Wait a second…
…you mean to tell me that Canadian wine personality Natalie MacLean’s probable plagiarism (or at the very least, insufficient, obfuscated attribution of others’ work), possible pay-to-play wine reviews / favorable brand mentions, on-line comment “sock-puppeting” (and iTunes app review sock-puppeting, while we’re at it) allegations, along with spam-botting (can I use that as a verb?), multiple accusations of comment censorship and what seems like outright lying isn’t defensible with a simple “oh, whoops, my bad! :-)” letter to her readers?!??
[ Editor's note: Despite the author's better judgement telling him that he ought to just forget all about this, he's still pissed-off about it, and so has decided to help the cause in a small way by drawing a little bit of extra attention to this scandal and not letting it die on the vine. Look, he's not saying that the average wine-loving person should care what he thinks about these things, but it's his blog so he'll whine, wine, and whittle away the time with this opinion on a scandal here if he wants. Thanks to those of you who will indulge him the time to dip into the wine media's scarred underbelly. ]
Ah, and I forgot about the whole let’s-call-the-entire-wine-media-thing-into-question-because-we-all-look-like-a-bunch-of-douche-bags-for-bestowing-awards-on-these-people debate that gets stirred up every time that something like this transpires (which is way too often right now, by the way).
Oh, well – our bad, right?!?
The primary thing that’s got me riled up about this scandal is that, as the Hosemaster of Wine recently put it, MacLean “dared use dull and virtually interchangeable wine reviews from wine experts on her blog without attribution” (ouch!)….
It’s the “without attribution” part that ought to have people – both the authors of the “attributed” (using the term very loosely) work, and those who read it on MacLean’s website thinking it might have been authored by MacLean herself – justifiably upset. So what comes next isn’t the most balanced take on the scandal (but you’ve figured that one out for yourself already).
I can actually think of one defense for Natalie, which is that she has promised to rectify the improper attributions. But that doesn’t make right what she’s already done, which is nearly tantamount to stealing the work of other people. There’s no shortage of vitriolic agreement with this in the comments on the PalatePress.com article that broke this story, but to me the most damning commentary by far was included in the article itself. I can say this because the comment comes from English MW Jancis Robinson, and I happen to speak British. Let me translate; when Jancis wrote this to MacLean:
“I must say I am horrified, Natalie. Not just by the general lack of proper attribution, but by the appropriation of reviews from Purple Pages of JancisRobinson.com which is a members-only publication.”
…she probably meant this:
“WTF?!??? Are you MAD?!??? You’re basically stealing my hard work, you b*tch!!!”
I can’t speak directly for Jancis, of course, but in the past I’ve worked for Brits (that includes several years and many visits to the UK). My experience has taught me that they do not use hyperbole, and they’ve elevated understatement into a language all of its own (and one that’s often lost in translation to N. American English). If you give a suggestion to a Brit, and the response you get is “that’s interesting, have you thought about this alternative angle…,” it means they think your idea bites bull honkey and that if you have any sense in your head whatsoever, you will seriously entertain the alternative they’ve offered (or be ready to produce a very good reason why you shouldn’t). So when one of them tells you that s/he is “horrified,” it means they’ve likely totally and absolutely written off your cred, for good.
My personal take, after several days reflection (a true rarity for me!), is this:
- I’ve no doubt that MacLean is a talented writer, and I’m impressed with the seemingly endless fount of her self-promotional hustle, but given the damning evidence that’s come to light lately, I’ve also no doubt she is currently exercising a lot more hustle than she is good sense.
- It would be bad enough if this had been done by someone of whom wine consumers are largely unaware (and unattributed content scrapping happens every minute of every day online), but having it come from an award-winning wine personality is all the worse for the entire industry.
- The result, I think, is that if you’re not already skeptical of the wine media, then you should be. I’d love to be able to tell you that someone having certifications and awards from well-regarded wine and food institutions ought to allay that skepticism, but 2012 was pretty much The Year Of Wine Scandals Involving Lauded Wine Personalities. So much for that helpful guidepost.
Of course I’m optimistic that the wine biz will get through this. And it will. We will get past “Nat-gate.” But not before all of us wine media types once again get called a bunch of raging d-bag frauds in the press. So why give it extra attention? Because anyone who might read MacLean’s books or subscribes to her website or downloads her app ought to know what she’s accused of doing. I predict that Score Inflation (“score-flation?”) will take over as the next scandal-ish wine media meme soon:
[ Editor's note: At this point our author elicits a deep and heavy plaintive sigh, and reaches for bottle of Armagnac. ]
Oh, and if you felt a bit duped by the title of this post, don’t worry; if you’re also a subscriber to MacLean’s website, then this probably isn’t the first time you’ve been duped, is it?