'We’ve informed you': New York Times defends running Alice Walker's David Icke recommendation

After outrage, Book Review editor Pamela Paul says it would not edit authors’ answers and ‘the public deserves to know’ if they hold ‘dangerous or immoral beliefs’

The editor of the New York Times Book Review has stressed that the paper does “not issue a verdict on people’s opinions” following the “outrage” that ensued after it ran an interview with Alice Walker, in which she recommended a book by an author who has been accused of antisemitism.

Walker, the Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Color Purple, cited the controversial British writer David Icke’s And the Truth Shall Set You Free when asked by the New York Times which books were on her nightstand. “In Icke’s books there is the whole of existence, on this planet and several others, to think about,” said Walker. “A curious person’s dream come true.”

The paper came under fire for including the answer; Icke is a conspiracist who expounds the theory that the world is run by a cabal of giant, shape-shifting lizards, and is described as “essentially a hate preacher with a 21st-century spin on a very old antisemitic conspiracy theory” by the Community Security Trust, a charity set up to protect the Jewish community. Tablet magazine’s Yair Rosenberg called the book highlighted by Walker “an unhinged antisemitic conspiracy tract written by one of Britain’s most notorious antisemites”.

In an interview with the paper pegged to the outrage over Walker’s recommendation of Icke, Pamela Paul, the editor of the New York Times Book Review, said that the interview had been conducted by email, and that the paper never condenses answers or questions contributors on their choices.

“The people’s answers are a reflection of their opinions, tastes and judgment. As with any interview, their words tell us something about them. The intention for By the Book is to be a portrait of someone through his or her reading life. What people choose to read or not read and what books they find to be influential or meaningful say a lot about who they are,” she said. “We’ve also faced criticism when a writer only named white authors, or male authors. My response to that is the same as in this case: Does that answer tell you something about the subject? I think it does, and now readers know it because we’ve informed you.”

Despite the reaction, Paul said she would not have done things differently. “If someone mentioned a favourite novel that we thought was terrible, we wouldn’t include a note saying, ‘Actually, that book is awful.’ Likewise, we would never add that a book is factually inaccurate, or that the author is a serial predator, or any kind of judgment on the work or the writer. We do not issue a verdict on people’s opinions,” she said. “If people espouse beliefs that anyone at The Times finds to be dangerous or immoral, it’s important for readers to be aware that they hold those beliefs. The public deserves to know. That’s news.”

Writing on her website, Walker also responded to the backlash. “I find Icke’s work to be very important to humanity’s conversation, especially at this time. I do not believe he is antisemitic or anti-Jewish. I do believe he is brave enough to ask the questions others fear to ask, and to speak his own understanding of the truth wherever it might lead. Many attempts have been made to censor and silence him. As a woman, and a person of colour, as a writer who has been criticised and banned myself, I support his right to share his own thoughts,” she wrote.

Contributor

Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Alice Walker under fire for praise of 'antisemitic' David Icke book
The New York Times also faced criticism for publishing the Color Purple author’s recommendation without qualification

Luke O'Neil

17, Dec, 2018 @9:54 PM

Article image
Alice Walker's The Color Purple should be read in Israel | Maya Sela

Maya Sela: By not allowing a new Hebrew edition, Alice Walker is preventing those who could learn from her powerful novel from reading it

Maya Sela

22, Jun, 2012 @12:59 PM

Article image
New York Times exposé of Harvey Weinstein to be made into movie
The Pulitzer prize-winning work of two female journalists is to become a film in the mould of Spotlight and All the President’s Men

Catherine Shoard

26, Apr, 2018 @9:32 AM

Article image
Vandals sentenced to read books about racism and antisemitism
A judge in Virginia has ordered teenagers who covered a historic school with offensive graffiti to read 35 books including Native Son and The Color Purple

Danuta Kean

07, Feb, 2017 @5:36 PM

Right turns on New York Times
Conservative US papers yesterday condemned what they described as "appeasement" the day after the New York Times finally came out and called for the withdrawal of US troops.

Ewen MacAskill in Washington

10, Jul, 2007 @10:57 PM

Article image
Authors' angry letter calls on New York festival to reject Israeli backing
PEN American Center provokes fury of its own members over ‘promotion of government that denies human rights’

Sian Cain

06, Apr, 2016 @9:05 PM

Article image
Writers step in to defend author accused of plagiarism in New York Times
Jill Bialosky’s memoir Poetry Will Save Your Life was charged extensive use of others’ writing, but peers say accidental repetitions ‘were not egregious theft’

Alison Flood

12, Oct, 2017 @3:41 PM

Article image
New York Times pulls YA novel from bestseller list after reports of fake sales
Lani Sarem’s Handbook for Mortals was taken off the No 1 spot after fellow YA authors, sceptical of ‘a book that no one has heard of’, uncovered a pattern of strategic preorders

Alison Flood

25, Aug, 2017 @3:05 PM

Article image
Wikileaks cables divided New York Times readers

The paper's executive editor on the response to its WikiLeaks disclosures from the readership and the White House

Bill Keller, executive editor, the New York Times

10, Dec, 2010 @7:00 AM

Woman linked to McCain sues New York Times

Lobbyist claims that an article published in February 'falsely' suggested she had an affair with Senator

Dan Glaister in Los Angeles

01, Jan, 2009 @12:01 AM