Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cloistering the Monks

Al Diamon has taken the Maine Sunday Telegram to task for their tip-toeing around a memoir by a member of the influential Monks family (it's about mental illness). But I'm far more surprised that the New York Times agreed to report fiction as fact in their Aug. 11 article on Millicent Monk's book, Songs of Three Islands.

I've no desire to intrude on the Monks' privacy, but most anyone around here knows the photo accompanying the Times article was not taken "on a Maine island," as the caption asserts. Nor did the events in the article take place on an island, despite many statements to the contrary by writer Lisa Belkin. (Belkin should also have noted that "Northern Island," like "Crescent Island," is a pseudonym.)

There's nothing wrong with protecting your subjects' privacy, but the Times should have done so by writing around Mrs. Monks' geographical sleight-of-hand, not by repeatedly printing statements of fact they knew to be false. (Even the Telegram was wise enough not to descend down this very slippery slope.)

Next time I'm reading a Times piece about an influential person, I don't want to be guessing which passages are fact, and which are fiction.

[Update, 9/3/10: I invited Ms. Belkin to respond. She sent me a note that entirely ignored her central deception -- claiming she visited an island estate, when she was in fact in Portland's outer mainland suburbs -- and responding to my aside about Northern Island by pasting an altered version of the relevant passage, with quotes added around the island's name. Guilty as charged, apparently.]

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