Imagine, seeing a page one story in The New York Times on Friday, August 8, written by David Streitfeld, announcing that there would be a $104,000 ad that would be placed in the paper on Sunday, two days later, signed by 909 writers and bankrolled by the wealthiest of the several best-selling novelists. At least that’s what Streitfeld reported. When the ad appeared on August 10 it was listed as paid for by “Authors United, P.O Box of 4799, Santa Fe, NM, 87502.” There is no way of identifying who, in fact paid for it, or even if one of the Big Five conglomerates (if so, most likely Hachette)—who are waging a splendid PR campaign against Amazon—actually financed the ad. In any event, leading the charge against Amazon is Mr. Streitfeld.The last time I blogged about Streitfeld on May 27 (Whose Afraid of Amazon. Com?) and June 3 (The Amazon-Hachette Controversy, Part Two) I commended him for being relatively honest for acknowledging that his anti-Amazon “reporting” was based on “rumors and hypotheses” even though the overall effect was damaging to Amazon and intoxicating for the big five conglomerate publishing cartels.
This time Streitfeld writes about how a letter composed by best-selling thriller writer Douglas Preston, a Hachette author, “spread through the “literary community” leading to this ad.” But this time he doesn’t even talk about rumors and hypothesis, but simply spills out disinformation. For instance, there is no “literary community” per se, but only the conglomerate community whose positions he echoes. Having established our own reputation over the past 35 years as a leading literary press and knowing other small and independent presses who share our contrarian position, we are simply unaccounted for or ridiculed.Streitfeld reports how Amazon, is rapidly transforming itself “into an empire” that not only sells culture but promotes it, too, while two paragraphs later he reports that, according to The Wall Street Journal, Amazon may lose 800 million in this quarter, wiping out profits for the past three years. Does anyone other than Streitfeld believe that “Empires” lose three years of profits in four months’ time? I’m not bothering to read the Journal for who knows the accuracy of Steitfeld’s quote. Nor can I do anything more than point out the contradictions in Streitfeld’s claims or expect to transform Streitfeld from being a propagandist into a balanced or fair-minded, serious reporter. As I said in my last blog, (No Expectations), what Is, Is, and I can’t imagine this will ever happen.
Having read the Times regularly for over 60 years, I’ve always considered them to have high-standards for news reporting, yet I can’t recall a single news story based on a forthcoming ad—much less a page one story. It seems to me that Streitfeld damages the reputation the Times has for unbiased reporting.I urge everyone reading this blog to also read Barry Eisler’s February 8th blog. Eisler, a highly respected and best- selling novelist himself, presents an even more damaging, gloves-off report on Streitfeld’s article. In it he deconstructs, with wit and constant examples, all the peculiar, biased, absurd and illogical constructs Streitfeld uses in order to make his case. He also suggests that readers write to Margaret Sullivan, the public editor at The New York Times to register their complaints.
What case does Streitfeld relentlessly try to make? That Amazon is a bully and the Big Five world-wide conglomerates are defenseless sheep, despite the fact that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. owns Harper Collins; that CBS owns Simon & Shuster; that Penguin/Random House is also a subsidiary of Bertelsmann, based in Germany; that MacMillan is owned by another German publisher, Holtzbrinck; and that Hachette is owned by the French company Lagardere, and that these corporations are all powerful global media companies who own radio and television stations, magazines, newspapers and offices not only in America, but throughout the world. Plus he tries to make the case that Amazon should be compelled to order and showcase their books when no other bookstore in in this country is compelled to do this, nor are other on-line retailers. And he ignores the fact that any reader can order copies from any bookstore without difficulty. Doesn’t Streitfeld realize that if he had his way it would put additional pressure on the survival of independent bookstores?If I were a reporter covering the book industry rather than a publisher, I’d want to balance things out, not only having All the News That’s Fit to Print, but also far less of All the News Unfit to Print, and here are two questions I’d like to see addressed:
What came first in this story, the $104,000 ad or Streitfeld’s page one story, and who bankrolled the Authors United ad (even Douglas Preston, who was chosen to head Authors United, says he has no idea how that happened)? And will anyone at the Times be interested in investigating that?
I invite your comments,