Joe Nocera calls Go Set a Watchman a “money grab” and a “fraud”

Harper Lee like 15 years ago

Harper Lee like 15 years ago

Good news for baby Atticus: Joe Nocera of the New York Times believes the recently-published Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird but an early draft. In a column Friday, he calls the book “a fraud” and “one of the epic money grabs in the modern history of American publishing.” I’d say that sounds kind of like libel, except it’s published in the New York Times, so you know they checked him.

Nocera notes that Lee spent the last 50 years insisting she wouldn’t publish another novel, “until now, that is, when she’s 89, a frail, hearing- and sight-impaired stroke victim living in a nursing home.” Tonja Carter, Lee’s caretaker since the death of sister Alice last year, said she found the new novel in 2014. Nocera believes she actually saw it in 2011, when she participated in a meeting with Lee’s former agent and a specialist for Sotheby’s that included discussion of the new manuscript. Carter claims she left the meeting before the manuscript came up and didn’t return. Nocera says, in no uncertain terms, that what really changed—the event that brought this “new novel” to market—was Alice died.

If that’s true, it’s a sad story. Celebrated one-off novelist refuses to write another book for five decades, protected by her sister when she herself is infirm. Sister dies; greedy publisher sells early, crappy draft of novelist’s masterpiece as new novel that makes everyone hate main character.

That last part presupposes that Go Set a Watchman will overshadow or at least rival the popularity of To Kill a Mockingbird, which seems unlikely at this point. Probably, Watchman will be remembered as a peculiarity of 21st-century publishing, if at all. But it seems like a dirty trick to pull on an author who spent most of her life refusing to cash in on the success of her only novel. Maybe a perfectly lucid Lee changed her mind after fifty years, a stroke, and the death of the sister who looked after her affairs. Or maybe she is sitting in her nursing home right now, only dimly aware of what HarperCollins did to her.

Friday links! Possible boners edition

Joker boner

“Everything is only for a day,” Marcus Aurelius writes in book IV of the Meditations, “both that which remembers and that which is remembered.” He means don’t worry about your historical reputation, because the people who know it will all die, too. Still, among the living, it’s hard not to hope posterity will like us. I think of my grandparents’ segment of history—from the Depression through fascism into boom decades culminating in the hypertrophied 1980s—and I am overwhelmed with admiration. Then I try to come up with titles for our chapter of the history books. “Deficits and Decay” seems toppable. “Where Animals Went” would work in a work of popular nonfiction. Today is Friday, and history might remember us as people who didn’t think about the future, but not in the good way like Marcus Aurelius wants. Won’t you chortle at the boners with me?

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Missoula Co. sheriff’s office claims Missoulian agreed to limit access

Brenda Bassett, public information officer at the Missoula County Sheriff's Office

Brenda Bassett, public information officer at the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, in her days at KPAX

Last week, media blogger Jim Romenesko reported that the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office had announced an agreement with the Missoulian regarding cops and crime reporter Kathryn Haake. Citing Haake’s tendency to “contact multiple people within our office in an attempt to get more information than what she can legally be given,” public information officer Brenda Bassett said that “Kate has been instructed by her editor, to send all questions via email to me.” Missoulian editor Sherry Devlin disputed that. In her own email to Romenesko, Devlin said:

The Missoulian has no such arrangement or agreement with the sheriff’s office. They have made that demand and have attempted to have Kate removed from the beat because she asks questions that go beyond TV soundbites, and has covered both the sheriff’s critics as well as his supporters. She remains our police and courts reporter and has my full support. Her stories have been and are fair, balanced and accurate. I have at no time agreed to their demands.

That right there is a disagreement over facts, and it gets more complicated in the weeds of Romenesko’s post. But the upshot is that the sheriff’s office thinks it’s inappropriate for a reporter to call around and try to interview people, and it has insisted that the media only interact with its PR rep, in writing, on a timeline that gives her space to craft her answers.

That’s been a trend among Missoula County agencies lately. For the first few months after she took office, County Attorney Kirsten Pabst forbade any of her employees from talking to reporters; in April, she held a press conference at which she refused to take questions. The school board still hasn’t told us why it fired and reassigned a series of administrators last year. All three attempts to stonewall the media coincided with scandals: two lawsuits and a public feud within the sheriff’s office, John Krakauer’s stinging indictment of Pabst in Missoula, and rumors of inappropriate relationships and sports-related retaliations in the schools.

Responding to scandal by shutting out the media is like responding to fire by smashing all the smoke detectors. It’ll keep things quiet for a while, but it’s guaranteed to make the problem worse. County agencies have a responsibility to the people they serve, and that responsibility includes communicating openly and honestly with the press. You can read my opinions about that in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent.

Kate Haake is a nice lady I like Kate Haake, and Bassett shouldn’t lambast her for doing her job. Like the county attorney and the school board, the sheriff is an elected official. The people who read the newspaper are his bosses. The moment he stops talking to us is the moment I lose confidence in his office.

Charlie Hebdo won’t draw Muhammad anymore

The prophet Muhammad receives his revelation from the angel in a 14th-century illustration.

The prophet Muhammad receives his revelation from the angel in a 14th-century illustration.

In an interview with the German magazine Stern last week, Charlie Hebdo editor-in-chief Laurent Sourisseau said his paper would no longer publish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. You may remember Charlie Hebdo from January, when two Islamic militants attacked its Paris offices and killed 12 people. The paper has received an outpouring of support since then, including the sympathetic Je Suis Charlie movement and dramatically increased circulation. Also, its surviving staffers live under police protection, and pretty much every issue since the shootings has been an object of scrutiny. You can only make so many bold declarations of Enlightenment values against religious tyranny before you’re just exhausted. Over at Politico, though, Michael Moynihan argues that the terrorists won. He is probably right.

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Trump takes lead in GOP poll but plummets after McCain remarks

Donald Trump approaches a horse from behind.

Donald Trump approaches a horse from behind.

Donald Trump led the field with support from a whopping 24% of Republican respondents to a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted late last week, beating Scott Walker by 11 points. I bet you didn’t think you’d be pulling for Scott Walker in 2015, did you? But the Post seems to have buried the lead in its story on the poll: although Trump polled very well Thursday and Friday, his support plummeted Saturday night, after the media widely reported his remarks about John McCain. It seems Trump has defined some contours of the contemporary Republican Party. You can call Mexicans rapists, but you cannot attack a veteran.

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