The forums at eRobertParker.com are a lively place. Unfortunately, they are often moderated with a heavy hand: several voices have been expelled and some threads that have even a whiff of criticism are deleted in their entirety.
Such was the case with a thread last week concerning Mike Steinberger’s recent Slate column about the state of Australian wine. Mark Squires, who moderates the Parker board, accused Steinberger of selecting “biased” retailers for the story. One of the retailers shot back with a stinging rebuttal of the bias claim. Shortly thereafter, the thread was deleted in its totality.
Subsequently, Steinberger had an email exchange with Squires. Steinberger questioned the decision to delete the thread and said it had unfairly deprived him of a chance to respond to Squires’s assertions. Squires was unmoved, and a spirited discussion followed. With Steinberger’s permission, I am posting the exchange here. Sit back and pass the popcorn.
Sent: Thursday, April 9, 2009 11:21:34 PM
You made an assertion today, in the thread about my Slate article, to which I wish to respond. However, it appears that the thread has now been deleted. I would ask you to restore the thread so that I might reply, and to leave it open so that others can read the comments and weigh in. It was a perfectly civil discussion, and there was no reason to remove it. There was nothing in my article that could be construed as an attack on Robert Parker or the Wine Advocate, and I am at a loss to understand why you felt the need to delete the entire thread.
Date: Fri, 10 Apr 2009 06:43:03 -0700
This decision has nothing to do with you or your article per se. Calling this a civil thread is simply astounding. It will not be restored, nor could it be as it has been deleted.
I’m still rather confused as to what you consider an unbiased source. I have a degree in journalism, summa cum laude, btw. But frankly I’m not really concerned enough about it to debate it.
Sent: Monday, April 13, 2009 1:48:14 PM
I have no interest in debating, either, but you made comments concerning my article and my journalism that require a response.
To the extent that the thread became uncivil, it was your doing–you immediately posted a snide comment about the article, then quickly followed up with a dig at the retailers I cited and a dig at me. The retailers can defend themselves. I would only note that your broadside against Posner and Hayward was as nonsensical as it was unjustified. Yes, retailers are in the business of selling wine. But how exactly did it profit Posner and Hayward to tell me that they were having difficulty moving high-end Australian wines? Can you explain to me the conflict of interest in this case–how their businesses stood to gain from sharing that information? If you were suggesting that Posner and Hayward have axes to grind when it comes to Australian wines, that’s demonstrably false. Posner maintains a very large Australian portfolio, and Hayward, if I’m not mistaken, was championing Australian wines when Robert Parker’s seat at the Farm Credit Banks was still warm. Are you of the opinion that journalists should just never solicit the views of retailers?
Regarding your critique of my journalism, you claimed that I went fishing for quotes that would fit my argument. To begin with, I wasn’t making an argument, and for you to suggest as much indicates that you didn’t actually read my column. The article was a reported piece; the only commentary came at the end, when I said it was a pity so many people seem to have written off Australia entirely. But the bigger issue here is that you made a damning accusation concerning my work, yet offered no proof to substantiate it. As a journalism major–a summa cum laude graduate, no less–didn’t you feel obliged to offer some supporting evidence for your assertion? It is one of the cardinal rules of journalism–if you make a claim, you have to back it up. Can you back up what you said about my reporting? If not, then you owe me a public apology.
In case you are interested, I decided to pursue this story last fall, after coming across data showing a huge drop in sales of blue-chip Australian wines and hearing from both Jeff Zacharia and Peter Gago that high-end Australia was a moribund category (do they have axes to grind?) I called Chuck because The Jug Shop is renowned for its Australian inventory, and I called Daniel because hardly a week goes by in which I’m not receiving offers on Australian wines from his store. I gather, from your remarks, that you think this story–the crisis of the Australian wine industry–is a bogus one. If you can prove that, I’d certainly be impressed, because the statistical and anecdotal evidence is pretty overwhelming. I know you write for the Wine Advocate now, but do you read it? If so, you may have noticed that your colleague Jay Miller has an essay in the current issue about–yes–the crisis of the Australian wine industry, in which he makes many of the same points that I made in my article (Jancis Robinson even cited Jay’s essay in the piece she did for the Financial Times last week on this same topic). Unless you had something substantive to add to the discussion about my article, there was no reason for you to chime in; your only contribution was snark, and your decision to delete the thread smacks of a censoriousness that is truly dismaying coming from someone who graduated journalism school summa cum laude.
Regarding unbiased sources, I must confess that I’m a little confused, too, and maybe you can help me understand something. I couldn’t help but notice that while you were busy impugning my integrity and the integrity of the retailers I cited, there was an active thread about a visit to Bern’s involving Eric Solomon, Patrick Mata, Jose Pastor, and one Jay Miller. Was this the same, aforementioned Jay Miller who covers Spain for the Wine Advocate? From the picture that was posted, it would appear to be so, and I’m thus a bit perplexed. Eric, Patrick, and Jose are importers of Spanish wines. I’ve always taken Bob at his word that the Wine Advocate scrupulously avoids potential conflicts of interest. How does Jay’s Weekend at Bern’s square with that policy? You would surely agree that there is more to journalistic independence than not accepting advertising–that conflicts of interest can arise in other ways. Bob conceded as much after he caught flak for that dinner in Bordeaux with Alain Raynaud, Gerard Perse, and Michel Rolland, and Jay’s road trip with these importers strikes me as a far more egregious ethical lapse. Can consumers continue to regard Jay as an impartial judge when it comes to wines imported by Eric, Patrick, and Jose? Since you are clearly very attuned to issues of journalistic malfeasance, I’m curious to get your take on this matter. Thanks.
Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2009 12:19:32 -0700
>>Can you back up what you said about my reporting? If not, then you owe me a public apology. << Your arguments here are as bad as your article, which was a regurgitated version of what has been circulating for the last couple of years. Like I said--I have no interest in debating this. Which you should consider a very good thing, as I'm both a pretty good debater and awfully knowledgeable about every aspect of the subject matter, in general and in specific. But I have better things to do with my time. Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2009 12:22:13 From: msquires Subject: Re: To: mhsteinberger >>Can consumers continue to regard Jay as an impartial judge when it comes to wines imported by Eric, Patrick, and Jose<< By the way, one final note. If you think this reprehensible mud-slinging intended to divert attention from yourself does you a service, or makes me want to talk you, you have seriously misjudged the situation. You change the subject and attack someone. It’s an obvious and well scorned tactic. Good luck with that. If you have a question about ethics in the WA, you talk to Bob. I have no interest in talking to you about anything at any time. From: mhsteinberger To: msquires Subject: RE: Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2009 21:23:52 -0400 Yes, it probably is a good thing for me that you have neither the time nor the inclination to continue this discussion. If, by debating skills, you mean an aptitude for hitting the delete button in order to make opposing views disappear, you very clearly are a master of the form. And given that you are now an eminent wine critic, I wouldn’t think to challenge your knowledge. But I do have two questions for you. You now accuse me of regurgitating a story that has been “circulating for the last couple of years,” as you put it. The data, and all the anecdotal evidence, indicate that sales of high-end Australian wines in the United States have tanked in the last 12-18 months. Can you point me to an article from, say, 2005, that claimed that the market for these wines had completely dried up? And if I am guilty of regurgitating an old story, would you agree that your colleague Jay is guilty of the same thing? As I noted in my previous email, his article in the current issue of the Wine Advocate (“Australia 2009: Into The Abyss”) makes the same points I made in my Slate piece. Lastly, if I did indeed recycle old news, you should immediately contact the Sydney Morning Herald to let them know; they emailed over the weekend to inquire about possibly reprinting my article.