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October 15, 2007

NYT's Deborah Solomon Simply Makes Up Interviews, According To the NYT

Or at least according to their useless partisan hack ombudsmen. He cannot find any bias at the paper at all, but at least he can rouse himself to criticize "interviewers" who make up questions and distort answers in order to create a false interview "transcript."

WHEN you read Deborah Solomon’s “Questions For” in The New York Times Magazine, it’s like crashing an exclusive book party at Tina Brown’s East Side garden apartment.

There you stand, sipping white wine, as Solomon and a famous author or politician or media personality trade zippy repartee. Her sharp, challenging questions elicit pithy, surprising answers — a disloyal comment about an employer, a confession to a Diet Coke habit, what’s in Jack Black’s iPod.

That is the illusion of Solomon’s column. The reality is something else: the 700 or so words each week are boiled down from interviews that sometimes last more than an hour and run 10,000 words. Though presented in a way that suggests a verbatim transcript, the order of the interview is sometimes altered, and the wording of questions is changed — for clarity or context, editors say. At least three interviews have been conducted by e-mail because the subjects couldn’t speak English or had other speech difficulties. And, Solomon told me, “Very early on, I might have inserted a question retroactively, so the interview would flow better,” a practice she said she no longer uses.

“Questions For” came under fire recently when a reporter for New York Press, a free alternative weekly, interviewed two high-profile journalists — Amy Dickinson, the advice columnist who followed Ann Landers at The Chicago Tribune, and Ira Glass, creator of the public radio program “This American Life” — who said their published interviews with Solomon contained questions she never asked.

While the vast majority of Solomon’s interview subjects have never complained, these are not the first who have. Last year, The Times Magazine published an angry letter from NBC’s Tim Russert, who said that the portrayal of his interview with her was “misleading, callous and hurtful.”

Russert, the author of two books about his father, told me that the interview had been presented as an opportunity to talk about his mom on Mother’s Day. Instead, the interview, headlined, “All About My Father,” featured a seemingly insensitive Russert dodging Solomon’s questions about his mother. “I talked at great length about my mother,” he said, but none of it appeared in the published interview. Russert said that Solomon combined questions and took “an answer and transposed it to another question.”

Gerald Marzorati, the editor of the magazine, said, “We examined his complaint and found it more or less justified.” Russert had talked about his mother, Marzorati said, and Solomon made it appear that he had not. Solomon said, “I made a mistake not putting in what he said about his mother.”

There's more, though it begins to descend into the level of inside baseball. While Solomon seems to *mostly* get the quotes right, she often presents them out of context -- indeed, with false context -- as being answers to questions that she never asked and would most likely never produce the a cutting answer had she asked such questions in the first place.

She's basically playing word-salad with interviews, moving sentences around and inventing questions to create a punchier, livelier, more readable interview... an interview, alas, that never actually took place, except later in her mind and in her edits to the transcript.



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posted by Ace at 04:55 PM

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