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On Glory Whores and Tom Wark Getting ‘Swift Boated’

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln

In between Steve Heimoff, Tom Wark and dozens of commenters, there has been vigorous debate about the Rockaway wine program that I coordinated.  The stuff hit the fan at Steve Heimoff’s blog, but really exploded at Tom Wark’s site.  See here and here.  If you are simply a wine reader that doesn’t care about this car wreck, I apologize, but this isn’t an issue that is dying, particularly with such dogmatic idealism occurring. 

In the wine blogging world, the house is divided.  People want to talk about this dissension and flap advancing the cause, toughening up skin, etc.  It’s all bull and justification.

It’s unfortunate, too.  Most of this flap could have been prevented if folks checked facts before hitting the publish button.  For an accurate near blow by blow account, I urge you to check out Tim’s post at Winecast.net

The net-net of the situation is that the bloggers that have participated in the Rockaway program that I created have been accused of some slanderous things like lacking integrity and ethics.  Yet, both Steve and Tom Wark and some of the vigorous early commenters like Ryan from Catavino are guilty of proffering inaccurate and erroneous opinions—if they would have checked the facts their opinions wouldn’t have been so inaccurate and polarizing.  To me, not checking your facts is a far more offensive notion than writing about a wine sample.  So far, Steve is back-pedaling, Ryan acknowledges that we, apparently, didn’t communicate well enough (though he doesn’t acknowledge not understanding well enough) and Tom is stubbornly clinging onto his inaccuracies that led to an opinion that nobody but a sycophant would agree with.  And, he’s also trying to hang onto whatever is left of his blog credibility.

In fact, as Joe from 1WineDude points out, Tom would appear to be guilty of many of the things he accuses us of doing, without having done a little thing like give full transparency, as Joe notes below.

<><><><><><><><><><><><>

Tom - this reviewer is *you*, right?

http://thewinespies.com/directory/wine/264

You don’t have to answer actually, because I checked the facts and it is actually you, as stated right here on your blog

I am correct in my understanding that the above is a program that requires you to -

1) ‘Write about this wine in exchange for receiving it’, and
2) Requires ‘the wine be written about within a certain time frame as a condition of receiving it’

Right?

You don’t have to answer that one either, because I checked the facts at thewinespies.com for you. And that is, in fact, what you have to agree to do in order to participate in the program and receive the wine:

“Review a wine that we send you, in time for us to post [your review] on one of our 1 day sales”

What you might want to answer is -
How is the above different from what you and others here have been citing as a mistake? Or had you actually made the exact same mistake before any the participants in this study?

Your words:
“I think a mistake was made in demanding that bloggers write about this wine in exchange for receiving it. And I think a mistake was made in demanding that the wine be written about within a certain time frame as a condition of receiving it.”

I’m really struggling as to how to frame a logical interpretation of your two posts on this subject that isn’t somehow hypocritical on your part.

Also, my understanding is that it’s common journalistic practice to get the facts before publishing your writing.

We’ve established that you did not do that - according to multiple statements from the winery, the participants, and the organizer of the event.

Isn’t it also common journalistic practice to publish a retraction? From a recent correction/retraction policy I came across: “Retractions are judged according to whether the main conclusion of the paper is seriously undermined as a result.”

<><><><><><><><><><>

It’s a really nice bit of sleuthing on Joe’s part and certainly reframes this conversation AWAY from the Rockaway wine bloggers into an entirely different conversation—one about glory whores and those that use glory holes.  I won’t cast aspersions or pejoratives or knife people in the back the way that I have been treated this week, but I think we all know who the “glory” folks are here. 



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Posted in, Around the Wine Blogosphere. Permalink | Comments (20) |


Comments

On 08/30, Mary B. wrote:

Jeff, I’d like to apologize.  Although the most ‘damning’ thing I said was that it appeared to me that Rodney Strong was just blitzing the blogging medium, I admit I posted without getting the details, which clearly prove I was wrong in that assumption.  What an amazing firestorm this issue has turned out to be.  I have started two threads for bloggers at my industry-only forum, Cellar Rats, and one is on building a code of ethics.  (Although I note that there have been no participants so far.)  If you would like to lead the discussion there, I would be honored.

http://cellarrats.proboards91.com/index.cgi?board=wine

On 08/30, Tom Wark wrote:

Jeff:

Did your bloggers, as a condition to receiving the wine, agree to blog about a wine on their own blog, and do so in a specific time frame?
YES


Were all the reviews positive?
YES


Did they all point readers back to the winery to sign up for the allocation list?
YES


Is this journalism?
NO


Does this give the appearance that the bloggers are in the employ of the winery?
YES


Is it the right thing for the Blogging community to do if they want credibility?
NO

So don’t tell me I didn’t get the facts right. They were 100% correct.


