Monday, June 21, 2010

"Who Is This Clown?" NYU Prof. Tony Judt Asks, Denying Michael Wolff Allegation That He "Made Up" Son's Contribution To NYT Op-Ed Piece.

This morning, media critic Michael Wolff posted a piece on his blog claiming that NYU professor Tony Judt "made up" his son's portion of their Father's Day dialogue published on yesterday's NYT op-ed page.

Contacted this morning by The NYTPicker, Judt -- a widely respected Euopean historian who is paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a 2009 ALS diagnosis -- flat-out denied Wolff's accusation, and attacked the columnist for failing to contact him first.

"Who is this clown Wolff - I've never heard of him," Judt told The NYTPicker via email. "What sort of media commentator doesn't check his facts first? He could have written to Daniel or me and we could have set him right. Since, as he kindly points out, I have advanced ALS and use a secretary for dictation, he could have checked with him too. But then he would not have had a story."

Judt went on to defend his son, Daniel, against the specifics of Wolff's charge -- unsupported by anything aside from the columnist's supposition -- that his portion of the dialogue was in fact written by his father.

"He could also have made the perfectly reasonable assumption that an intelligent 15 year old (not 16, another mistake) was capable of writing good prose drawing on his own views," Judt wrote. "But perhaps Mr Wolff is not acquainted with any intelligent 15 year olds." Daniel Judt is currently a ninth-grader at the Dalton School.

Wolff -- a famously provocative columnist who often posts his theories and arguments without reporting -- presented his position today as fact.

"[Judt]’s made up his son’s part," Wolff wrote. "How the New York Times could not have been wise to this is preposterous (figuring, no doubt, that if the parties in question were in agreement on their respective authorship, who could say otherwise)."

We've contacted Wolff for comment on Judt's statement, and will update when we hear from him.

UPDATE: Wolff has replied via email to our request for comment on Judt's statement. Here it is, in full:

What else would he say? You expected a confession? I stand by the obvious: No 15--or 16 year old--writes like that. None, Never.


Jester said...

There is no way the kid wrote that; Wolff is right. I went to a Manhattan private school on par with Dalton in the elite category, and even the smartest kids in our class could not write like that, and I am talking about seniors, not ninth graders.

Fred Zimmerman said...

Of course the kid wrote it. There is absolutely no evidence for the contrary position.

Stephen Smith said...

Maybe it was heavily edited? I might buy that, but there's no way that I believe that the kid wrote more than 60% of those words.

Anonymous said...

So Wolff is so smart that he can state assertions as fact? Makes you wonder what else he has put out in the world for "fact" that had no basis other than his God-like certainty about it. Makes me glad to have read elsewhere that his tome on Murdoch wasn't exactly a best seller.
But wait, how do I know Wolff wrote it? The style differs some from his blogging. Hmmm.....

Jim Naughton said...

Why does anyone with a brain pay any attention to Wolff?

Anonymous said...

I teach at a community college, and see students from all range of the preparation spectrum. I can assure you that a 15-year old could have written this. Perhaps it's edited, and certainly Daniel has made good use of his family background, and I see nothing that suggests this didn't go through drafts and feedback as it was put together. But so what? That's how things get written. As Jester said, going to an elite private school is guarantor of nothing, certainly not high standards for writing.

Anonymous said...

What does this have to do with nytpicker's mission? Why is it necessary to follow up on someone's totally unsupported claims about something that appeared in the NYT? If this is someone's new job, he or she will be awfully busy while producing little to nothing of value.

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts.

1. Isn't there software that would allow for a confidence assessment of whether the same person wrote the whole thing?

2. Look up Jemma Leech. She received an award for something she wrote as, I think, a 10 year old. She has advanced cerebral palsy and her mother had to steady her hand for her to type her work by hitting letters with a xylophone hammer.

When you read the writing, it's pretty reasonable to suspect that the mother is engaging in Facilitated Communication (the "steadier" subconsciously -- often unknowingly -- writes the message).

I notice that when Offspring are dragged in, all rational skepticism goes out the window (i.e., "How can you be so mean to a child?!!)

3. If Son can write like that, The New York Times should give Son a column. Or at least have him give Alessandra Stanley a few pointers.

Anonymous said...

An accusation is very different from false innuendo, fabrication, and defamation. Libel is libel, and live and let live does not preclude the guaranteed and thorough disposition of pathogens whose life mission is to spew a trail of garbage beyond measure into a vegetative and chronologically frozen echo chamber.

