Times cologne critic Chandler Burr got accused of an ethical blunder. Last week a correspondent going by the name of Ellsworth Toohey sent around the following complaint, asking: "Is it ethical for New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr to charge all comers a fee of $200 a head to have dinner with him — and for Mr. Burr to hand out a "goody bag" of perfumes to each guest — at the end of the evening? That is what Mr. Burr is now doing with a series of "scent dinners" he is holding at various luxurious Rosewood Hotels around the U.S., including recently at the Carlyle Hotel in New York and coming up at properties including the Mansion at Turtle Creek in Dallas."
Page Six picked up on the story on Sunday, getting Burr to sort of recant. "The Post gets credit for raising the bar and bringing it to our attention. We're not going to give out perfumes any more," he told the paper. But what did the higher-ups at the Times think? Toohey sent the same letter to publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., who wrote back himself and then passed it on down.
Here's how Standards Editor Craig Whitney handled the issue:
From: Craig WhitneyAnd there you have it! Dude's freelance, and it won't happen again. Everyone comes out smelling like a rose.
Date: Aug 20, 2007 12:38 PM
Subject: Chandler Burr's perfume dinners
Dear "Ellsworth Toohey" (I put the Ayn Rand name between quotation marks because you do in your e-mail address; please forgive me if it is not a pseudonym):
In answer to your letter to Arthur Sulzberger (and Page Six) about the perfume dinners that our "T" perfume critic, Chandler Burr, participates in, I can tell you that Mr. Burr, although not an employee of The Times but a freelance contract contributor, has been made aware that it would be a violation of our ethics policy for him to review any more of the perfumes used at the dinners you wrote about, since the parfumiers had made free samples available for that purpose. He understands that it was a mistake to have used sel de vetiver, since he had given that perfume a favorable review.
The dinners, however, are not hosted by him or by The New York Times; he does not charge attendees, the dinners' host does.
Thank you for writing.
Craig R. Whitney