Acme of His Career


Sometimes the stories that don’t make it into the alternative press are more bizarre than the ones that do. This one centers around James Morrow, a former food writer for the ‘New York Press,’ ‘Press’ associate editor Andrey Slivka, and Carolyn Nash, a 17-year-old from an alternative high school in Indiana that encourages seniors to do something creative in their last semester. As an aspiring writer, Nash chose to move to New York, where she has been juggling internships at Zoetrope, the Press—and the Voice.

Last week I learned these things in rapid succession: (1) In February, Morrow wrote a column in the Press trashing Acme, a restaurant in downtown Manhattan. (2) Acme is a longtime advertiser with the Press. (3) Upon reading Morrow’s review, the general manager of Acme wrote a complaining letter to the Press. (4) Shortly thereafter, Slivka told Morrow that his services were no longer required. (5) Slivka told Morrow that he planned to give the food beat to a 17-year-old high school girl.

The saga began last fall, when Press editor in chief Russ Smith called James Morrow, who is managing editor and a food columnist for Morrow, 26, subsequently met with Smith and Slivka, and was asked to write biweekly restaurant reviews. According to Morrow, Slivka told him, “We don’t use contracts. This is the alternative press.”

In February, Slivka asked Morrow to submit three columns, which he did. The first to run, on February 7, was about Acme Bar & Grill, home of po’boys and collard greens. In it, Morrow called Acme a “Tex-Mex sort of dive” and bitched about the service, singling out a pair of “indie chicks with loud tops and the waistbands of their Joe Boxer underwear hanging out above their jeans, and who, six hours earlier, were most likely having sex with their musician boyfriends or each other—and smoking the rest of last week’s tips.” The review began on page 29 and jumped to page 30, where it ran adjacent to an Acme ad.

Soon after that, the Press ran a letter from Acme general manager Craig Dietsch, who accused Morrow of inaccuracy (the cuisine is Cajun, not Tex-Mex) and “repressed sexual desires.” Acme has been advertising with the Press for two years.

On March 2, Slivka e-mailed Morrow, killing his next column, “even though it’s a fine piece and even though we’ll pay you the full $250 fee for it. . . . The reason is simply that we’ve suddenly got a 17-year-old high school girl whom we want to get into the paper writing food stuff as soon as possible.”

Last week, the Press ran the first food column by Carolyn Nash, about an obscure restaurant in Morningside Heights called Toast. She loved the ambience, but turned her nose up at the “mediocre food.”

“I know a kiss-off when I see one,” says Morrow, who questions the line between business and editorial at the Press. Their motivations for allegedly placating advertisers are “pretty obvious,” he claims. “The paper’s become thinner every week.”

As for Nash, she’s a talented writer who also happens to be willing to work for free. As I learned in the course of reporting this column, she managed to line up internships at both of New York’s alternative weeklies for the semester and has been interning at the Voice twice a week. She is well liked. But no one here knew she was working at the Press—and one can only speculate as to whether the Press knew she was working at the Voice. More power to her.

But if Slivka switched food writers to curry favor with an advertiser, he needs a refresher course in journalistic ethics. So did Acme lean on the Press, or did the Press try to coddle a loyal advertiser, or what?

When I called Acme’s Craig Dietsch, he said the disappearance of Morrow’s byline was “news to me” and denied putting pressure on the Press. “They can print whatever they want,” he said. “I wrote a response because [Morrow] insulted my waitresses and women in general.” Since the review ran, Dietsch says he met “with my staff and went over what they could do better.”

Slivka and Press publisher Michael Cohen didn’t respond to requests for comment. Neither did Carolyn Nash.

Glass Stealing

In other alternative press news, Washington City Paper editor Howard Witt says Washington Post reporter Charles Lane played “dirty pool” last week, when Lane stole City Paper‘s scoop and gave it to Post gossip columnist Lloyd Grove.

As has been widely reported in the past week, Stephen Glass, who was fired from The New Republic in 1998, is now clerking for D.C. Superior Court judge A. Franklin Burgess Jr. But the first journalist on the case was City Paper‘s Jason Cherkis.

On March 6, two days before the issue with his Glass story was scheduled to hit the streets, Cherkis called Lane for a comment. Before coming to the Post, Lane had been editor of The New Republic, in which capacity he personally made the decision to fire Glass. But Lane apparently took offense, because Cherkis wanted a comment without telling Lane which judge Glass was working for. The conversation between the two reporters was unproductive.

The next day, lo and behold, an item about Glass’s clerkship appeared in Grove’s gossip column, with a quote from Lane, who claimed to be “surprised” by the news. City Paper immediately posted Cherkis’s story online. Then Witt called Lane, who defended leaking the story to Grove for several reasons, including the fact that Cherkis had not explicitly asked him not to. (N.B.: Lane covers the Supreme Court, and Grove had to do his own reporting to track down the specific judge.)

“I would have thought the guy who presided over one of the biggest ethical disasters in magazine history would have acquired a keener sense of personal ethics,” says Witt. Lane declined to comment.

Drugs and Thugs

Tired of reading sanitized stories about Plan Colombia? Then check out the “Teach-in on the Drug War and Colombia,” scheduled for March 23 and 24 at Columbia Law School.

Sponsored by the North American Congress on Latin America, the “teach-in” will bring together what NACLA director Fred Rosen calls “the left-of-center anti-interventionist community and drug policy reformers.” Both factions oppose sending military aid to a country where, he says, “the armed forces are stronger than the government itself.”

Among the featured panelists is Luis Gilberto Murillo, an outspoken Afro-Colombian former governor of El Chocó, a coastal city that’s home to guerrillas, paramilitaries, and a lot of drug trafficking. After receiving a number of death threats, Murillo is now in exile in Washington, D.C. According to Colombia Media Project cofounder Mario Murillo, the ex-governor is typical of dissident voices that are aligned with neither the guerrillas nor the Colombian government, and are thus viewed as “subversive” in Colombia and “ignored” by the U.S. media.

For tickets, see NACLA’s Web site.