His predatory behavior is menacing to social cohesion and he might benefit from psychiatric insight.

Anonymous said...

Plenty of young adults write like that and think like that. They learn on their own terms to navigate privilege, to ignore parasitic envy and creepy greed, and to channel the inconveniences of being smart towards whatever intellectual ends they want.

Anonymous said...

I just want to understand whether Judt is paralyzed from the mere diagnosis of ALS, as the NYTpicker writes, or from the actual disease.

Anonymous said...

... and the Shattering A Glass House Award goes to Anonymous for his observation on nytpicker's poor editing. (Reminds me of something I read the other day ripping NYT coverage and the writer referred to Proctor & Gamble.)

Anonymous said...

I vote with Wolff. In the 9th Grade, I was a published writer at a school I'd argue was superior to Dalton, so I have a pretty good idea of what even the best 9th-Graders can write. I really doubt young Judt can write what his father claims he did.

Anonymous said...

When I was a 15-year-old high school journalist, I had a music review once rejected in a contest because a teenager "couldn't possibly have written it." But I did write it, without any help; my overwhelmed parents (I had five siblings) weren't a factor and my journalism adviser wasn't either. Some kids just think, and write, like adults. Michael Wolff is a presumptuous ass.

Anonymous said...

Both Tony and Daniel appear to be fans of the dash as a writing device.

Both Tony and Daniel use short, punchy sentences to drive home particular points.

Both Tony and Daniel use semicolons, and they use them in the same way, not as a way of stringing together a list of items but as a sort of hinge between two related ideas. (Daniel writes: "My generation saw things that way; that is why so many young people supported Mr. Obama" and "The world is not an expendable resource; fixing the damage you have inflicted will be the issue for my generation." Tony writes: "there is a limit to how many caps you can put on a leak; sometimes you need to start afresh.")

Daniel's apparent enthusiasm for viewing things in terms of "generations" (see e.g., his reference to "the generation in office," whatever that is, and "the issue for my generation") echoes Tony's recent discussion of "a younger generation in the United States" in his op-ed on Israel.

None of which means that Tony wrote his kid's stuff. But I don't think it's strange to suggest that there may have been a little editing going on.

Anonymous said...

A false accusation of plagiarism is a libelous act, a charge that need not necessary be claimed by the offended party.

Who is the liar here? A man predisposed to outbursts, overwhelmed by cynical urges and uninhibited to the point of throwing collegiality out the window. His is a discredited name, discrediting to be associated with, in our humble judgement.

Lindsay Beyerstein said...

How dare Michael Wolff accuse Tony Judt of fabricating his son's half of the op/ed based on nothing more than his gut feeling?

Of course a gifted 15-year-old can write like that. I'm sure both sides of the exchange were edited and polished for publication.

Judt is one of the greatest historians of his generation. I'm not surprised that he raised an articulate son.

Anonymous said...

You describe Tony Judt as "a widely respected Euopean historian who is paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a 2009 ALS diagnosis."

(1) Where is "Euope"?

(2) This is big medical news. I'd never before heard of a diagnosis triggering paralysis.

Anonymous said...

Wolf went on a hunch, and the hunch might turn out later to be correct. His hunches are usually spot on. So what if the oped -- by the way, was it commissioned as an oped or send in cold or set up by a literary agent, what was the payment, US$500, to be split two ways, and who was the check made out to? -- so what if the oped was ghostwritten and heavily edited, many of the Times opeds are ghostwritten and edited. Do you thnk Bill Gates writes his own opeds? Do you think Sting writes his own opeds? No way. Do you think politicians in DC and NYC write their own opeds? No way; their ghostwriters and assistants write them, just as Obama's book was not written by Obama and Larry King's books are not written by Larry.

So the father and son created a nice father-son oped set-up for the Times. Nice. It read well. It made people think.

Me thinks MW is a tad off his game, if this is all he can write about. But his hunch is sound.

Anonymous said...

The father/son team might well be looking at the crab bucket in action to parse out whatever’s keeping MW down, his intuition, his overlords, his underlings, doesn’t seem like that’s where he wants to be. He himself might have been a precocious writer who could write as clearly as Judt the son back in the day when curiosity was its own reward, sense of accomplishment felt good, and caring wasn't code for something sinister.