Can Ratings Be Bought?

    Wine blogs and message boards have been buzzing in recent weeks after a blog dubbed “Dr. Vino” reported that writers/reviewers for Robert Parker’s “Wine Advocate” have had travel, lodging and meals paid for.

     The trip that caused the most conversation involved some $25,000 in travel expenses incurred by Parker critic Jay Miller and paid for by the industry organization Wine Australia.

     Why all the chatter? After all, writers in numerous industries have been treated to trips (generally referred to as “junkets”) for decades.

     The reason is that Parker always has, as the Wall Street Journal’s David Kesmodel put it, “championed a rigid system of ethics, paying for all of his travels to wineries and shunning gifts from the trade.”

     So, did Miller do anything wrong in accepting Wine Australia’s financial support? We’ll leave that for the bloggers to debate.

     My own personal answer to that question is this: It doesn’t matter.

     By accepting such a large cumulative gift while working for ethics champion Parker, Miller gave the IMPRESSION that wine ratings could be bought — even if they were not in this case.

     A high standard of ethics requires one to bend over backwards to avoid even the suggestion of a conflict of interest. Once such a suggestion has been made, rightly or wrongly, a certain percentage of the population will believe it.

     In cases such as this — again, rightly or wrongly — perception becomes reality.

     Also in cases such as this, guilt by association may come into play.

     We’re not sure what Messrs. Parker and Miller can do to restore the trust they’ve lost with some of the wine-drinking public. The sad truth is that no matter what they do, some people no longer will consider the Wine Advocate to be the trusted source it once was.

Posted in Editor's Journal
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