The Buzz, 7-25: Ben-Itzak's Admonition
Same Old Tricks from Gray Lady
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider
I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the New York Times has, once again, chased a story originally pursued by the Dance Insider -- Pilobolus's firing of Alison Chase, broken by the courageous blogger Dan Feith -- without bothering to credit either the DI or Feith's Blogobolus, as Daniel Wakin failed to do in his story in yesterday's editions. Indeed, it was because of the Times's propensity for this that I had ignored a request by Wakin to be added to the DI's e-mail alert list. But I suppose the story gathered enough currency that, nine months after Feith broke it and we developed it, the news finally wafted over to W. 43rd Street and the Times decided to do something about it. Happy as I am that, despite Pilobolus's attempts to bottle it up, the story is spreading (cliche-ridden, uninformed by any real dance authority, and bereft of interviews with actual dancers with the company as may be Wakin's account), the Times's latest breach of journalistic etiquette and standards has to be noted. Does it have the same mortal consequences as, say, the paper's enabling of the Bush Administration's false WMD claims? Of course not. Is it theft? Not at all -- these stories belong to the world. Does it shamelessly exploit the work of others -- particularly the risks taken by Dan Feith -- in the name of hogging credit for oneself? Yes. Even if Daniel Wakin never read the Dance Insider or Dan Feith accounts, it doesn't matter. The standard journalistic practice is to credit those who had the story before you. The New York Times has again failed to do so. Shame on you, New York Times!
While I don't have the time to nitpick Mr. Wakin's entire story, he needs to be called on a couple of points.
He is hampered first and foremost by an obvious ignorance of both dance in general and the dynamics of Pilobolus in particular. After stating, "The dispute has split current and former trustees and company members," Mr. Wakin offers no interviews with company dancers. It may be news to the New York Times, but dancers also qualify as company members -- even more so at Pilobolus, where they are typically credited with collaborating on the creation of the works.
But even aside from dance ignorance, Mr. Wakin's reporting is at times sloppy.
He shares what he describes as board chair Edward Klaris's claim that "with no legal resources..., Ms. Chase had gone to the news media with a misleading story to seek sympathy." (Wakin's words.)
Alison Chase was fired by Pilobolus on October 28, 2005, as reported by Dan Feith on Blogobolus October 31. We followed up on Feith's report November 2. In doing so, we tried repeatedly to elicit comment from Alison Chase. She did not respond.
It was only last month -- more than seven months after the deed -- that, on repeated pressing from us, Alison Chase agreed to talk, for the first time, to the Dance Insider.
Why did she do this?
If we're to credit Mr. Wakin's account, Mr. Klaris says she went to the news media with a misleading story, and only because she had no legal resources.
In fact, if there was a misleading story being put out at the point where Alison Chase agreed to talk with us, it was that being passively sanctioned by Pilobolus, which a) refused to discuss the situation, beyond claiming, on November 1, that she had not been fired and b) with its four-week New York season looming, had yet to inform the public that the season would be mounted without the participation of Alison Chase, including on the rehearsal of the five (out of 15) works which Chase had choreographed individually or in collaboration with others.
In fact, as Wakin would have known if he'd bothered to do the research, Chase's motivation in talking to the 'news media' (including one member of the news media, the Times, which had ignored the story for nine months) was not to mislead but simply to make sure the public was aware of a reality Pilobolus was steadfastedly refusing to acknowledge. (Hey, would you want the world to know you put your mother out on the street?) Or, as one member of the Pilobolus community put it to us in our June 20 story: "It is important to let the dance community know that Alison Becker Chase was fired, from the very organization that she has devoted the past 35 years of her life to.... I believe that as audiences prepare to watch an evening of 'Pilobolus' this summer at the Joyce Theater, they should be informed as to the new structure of the company. There are currently three employed artistic directors and one executive director.... Alison Chase's work will be performed this summer, against her wishes, and without her artistic input or monetary compensation...."