“How is the above different from what you and others here have been citing as a mistake? Or had you actually made the exact same mistake before any the participants in this study?”
-JEFF

Do you know what the difference is, Jeff. There was no question whatsoever that my review at wine spies was done in the service of Wine Spies, done not at my blog, and done at Wine Spies with the goal of selling that wine for Wine Spies. On the other hand you don’t want to make clear that your review, on YOUR OWN BLOG, was in the service of the winery, not your readersóas you would have us believe. Are you trying to tell me that if Arthur Black hated the Rodney Strong wine that you would have printed that review on your page? And if you did print it, how would that have affected the “study”?

In the future, how can I know that a review that shows up wasn’t done in the employ of the subject of the review?

As for a “Study”, what were you trying to learn? If blogs can refer readers to wineries and convert those people into buyers? Does that really need to be investigated? You couldn’t have discovered this by simply sending out samples, waiting for reviews and tracking referrals, rather than forcing your participants to jeopardize their credibility by appearing to be in the employ of a winery?

Finally, let’s be really honest here. If I did the very same thing as you guys, the worst you say of me is that I’m a hypocrite.

However, that still doesn’t address the question, is it right for bloggers to compromise their integrity and the integrity of the entire wine blogosphere by giving the legitimate impression that blogges are just flacks for the winery that will give them the most wine?

At least I didn’t didn’t try to pretend that I was involved in some noble experiment to cover my mistake.

In fact, here’s what I think I’ll do. Ill stipulate that despite what I originally thought were the obvious differences between my appearance at Wine Spies and what you guys did with Rodney Strong, there in fact is no difference.

Furthermore, I’ll admit it was unethical, wrong, should never happen again, and I’m ashamed of myself for doing it because its the kind of thing that puts the credibility of wine blogging in peril when it’s at a pretty fragile state.

You have to decide if you are going to use your blog as a legitimate educational and reporting vehicle or if you just want it to be a marketing agent for the highest bidder or with the winery with the coolest, newest, expensive wine. If we want them to be the former, then normal standards of ethics apply. If we want them to be the latter, then all bets are off and damn the ethics.

On 08/30, Tim Elliott wrote:

Tom,

Your argument would have more veracity if there was a clear-cut, published and agreed upon wine blogger code of ethics. I didn’t violate my own published code so I don’t appreciated being called unethical here.

I would not have an issue with you saying I violated your blogger code of ethics. I’d just say we have a disagreement. That’s more constructive for the future credibility of wine blogging than pointing fingers in posts and comments.

On 08/30, Jeff wrote:

Tom,

Not really sure where to begin besides you attributing a quote to me that I did not make and you again making assertions for me that are not facts.  In fact, you go so far as to intimate that I am a liar, too.

You’ve lost all touch with your allegations as empirical fact and the truth that you don’t fact check.  Maybe this is a trait exclusive to a small town in Sonoma County, CA, but it doesn’t play with real professionals in the city. 

A nice thought, but wrong.  Why don’t you talk to Robert Larsen at Rodney Strong ask him how it all came about, ask him if I did anything in explicit service to them, implied or stated, and then come back here and apologize to me.  You won’t though because its more convenient for you to live reality through your interpretations then to get your own facts. 

I think in your PR life and your fight in the wine trade you have become corrupted to the line between your pocketbook and professionalism and unable to discern the difference between your world view and rational objectivity. 

How else to explain your continued assault and, frankly, defamation of character and slander? 

In fact, if Arthur Black had panned the wine his review would have been published.  There were no editorial restrictions. If you read his post, and I’m not sure that you read Tom, though I’ll grant you skimming, you will note he’s not in love with the wine and is very objective.

Second, you allege that I try to cover a mistake by calling it an experiment.  What mistake have I made?  I said exactly what I was doing and then I did it.  Whose mistake is it?  It’s yours for opining that something unethical has occurred.  And, in addition, it’s yours for pouring gas on a fire and watching the house burn.

What was I trying to find out in the experiment?  Read the backstory post and all of the underlying links and you’ll find out.  If I have learned anything about you in the past week it’s that your lazy with getting full context. Not a great journalistic ethic, but then PR isn’t journalism is it?
http://www.goodgrape.com/index.php/articles/comments/the_rockaway_wine_release_back_story/

Finally, I’ll ignore your last paragraph.  Coming from somebody that uses their blog as a bully pulpit in an ideological battle, I’ll simply assume you don’t know me well enough to allege that I do anything other than above-board ethical conduct. 

Frankly, I thought we were friendly, but you continue to impeach my integrity and others that participated and unfortunately that’s not something I tolerate even after we have given you all enough runway to correct your erroneous opinion masquerading as fact.

