Letters

Covering Katrina

Naked exploitation: Didn't anyone at the Houston Press think it was a bit exploitative to show a photo of vulnerable male Katrina evacuees, with no privacy already, trying to clean up in the Astrodome bathroom ["Katrina & The Waves," by Richard Connelly, Ray Hafner and Todd Spivak, September 8]? It's hard to believe you would have shown a naked, soaped-up white man in a shelter bathroom. It was a very disrespectful picture, especially with the little boy looking right into the camera.

Anne Helton
Houston

Editor's note: No disrespect was intended. Our photographer was documenting one of the most important events in modern U.S. history and its effects on the people who survived it.

Calling Out J.T. LeRoy

The Oxford American responds: The distortions in John Nova Lomax's recent column [Racket, August 25] about J.T. LeRoy and The Oxford American's new music issue need to be addressed. In his depiction of a ten-minute phone interview he conducted with me, Lomax says I "questioned [his] credentials, cut [him] off several times and told [him] he only glanced at the e-mails" between Lomax and LeRoy.

1. "Questioned his credentials." Since I've never heard of Lomax, I merely asked what position he manned at the paper, reporter or columnist. Contrary to his dramatic implication, I did not ask him about his "credentials" -- i.e., which school he attended, his IQ, his propensity for ax-grinding, whether he had ever been guilty of factual errors, or errors of logic, in his writing, etc.

2. "Cutting him off." I hope Lomax taped our conversation. If so, anybody listening to it will confirm that it was only after Lomax interrupted me (at least twice) that I cut him off. I cut him off to say that I thought it improper for an interviewer to interrupt a person attempting to answer his questions.

3. "Only glanced at his e-mails." This is a case of making a subject look bad by pushing words out of context, an old but detestable trick. As I clearly explained to Lomax when I returned his phone call (immediately), I was that week vacationing on a beach in a distant state and had only limited access to a computer, which is why I could only glance at the e-mails. I also told him that I had noticed, in my glancing, "nuances on both sides." My respect for these nuances compelled me to want to read the e-mails carefully before commenting on them, a fair enough decision, I thought.

Lomax is a purposeful writer and he knows that his phrasing would lead an impartial reader to conclude that it was arrogance or laziness that had caused me to ignore the all-important e-mails.

Lomax is not the first reporter to strong-arm an interview subject's words and meaning out of context, but it is nonetheless wrong for him to do so, especially in a piece about journalistic ethics. I would also like to point out that Lomax promised that he would quote me "verbatim." If by "verbatim" he meant (as any standard dictionary does) in totality, "word by word," then most assuredly Lomax did not keep his promise, otherwise your readers would have learned that I put LeRoy's creative nonfiction in the same defensible category as I put the creative nonfiction of icons like Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and Joseph Mitchell.

Finally, it's worth noting that in a piece focusing on whether we labeled a piece properly, Lomax himself commits mislabeling. He does this when he gives Rick Clark sole credit for "harvesting rare treasures from canonical artists" for The Oxford American's CD. Meanwhile, it is stated explicitly on both the CD and in the magazine itself that Clark is our "co-compiler." I adore Rick Clark, but the fact is that 70 percent of the songs on this year's CD were unearthed by the staff of The Oxford American and our readers, not by Clark.

I'm fine with Lomax thinking I made a bad decision in labeling LeRoy's creative nonfiction an essay. That's a defensible criticism. What I'm not fine with is Lomax anointing himself arbiter of journalistic ethics when he himself appears so lacking in them.

Marc Smirnoff, editor and publisher
The Oxford American
Conway, Arkansas

Hey, man, great article: Unless you were speaking a completely separate language than the one you write in, I don't see how a rational person would have answered your inquiries the way that editor did. Why they couldn't publish the piece under a heading of fiction is completely incomprehensible to me.

But if you think that article's bad, trying being from Michigan's Upper Peninsula (the part not shaped like a mitten) and watching Reindeer Games. Or don't, 'cause it's a completely horrible movie. The only thing the movie (filmed in British Columbia) gets right about the place it's set in is that there's a lot of snow.

Daniel Pepper
Kalamazoo, Michigan

Riding it: Great column on J.T. LeRoy. I haven't read the essay, but it sounds like he's riding this whole Sarah thing a bit far. Nice piece.

Vince Darcangelo
Boulder, Colorado

Piano Man

He was at the keys: When I pledged in 1955, I became the only songleader the fraternity ever had ["Animal House," by Ray Hafner, September 1]. I taught the members all the fraternity songs. I played the piano at every party. Anthony never played at any party. Anthony was a great accordion player. He won many contests. Anthony and I are great friends. If you asked Anthony who played the piano at fraternity parties, he will tell you. I sometimes played for four hours at a time. I never had to get a beer. No one wanted me to get up and get one. I even gave the fraternity a piano. They put my name on it. Every time we entered songfest, I would conduct rehearsals at the house. I played the piano and taught everyone their part. That is why we won five first-place trophies. I wrote a sweetheart song that was adopted at the national convention. I could tell you many stories, but this is getting too long. Next time, please get your story straight.

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