On Monday, Arthur Brisbane, who functions as a watchdog at the New York Times as the paper's Public Editor, waded into the fracas surrounding Julia Moskin's March 14 Dining section story "I Was A Cookbook Ghostwriter." He comes out against Moskin, calling her piece "misleading" -- in agreement with Rachael Ray and Gwyneth Paltrow and in opposition to Moskin and her editors at the Times.
To recap, for those who haven't been following the story: Moskin, a former cookbook writer herself, wrote a piece arguing that most celebrities, including celebrity chefs like Ray, publish cookbooks only with substantial help from writers and assistants. Moskin chose to call these writers "ghostwriters," which offended Ray, Paltrow and several other high-profile figures. They admitted that they'd gotten help compiling glossaries, indices and other peripheral parts of the book, but insisted that they were the main writers of their books.
The issue was complicated by the widely-held belief that any ghostwriters who may or may not have been involved would likely have been subject to strict non-disclosure agreements. So in effect, the people most able to rebut the claims of people like Paltrow and Ray are also those least likely to do so.
But even Moskin and her editors, contacted by Brisbane, admit that the conflict hinges on the definition of "ghostwriter." Brisbane sees this as a problem. And he also argues that the piece was structured so as to cover its bases on the looseness of the definition of the terms at issue -- while covertly implying the most damning sense of ghostwriter. He writes:
Further complicating things, the article rolled right through the section about Ms. Ray before offering up the caveat of a broader definition for ghosting cookbooks. For a reader (and for Ms. Ray), it certainly seemed to be saying, flat-out, she doesn’t write her own books.
At this point, Moskin's editors are sticking by her story.
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