Jeff

On 08/30, Dr. Debs wrote:

Tom, Tom, Tom. You publicized the Wine Spies review on your own site without disclosing the details. And what you recount here is not what you said in your initial post. I’m not sure that you shouldn’t be ashamed of yourself.

But I already know you don’t care about details like truth, disclosure, fact checking, so I don’t expect this to make any impact on you at all. As a PR person, what you are clearly interested in is spin and stirring the pot.

I’m clear on that now.

But let me just say as someone who reviewed a wine, and publicized that review on his own blog without disclosing the relationship, you are probably not the person I’d go to for ethical advice.

On 08/30, Tish wrote:

Oy, oy, oy. Some of the smartest people in wine-blogging are melting down over this. Everyone is right AND wrong here. It is the result of stilted communication! I hope you all pick yourselves up stay in the game. The wine biz needs dedicated observers like you!

On 08/30, Dr. Debs wrote:

Tish, that’s what happens when people get personal and there is a feeding frenzy. It’s unfortunate, isn’t it?

Journalists are expected to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest and when they are unavoidable, they are expected to disclose the relationship. Every member of Jeff’s project did that.

The person calling us unethical did not, and did not live up to most of the other tenets of professional journalism just shared by another wine blogger: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

Do you take your integrity seriously? I do. It’s why I have a code of ethics which I did not violate.

And if someone suggested you should be ashamed of yourself and had damaged the credibility of the entire wine blogging enterprise when he got his facts wrong, wouldn’t you at least seek to defend yourself against the most egregious attacks? My guess is you would. I don’t defend myself against everything slung at me in the blogosphere, but integrity?? That’s something different.

Especially when the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

On 08/30, 1WineDude wrote:

Tom - I don’t understand why you wouldn’t answer this on your own blog, or simply state that you’re either OK to be viewed as a hypocrite on this topic (and move on), or that you were wrong about your interpretation of the specific example you used in your discussion on ethics and need to re-evaluate your position.

Wouldn’t this call into question (significantly) your credibility, until you do so?

On 08/30, 1WineDude wrote:

Whoops - sorry, Tom, just re-read your comment and I’ve changed my mind.

I think you did answer but it probably means that you need to skip the ethics topic altogether on your blog, because 1) you’ve only described in the last two posts on the subject your code of ethics 2) you admitted here to violating that code.

The bloggers involved in your example, myself included, have a CoE and we didn’t violate it.

Ir we do discuss Ethics at the WBC, I’m probably NOT participating if you’re on the panel, because after this the credibility of that panel would be questionable.  I.e., wy would you put the fox in charge of the hen’s house?

On 08/30, Randy wrote:

And to think we were going to talk like civilized people!

I hardly know where to start. I find myself in the somewhat enviable role of being an outsider looking in at the gory, blood-soaked multi-car pileup that this story has become.

Many people for whom I have deep respect have been going at each other in a manner I’ve only previously seen on hardcore political blogs. Ad hominem attacks, name-calling, and statements best described as “bad-mouthing” have been flung in all directions. Not that any of you know or care this, but that behavior is the reason I don’t read political blogs anymore.

It’s my closely held belief that ethics are not an absolute. They are internal barometers, and although there are social norms for what’s ethical behavior and what isn’t, there’s an enormous grey area that’s best described as “iffy”. The fact is that you can sail a fleet of cargo ships through that gap.

Instead of adopting an attitude of “well, that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it,” the attitude is more like, “I’m right, you’re wrong, and oh-by-the-way you suck.” Am I the only person that sees the corrosive nature of this and how it poisons the conversation that blogging is meant to promote?

Fact checking is fine and good. But what I see is that even with all the facts laid out (real facts, mind you), there are equally valid conclusions that can be reached based on the individual’s own ethical standards.

To borrow a particularly touchy political analogy (and I do apologize if this offends in any way): the fact that abortion kills a human fetus is not under debate. However, some people can conclude that a women’s right to choose is paramount, while another group concludes that the rights of the unborn should supercede all others. Same facts, two different and fundamentally opposite conclusions. There’s no denying that both groups believe their own conclusions are ethical.

Now, since wine is considerably less important to the world than some of those touchy political subjects, can we all agree that there’s room for differences of opinion, and then move forward?

I guarantee you, the audience isn’t going to care about the name-calling. The audience wants good content, honest content. If you operate your blog transparently, with full disclosure for any possible perception of conflict of interest, then the audience can decide whether to believe what you say. In fact, that might be the best possible outcome, because it treats the audience as if they are intelligent, rather than having to be led around as sheep.

On 08/30, 1winedude wrote:

Totally agree Randy, on leaving it to the blog readers.  I’ve done exactly that on my blog.

