Last night, New York Times food writer Julia Moskin took to the publication’s website to respond to the backlash from her recent story about cookbook ghostwriters. Moskin had asserted that numerous chefs and celebrities employ uncredited writers to pen their books, which inspired some of those implicated—Gwyneth Paltrow, Rachael Ray, Jamie Oliver, and Mario Batali—to come forward and dispute Moskin’s claims. Ray was particularly outspoken, telling Eater that “In well over a decade of writing recipes for many cookbooks, television shows, and magazines, I have not now nor have I ever employed a ghost writer.”
Moskin’s response—which begins, “What is a ghostwriter, anyway?,” does not directly address specific authors’ claims but instead offers a Semantics 101 parsing of the discrepancies between “ghostwriting,” “ghost-cooking,” “assistance,” and “collaborating.” “Ghostwriting” and especially “ghost-cooking” (what happens when a chef slaps his or her name on recipes created and developed by someone else) are both particularly stigmatized, though as Moskin asks, “How surprising could it be to say that some celebrity chefs—who have restaurants, brands and media empires to run—do not produce their books in Proust-like isolation?”
It’s not surprising at all: Despite purported inaccuracies in Moskin’s story, plenty of food writers can attest to having crafted reams of chefly prose; editors and copyeditors also put their own considerable imprint on things. And for many chefs and celebrities, the burden of ego far outweighs any discernible writing skills. But what’s more surprising is that Moskin—whose article included numerous anonymous accusations and didn’t mention attempts to seek comment from those who were named—didn’t bother to respond to the concerns of Ray or Paltrow. Both have said they weren’t contacted for fact-checking purposes, and Moskin danced around the subject with an extended vocabulary lesson.
Ray took to Twitter to express her disappointment with Moskin’s followup, tweeting, “Disappointing response when a correction was in order.” Paltrow has remained mum, presumably because she’s now busy pissing off Frank Sinatra fans (and untold others). Still, regardless of your feelings about either one of them, much less their culinary prowess, it’s hard not to feel that Moskin could have better served her cause by opening her response with, “What is professional accountability, anyway?”