
[Segue: I guess the World Food Awards is a pretty big deal in its native United Kingdom. Here’s their website: looks like a fun party.]
Anyway, this whole situation broke [for me] last month when I started getting a bunch of emails from other wine writers (mainly in Canada and the U.K.). They were complaining that Natalie was doing some pretty bad things: quoting wine reviews from third-party critics (like me) on her website, without identifying us, and “offering wine reviews in return for website subscriptions,” in Decanter’s words.
Among the critics named in various sources as those from whom Natalie “borrowed” reviews, besides myself, are Harvey Steiman, Jancis Robinson, Allen Meadows AKA Burghound, Bruce Sanderson, Rosemary George, James Suckling, Robert Parker, Antonio Galloni, Jamie Goode, my colleague Roger Voss, James Halliday, Steven Tanzer and many others. In other words, Natalie helped herself to a great heaping platter of savories.
This whole episode has alarmed a large segment of the wine critic community, particularly in Canada and England. Palate Press jumped onto the story early, on Dec. 15 publishing this story, whose bullet point is “[Natalie’s] reviews sometimes include the writer’s name, but never the publication or a link.” This became the central complaint against Natalie: that she was expropriating third party reviews without permission or citation. I did check this out at MacLean’s website and verified for myself that she was using some of my reviews without identifying me. Jancis Robinson was one of the first to ask that Natalie remove all of her [Jancis’s] reviews from the site. Natalie felt the heat: on Dec. 22, she emailed Jancis (I was cc’d): “Hi Jancis, I have removed almost all of your reviews on my site and should be finished well before your deadline. At the same time, I’ve have been revising the way I quote the reviews that remain to full names and publications…”. As far as I can tell, my reviews still remain on Natalie’s site, but they now contain my full name as well as the name of Wine Enthusiast (although it would be nice if Natalie included a link along with the publication’s name).
The day before, Dec. 21, Natalie posted “A Letter to my Readers about My Wine Reviews,” in which she expressed some dismay over “the recent debate on quoting third-party wine reviews.” “I didn’t realize that there was an issue,” Natalie explained, since she’d been quoting third-party critics “for years” without attribution, and no one ever complained. Moreover, “my own reviews have been quoted on other wine sites and no one has ever contacted me to ask permission.” The Letter ended with a mild mea culpa. “I feel awful that some writers think that I would try to make their reviews look like my own.” It also generated a ton of reader comments.
So where are we now? Some people still are calling for Natalie’s head. I got an email on Jan. 2 from a guy named Rod Phillips, also sent to all the other involved critics, asking us to “sign a letter to Natalie MacLean, instructing her to remove your reviews from her site and forbidding her use of your reviews in future.” I don’t know Rod; he describes himself as a “wine historian and wine writer” from Ottawa.
I will not sign Rod’s letter, although I don’t have a problem with anyone who did. I think this whole episode should go away now. Natalie has been publicly humiliated, has lost a great deal of credibility (whether deservedly or not, is another argument) and has repented and asked for forgiveness. That she hasn’t groveled is beside the point. She is now listing the full names and publications of the critics she quotes—which, by the way, is called “buzz” in some circles. She should have done that from the beginning, but who among us hasn’t erred in some way? Let everyone now stop casting stones.
Monday: Some of my favorite Pinot Noirs of 2012