Critics pounce on New Yorker tell-all

Errors and dish abound in Renata Adler tirade.


Craig Offman
January 14, 2000 10:00PM (UTC)

The veteran reporter, critic and novelist Renata Adler has published one of seven new books pegged to the New Yorker's 75th anniversary in February. Unlike its cousins, however, Adler's New Yorker memoir, "Gone," is stirring up trouble. Last November, New York magazine reported that former New Yorker fiction editor and current New York Times Book Review editor Charles "Chip" McGrath had sent a letter of protest to Adler's publisher after reading the galleys of "Gone." Adler, McGrath said, had described him as participating in an event that never occurred.

As soon as "Gone" hit their desks, critics began sharpening their knives. New York magazine media columnist Michael Wolff weighed in this week with a tough, yet fond take on Adler and the New Yorker mystique, and in the Jan. 12 New York Times, Dinitia Smith portrays "Gone" as something of a kvetchathon. (In the Jan. 16 New York Times Magazine, reporter Arthur Lubow's profile of Adler is billed on the cover as "Renata Adler's Enemy List.")

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The memoir's veracity has also been called into question by another former New Yorker mandarin, Robert Gottlieb, who was the magazine's editor from 1987 to 1992. While drawing comparisons between Lillian Ross' "Here But Not Here," and Adler's memoirs, Gottlieb writes in this week's New York Observer that "where Renata really trumps Lillian's ace is in the matter of inaccuracy ... She gores Lillian's claims to plausibility, but her own book is riddled with errors, of varying degrees of importance and disingenuousness."

According to Gottlieb, he never fired jazz writer Whitney Balliett, as Adler contends, nor did he hire writer Adam Gopnik, a particular target of Adler's scorn and indignation. (In her memoir, Adler asserts that, "Under Bob Gottlieb, the magazine had begun seriously to slide.")

And while Gottlieb's article ticks off numerous mistakes that concern him directly, another New Yorker insider has gone so far as to draw up a comprehensive list of the book's factual errors. One of the most egregious occurs when Adler writes, "For the months from January to August 1976, when President Nixon resigned, I virtually lost contact with the New Yorker." Nixon resigned in 1974. And as Adam Goodheart points out in the New York Observer's second article about "Gone," Adler covered Nixon's impeachment.

Reached by telephone, Adler refused to comment on the discrepancies pointed out by Gottlieb. She also did not wish to discuss the spate of articles about her memoir published this week. "It would be crazy for me -- and not quite right -- to keep a running commentary on these things as they come out."


Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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