I admit, in advance, this is a story I probably should ignore.
But when I saw the Today show this morning give over a news segment and an interview segment to celebrity chef Guy Fieri, who was complaining about a creatively harsh review given by the New York Times to his Guy Fieri's Kitchen and Bar, I was once again surprised at how different news standards seem to be in morning television these days.
For readers who don't know, the NY Times' restaurant critic apparently delivered a scathing review of Fieri's new restaurant in Times Square, delivering it as a series of cheeky questions which asked, in part, if he knew whether one of his signature drinks tasted like radiator fliud and if his exhuberant celebration of diner food on his TV shows was genuine. (ironically, the restaurant is a 16,000 square-foot space in a building once occupied by the newspaper)
Given that the NYT remains a serious influencer in media and pop culture, Fieri and his fans got upset. But the Today shows' decision to present a one-sided interview with the chef -- prefaced by a news story in which not one single restaurant critic or food writer was interviewed for perspective -- seemed little more than an attempt to cash in on the controversy during a ratings period.
During the interview, Fieri insisted the writer must have had other motives, noting that the critic visited the restaurant four times before writing the review. But it's standard practice for food critics to visit an eatery several times before writing an important review, to make sure any negative experiences they have aren't the result of one bad day in the kitchen.
Fieri actually got more chances to impress the critic because he visited the restaurant multiple times, something I suspect the chef knows. But the Today show instead allowed him to present reviewer Pete Wells' unorthodox story structure as something controversial and perhaps unfair.
During the interview, Fieri shrugs off the fact that 56 reviewers on the online city guide Yelp! gave the restaurant an average of 2.5 stars out of 5 (according to the site, 80 percent of restaurants reviewed do better), saying it has only been open two months.
But does that means fans who spend money at his restaurant over the first few months should just accept that the service and food will be substandard? Shouldn't it be top-notch from the moment doors open? And isn't two months enough time to figure out what you're doing?
Sorry, slipped into that style of asking questions which seems so controversial. But I think the NBC pieces downplayed Wells' biggest criticism: That if Fieri really cared about the cuisine from diners and drive-ins, he wouldn't have gotten it so wrong in his new restaurant.
I'm not sure if Today tried to speak with Wells for their stories, but the critic did speak to Poynter.org, telling the website "I really did have a lot of questions; there was so much about the restaurant that I couldn't figure out...When I sat down to think about how I was going to approach the review, I just started going over the things I couldn't understand and the things that seemed so strange to me. They really started to add up to the point where I thought, boy, I really could just keep going with this."
Admittedly, as a critic who has accompanied a few food writers on excursions to restaurants, I probably care more about this than I should. And my biggest criticism of Today should probably be that they spent so much time on such a parochial story in the first place.
But Today had a chance to open the window into an interesting world of high-stakes food journalism and its interaction with celebrity chefs, along with the question of whether the food in these big-name concept restaurants in Manhattan is worth the expense.
Instead, they mostly let Fieri get on a soapbox and criticize the critic -- which, I guess, deserved some criticism of its own.