What I want to make clear is that I am
NOT saying Tom, me, Jeff, or anyone else isn’t entitled to their opinions.

I am taking *personal* issue with Tom publicly using me as a scapegoat in furthering his own agenda.

On 08/30, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

Let me start by saying, you donít know me.

But I know you, all of you, as bloggers.

I love wine.  I make wine at home.  I drink as many different wines as I can.  I love when I find a really good bottle that is really inexpensive.  I love to mark the day, from the most mundane to the most special, with a glass of wine.

I also love reading about wine.  I read the Spectator (even though they seem to have a soft spot for fake lists) and, as of the past year or so, I have been reading your blogs.  And I love them also.  I find your posts interesting and thought provoking.  Iím not sure if Iím your target audience because I am a ďlurker.Ē  I rarely, if ever post a comment.  I give your blogs a quick read in the morning and then go on with running my business, or taking my son to baseball, or whatever else fills my day.  I learn a lot from your blogs, and from the comments that follow your posts.

Your blogs are such a GREAT alternative source of information.  Thank you for giving people like me your time as you craft your posts.  I know it canít be for the money for most of you.  It has to be about the love and passion for wine.  But sometimes passion gets us to point where we start to lose meaningful dialogue, and rather find ourselves involved in personal attacks.

You should know that lately, after I read many of the posts and comments on various wine blogs, I have the same feeling in my stomach that I get when I find myself in a fight with my wife.  Itís a feeling of anger, and hurt, and regret, and loneliness.

Itís almost exactly the opposite of the feeling that I have when we are together, talking about our day, laughing about silly things, fascinated by the new wine find of the day, or pouring a glass of an old favorite.

I look to your blogs for the latter experience, but lately the former is oozing from my screen.  I am saddened.  Something that I really enjoy has changed as of late.  Iím finding that I am hesitant to check in, because I donít find what I am reading to be of any value to me.  Maybe you are okay with that, and thatís fine with me.  But for me, I feel like Iím in the middle of a shootout of personal and hurtful comments, written in the heat of the moment, that cannot be taken back.  It is sad for me to watch.

I know a lot of you must feel personally hurt, and under attack, and misunderstood.  I am sorry about that.  If I could humbly offer a piece of advice that comes from personal experience, it would be to walk away.

Walk away from this for now.  Let it go.  Enjoy something non-wine for a while.  Let it go.  At this point nothing is getting resolved.  It is too personal.

You all are entitled to your opinions, and, obviously, to your criticisms.  Thatís why I love reading your blogs.  But we are way past an exchange of opinions and ideas and thoughtful criticisms.

From the ďcheap seatsĒ I am eagerly awaiting the next WBW, or your next unexpected gem, or an insight into your life and how wine is a part of it.  But before that, I am stepping away for a day or two.  I have a peach port, a Riesling, and a Tempranillo to bottle today, a Zin to savor tonight, and then the rest of the weekend to enjoy.  Join me, and leave this stuff behind.  Enjoy your weekend.

Cheers!

On 08/30, 1WineDude wrote:

Craig - THANK YOU.  You are echoing the sentiments of the other readers of my blog who have contacted me.

Echoing them *exactly*.

To that end, I declined to go onto WineBiz Radio this weekend to discuss the topic.  Now that this is just a pissing contest between Tom and me (in terms of my involvement), there’s nothing good that can come of it - it would just be bad radio.

I can’t imagine adding anything productive now to the debate.  I feel Tom wronged me publicly, and did it unfairly, and bullied my friends.  Everyone knows that’s how I feel.  Time to move on.

You’ll see anew blog post on 1WineDude.com on Monday.

It will be about Bitterness… in WHITE WINES!

And not about Bitterness in the navel-gazing world of wine blogging!

THANK YOU again for hanging in there through all of this.  This is NOT the online wine community that we want.  And it won’t be the wine community that we build from here.

Not so long as that community tolerates me, anyway!

Cheers!

On 08/31, Michael Wangbickler wrote:

Thank you Craig for bringing a little perspective to this issue. I have also been feeling the way you describe and have found myself avoiding certain blogs because of it. I look forward to a wonderful weekend with my wife and son and reading 1Winedude’s new posting on Monday.

Cheers!

On 09/01, St. Vini wrote:

You guys need to get a grip.  ALL OF YOU.

The indignation over ethics in such a nascent medium is just silly.  Some guys found a way to be like the cool kids and get some free wine.  Maybe they should have laid out the game plan a little better and defined the rules up front.  So what if they didn’t?

This is wine blogging.  On the internets.  A tempest in a teapot.  Good Lord people, are you starting to take yourselves a little too seriously, maybe?!?!

V

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