If you were in any way troubled by the idea that a journalist would write a book based on exclusive sources, who are portrayed as uniquely responsible for a breakthrough in civil rights, and then those very lauded sources would throw book-parties and events to promote the book, you’re not alone.
I was a little gob-smacked that Jo Becker’s book tour promotion was aided and abetted by those sources – with book parties by Ken Mehlman and Ted Olson. But we are finding out that this was only the tip of the iceberg. An inkling of this comes with the latest, ethically disturbing news that Becker’s lionized sources in San Francisco’s city government have also been promoting the book. Dennis Herrera, SF City Attorney and his aide, Terry Stewart, heroes of the book, were involved in its promotion. How do we know? Well Herrera was hosting a book event for Becker at San Francisco City Hall last week. But we also have other proof. As city officials, Stewart’s and Herrera’s emails on public business are vulnerable to public disclosure. So intrepid activist/pest/gadfly Michael Petrelis did the leg-work to get all the emails that pertained to Becker’s book. They make for interesting reading:
A journalist is offering to give her sources an event to celebrate themselves while also promoting the book. Is that what the New York Times would regard as ethical conduct? Then a second email sent by Becker the next day tells us something equally remarkable:
Note the following: “HRC and AFER are going to be coordinating w/my publisher, Penguin Press, to promote the book, and Penguin has asked me to list everyone who might be willing to help so that can put together a press/tour plan.” Becker wanted to sell books at the City hall event, but this raised ethical issues about using City Hall for a private commercial enterprise. How were those resolved? At Becker’s original suggestion, Herrera was inclined to place a bulk order under his “campaign/office-holder account.”
So to recap. A key and celebrated source in the book is placing bulk orders and holding a reception at City Hall for the tour, at Becker’s request. At the same time, HRC and AFER are integrally involved in the entire book tour. Both groups are part of Chad Griffin’s Hollywood-DC p.r. empire. So the main source and central hero for Becker’s book was integral to its publicity and promotion. While publicly writing that he disowned being called the Rosa Parks of the movement, Griffin has been actively and aggressively promoting the very book that says that in its first paragraph! And he was using HRC’s and AFER’s money – money donated to advance gay equality, not Griffin’s personal profile – to promote his own hagiography.
If you want more evidence that this book was access journalism at its unethical worst, here it is. Quite why the NYT Public Editor has not weighed in on this is beyond me. It’s a disgrace.