New Yorker architectural critic Paul Golberger’s glowing August 27, 2007 review of Robert A.M. Stern’s latest New York building at 15 Central Park West failed to mention that Stern once wrote Goldberger’s son a recommendation to Yale. Stern is Dean of the Yale School of Architecture.
Granted, this is not a journalistic felony a la Judith Miller, but why didn’t Goldberger disclose to the readers of The New Yorker of this relationship? And did he tell his editor of this relationship?
Contacted via email as to why the relationship wasn’t disclosed in the piece, Goldberger denied a close social connection with stern that would disqualify him as a critic:
”… I have known him for many years through the connection of Yale, where as you may know he is dean of the architecture school. I went to Yale, and have taught and lectured there. While it is true that he offered to write a letter to Yale on behalf of my son, the letter was quite pro-forma; he did the same for a couple of my son’s classmates with whose families he was also acquainted. Letters of this sort are common, routine, and generally of negligible impact on the admissions process. My son was admitted in the early decision admissions cycle,
and I am not entirely sure that the letter was even written in time
for the early decision deadlines.
”It was a long time ago — before the 15 Central Park West project
even existed, actually — and in fact I had forgotten that Stern even wrote this letter until I received your message, which makes the notion that this review was a kind of ‘payback’ even more ludicrous.
”Maybe more to the point, the review of 15 Central Park West, while
generally positive, raised significant questions about the building., most particularly my misgivings about the idea of historical replication or pastiche that is central to Stern’s work. Indeed, I
described it as ‘unsettling,’ and admitted to great conflict about
whether this whole approach to architecture was valid. What really
interested me here was the fact of this building as a sociological
phenomenon. Exploring that aspect, more than architectural critique, was the thrust of the piece. What I had to say about the building was consistent with what was written elsewhere — in The New York
Observer, for example, or The New York Sun — and in some ways was more critical than these publications were. You may be interested to know that Robert Stern took issue with some of the things I said and communicated with me after the piece was published to complain about some of the terms I used, which further underscores the absurdity of any connection between this review and a routine letter that had been long forgotten by me, and I would presume by him as well.”
Significant questions and communicated complaints notwithstanding, the review was overwhelmingly positive. But leaving aside any implications of ”payback,” shouldn’t the readers have had the opportunity to know about this important connection. To know someone well enough to write their child a letter of college recommendation is definitely a relationship that ought to be admitted to up front, and, quite possibly, even grounds for turning down the assignment altogether.