The characters in this post are Charles, Prince of Wales, a British businessman, James Stunt, and a convicted painting forger Tony Tetro.
Javier Pes covered the incident on artnet.com in “Prince Charles’s Charity Displayed Paintings by Picasso, Dalí, and Monet—Until a Convicted Forger Claimed Them as His Own.” He wrote that Stunt lent “works supposedly by Monet, Picasso, and Salvador Dalí to Dumfries House, the historic property in Scotland that is a cause close to the heart of the heir to the British throne.”
Dumfries House Photo: dumfries-house.org.UK
Stunt got them back after Tetro announced he’d painted them. He also said that Stunt knew they were fake because he’d ordered them for his home. The faux artist added that “there is no way that these paintings could pass even the lightest scrutiny. The canvases are new, paint is modern, stretcher bars are not correct or period.”
The coverage implied that the Prince should have known better and we don’t know if he’d ever seen the canvases. Pes wrote: “The British royal, who is a former trustee of London’s National Gallery and grew up surrounded by Old Masters, must have been delighted when the flamboyant British businessman James Stunt agreed to lend 17 works.”
“LE FERMIER ET SON ÉPOUSE” by Joan Miro Photo: joan-miro.net
Stunt was also on the griddle. Quoting the Daily Mail‘s account and what Stunt said, Pes reported: “ ‘What is the crime of lending them to a stately home, [to] the Prince of Wales and putting them on display for the public to enjoy?’ He stopped short of accepting that he knew they weren’t originals,” added Pes.
Pes wrote: “Tetro, who was found guilty of art forgery involving works by Dalí, Miro, Chagall, and Norman Rockwell in the past, now makes what he calls ’emulations’ of Modern masterworks. Stunt ‘knew with 100 percent certainty that these works were by me,’ Tetro said, a claim that Stunt denies. ‘We discussed the subject of the paintings and many of the particulars. These were decorative paintings that were purposely made by me as decorations for his home.'”
It’s hard to tell who was pulling the wool over whose eyes in this $136 million art scam. Was Stunt trying to gain provenance for fakes he knew were such? Did he really know what he bought from Tetro? Was the Prince of Wales, who was trying to generate funds for a historic Scottish property, taken to the cleaners by Stunt, whom, Pes notes at the end of the article, went bankrupt this summer? Should the Prince’s front people/handlers–or the folks in charge of fundraising for Dumfries House–have done a better job at vetting the background of the theoretically munificent businessman before accepting his offer? Or should the Prince have known better?
A news story should represent both sides of a story and a reporter owes it to readers to attempt to shoot for this balance. Let the readers decide. As a public relations practitioner there are times where the most I can hope for in a negative story is the chance for my client to share his/her point of view and I am grateful when the reporter gives my client the chance.
That’s why this debate at Harvard caught my eye and surprised me.
Marc Tracy wrote “Harvard Newspaper Faces Backlash Over ICE Article” for The New York Times. Criticism against the 146 year old daily was made by campus groups Act on a Dream and Harvard College Democrats. They reprimanded The Harvard Crimson for writing that the reporter had contacted for comment Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] for the article “Harvard Affiliates Rally for Abolish ICE Movement.”
The editors wrote: “ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.”
Act on a Dream had organized the rally described in the Crimson. Furious, the group launched a petition “demanding that The Crimson vow to never contact ICE again and to apologize for the ‘harm it has inflicted.’ ” They gathered 650+ online signatures.
One grievance by Act on a Dream was that ICE had a “long history of surveilling and retaliating against those who speak out against them.” Even though the rally had already taken place when the story ran, they claimed that tipping off ICE could endanger undocumented immigrants on campus. Harvard College Democrats said “It’s very much in line with our values. It lines up with our commitment to protecting these movements, making sure people’s voices can be heard, that intimidation from ICE doesn’t prevent these students from exercising their right to mobilize and organize.”
Tracy wrote “It is one of the first tasks a journalist learns on the job, a routine aspect of reporting: asking for comment from people or organizations that are mentioned prominently in an article, especially those cast in a harsh light.”
The Crimson “stood by its reporting.” The paper’s president and managing editor “wrote that ‘every party named in a story has a right to comment or contest criticism leveled against them.'” They cited approval of the practice by the Student Press Law Center and Society of Professional Journalists.
Tracy quoted University of Michigan law professor Margo Schlanger “who specializes in civil rights and prison reform.” He wrote about Schlanger that “while she understands the protestors’ concerns, the paper had done nothing unethical.” Quoting Schlanger: “They’re trying to make ICE a pariah agency” and that it was “not responsible journalism not to call the agency to ask them to respond to things.”
Where do you stand: Should a newspaper reporter always try for comments from people representing all sides of a story or are there exceptions and have the rules changed?
I admire researchers for so many reasons. It can take decades for them to make a discovery and years more to prove it. Diligence, the ability to fight frustration and dissent are just three characteristics of this valiant group.
I was distressed to read Noam Cohen’s New York Times article, “M.I.T. Shuts Down ‘Food Computer’ Project” about the world-renowned research citadel. The allegedly promising venture–The Open Agricultural Initiative [OpenAg]–involved greenhouses, called food computers, designed for crops that grow in air–without soil or sunlight. In addition to those in food computers at the university there were larger greenhouses in shipping containers in Middletown, Mass.
M.I.T. Media Lab. Photo: news.mit.edu
Cohen wrote: “The once-celebrated M.I.T. Media Lab micro-greenhouses were supposed to grow food under virtually any conditions. In the end, they worked under almost none. And now, M.I.T. has turned off the lights, possibly for good.”
He added “The project has been accused of misleading sponsors and the public by exaggerating results while the Media Lab has been under scrutiny for its financial ties to the convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein.”
