Stanley Fish on Hoaxes

From his blog Think Again at the New York Times:

Stanley_fishLast week the New York Post’s Page Six picked up on a story that had been widely circulated on the blogosphere. The magazine Wine Spectator was the victim of a hoax when it came out that its “award of excellence” had been given to a restaurant that did not exist. Robin Goldstein, a wine critic who said that he wanted to expose the lack of any foundation for many food and wine awards, had submitted an application that included the menu and wine list of a fictitious restaurant he named Osteria L’Intrepido. Goldstein revealed the hoax within a week or so of the announced award and declared that what he had done proved that “the level of scrutiny” that accompanies such awards is “insufficient.”

Stung by the adverse publicity his magazine was receiving, Executive Editor Thomas Matthews fought back with an account of what he termed “the actual facts of the matter” on the Wine Spectator web site. He said that “we do not claim to visit every restaurant in our Awards program” or “review the restaurant as a whole.” Rather, “[we evaluate] the content, accuracy and presentation of wine lists.”

Thomas then detailed the efforts of the magazine to verify the facts. The restaurant was called (it was never reached); a Google search revealed an “actual address” on a street in Milan, a site featuring the restaurant’s menu, and reviews by what are now known to be fictitious customers. Goldstein claimed that the wine list he had confected contained vintages that Wine Spectator itself had criticized in previous issues. Thomas retorted that of the 256 wines listed only 15 scored below the mark the magazine considered a standard.

More here.