The New York Press is carrying a breathless 3,000-word piece today alleging that Deborah Solomon, the awesomely tactless New York Times Magazine Q&A queen, redistributed and flat-out invented questions she hadn't actually asked in final versions of interviews that she conducted with "This American Life" host Ira Glass and advice columnist Amy Dickinson. The subjects cried foul to Press reporter Matt Elzweig, who was until about a year and a half ago a security guard at the Met. The Times was not particularly responsive to his inquiries. Elzweig's piece reads as though he's just discovered White House plumbers in Times executive editor Bill Keller's basement. Instead, the Press has, for the most part, stumbled upon a fairly common editing practice.
Q&As, typically allotted about 14 words per piece, require tweaking here and there, in the interest of conserving space and coherence. (We once transcribed a three-hour recording of Kevin Costner mumbling on about how making 'Open Range' had touched his soul, like, his very soul, man. How it got crammed into a "10 Questions For Whatshisface" column that Monday was inexplicable and also the duty of some hapless editor.)
But there's some meat to these complaints. Making adjustments so your subject's point gets across is a bit different from pulling "How immodest of you! Isn't it bad manners to brag?" out of the air, as Solomon did in her Dickinson interview.
"Two million people read the New York Times magazine," said David Blum, the new editor of the New York Press, by phone this morning. (David Blum is the former editor of the Village Voice, also my most recent employer.) "Most of them think 'that's what they said, isn't it just incredible how everyone's so concise....' The real issue is the New York Times response, their handling of our inquiries, was pretty shocking. I was surprised and disappointed that the New York Times did not think enough of our inquiry to either respond to it or provide an editor to respond to the specifics of Matt's reporting. For them to be dismissive of that is a betrayal of the trust between the readers and the newspaper."
The worst part? Now we have no idea whether Ted Kooser was actually asked this question during his interview with Solomon, but we did so like his answer to: "As poet laureate, don't you think you should be better acquainted with European poetry?" Kooser replied: "Think of all the European poetry I could have read if we hadn't spent all this time on this interview."