The director of the OpenAg program, Caleb Harper, posted images and videos on social media “that looked like experiments” and exaggerated or made false claims. Former researchers said he bought plants and put them in the “food computers” pretending they’d grown there. They said that data would have “little scientific significance” because they could not “control the conditions within the boxes.”
The Middletown containers were closed down recently because they dumped wastewater “with 20 times the legal limit of nitrogen underground.”
M.I.T. Photo: news.mit.edu
According to Cohen, Harper boasted that food computers he’d sent Syrian refugees in camps gave them “the means to grow their own food inside the camp.” Instead, these computers ended up “in a Jordanian research lab where they faltered because of hot, dry conditions and technical failures.”
The project attracted $millions in sponsorship funds and heaps of positive publicity including the likes of “60 Minutes” and a TED Talk. I wager it received the acclaim and financial support based on its affiliation with M.I.T. Such shenanigans can’t help the university’s reputation and I wonder who minds the store in such institutions to prevent this kind of tempting fabrication from happening more often.
When Pete Wells, The New York Times’ restaurant critic, recently gave legendary Brooklyn steakhouse Peter Luger zero stars, down from two, his review–Peter Luger Used to Sizzle. Now it Sputters–which knocked the stuffing out of the place, drew plenty of attention on local media.
Peter Luger steak Photo: pinterest.com
I’ve not heard of similar impact if a social media venue gave a thumbs down to a product or service. Yet companies believe in their significance to move goods and are paying plenty to get a thumbs up from people they’ve identified as social media influencers to rave to followers on Instagram, Facebook and the like.
According to Suzanne Kapner and Sharon Terlep in their Wall Street Journal article: “What began as friends and family sharing their favorite products has become a lucrative advertising industry of celebrity endorsers, influencers and meme creators. Such paid endorsements, known as sponsored content, are the online equivalent of a 30-second TV spot. Big-name stars can command $100,000 or more for a single YouTube video or Instagram photo.”
As so often happens, greed among some has weakened the value of what had become a good thing for the influencers. [The jury is still out as to whether such endorsements actually sell product and with some manufacturers the bloom is already off the rose.]
The reporters wrote in “Advertisers Sour on Online Influencers,” that “a whiff of deceit now taints the influencer marketplace. Influencers have strained ties with advertisers by inflating the number of their followers, sometimes buying fake ones by the thousands. They also have damaged their credibility with real-life followers by promoting products they don’t use.”
The long Journal article gives examples, excuses and alternatives–some advertisers are now using their customers instead of celebrities to endorse products instead–but the paragraph above hits the crux of the flaws in the concept whereby consumers lost trust in influencer claims. In addition, advertisers can’t track or confirm the success of a YouTube video or Instagram endorsement.
In fact Ipsy, the beauty products company that launched the trend eight years ago is “Now the brand leading the way again, this time by pulling back” from endorsements by influencers.
Click farm. Photo: core77.com
Nevertheless Kapner and Terlep reported that the influencer industry is still lucrative: Global estimates range from $4.1 to $8.2 billion/year in 2019 versus $500 million four years ago. Influencers have made 50 percent more each year in the last two. “Prices per Instagram post range from $200 for an influencer with as few as 10,000 followers to more than $500,000 for celebrities with millions of followers, according to Mediakix.”
One flaw: So-called influencers can easily bolster their follower numbers by hiring “click farms” that “employ people to inflate on-line traffic.” For $49 and $39 you can buy 1,000 YouTube and Facebook followers respectively and that number costs $16 on Instagram, one pundit estimated.
Do traditional reviews influence whether you’ll try a restaurant, product or buy tickets to a movie or Broadway show? Do you check out Yelp or websites that report what customers or patients think of establishments or doctors like ZocDoc? If a celebrity you admire says he/she likes a product on social media or anywhere else, do you give it a try?
What is it about school systems and children’s lunches that brings out the worst in some? In May, 2017 I wrote “Service of Humiliating, Harmful Strategies to Get Paid: Lunch Shaming,” exposing administrators in Canonsburg, Pa. who humiliated children whose parents hadn’t paid their lunch fees, not letting the kids eat. Earlier, in a different post, I suggested the NYC school system pay for breakfast and lunch for kids who couldn’t afford it and lower their spending on laptops from the Rolls Royce version they had in mind to a serviceable but cheaper model.
Recently Ella Torres wrote about a Cherry Hill “New Jersey school district [that] is banning students with school lunch debt from attending extracurricular activities, including prom and field trips” or from buying a yearbook. The ABC news journalist reported “Middle school students who owe $75 or more in school lunch fees will face the same punishment, while elementary school students will be barred from participating in after-school events and attending class trips.”
Torres quoted a grandparent who said: “It is an elitist assumption on the part of this school board that parents are not paying a bill because they don’t want to.”
A senior asked the board ” ‘What are colleges gonna think?’ noting how important extracurricular activities are on applications.”
According to Torres, NJ.com reported that meal debt in the district was over $14,000, counting students of all ages owing $10 or more.
At least the district still feeds kids who owe lunch money.
The school superintendent, Dr. Joseph Meloche, said: “Money is certainly something that we have to deal with. That’s our world, but that’s not the most important thing that we’re addressing in terms of the policy and the work that’s being done. It’s about supporting children and supporting families … sometimes the right thing is not the easy thing to do.”
I haven’t changed my mind: Depriving or punishing kids over issues of food is atrocious. Do you agree? Prom, the yearbook, extracurricular activities and school trips are big deals for kids. Will deprivation cover the debt? Is this an appropriate way to teach kids a lesson–making them pressure their parents to pay up when it’s the school that should be doing so? Are there jobs kids–especially the young ones–can do to pay off some of the debt? How do other districts handle it–taxes or fundraisers?
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