Phoenix Food Fight
The alt-weekly Phoenix New Times chastises Arizona Republic food critic
Howard Seftel for recycling his columns--and publishes his picture in
By Lonnie Shekhtman
In early October the alt-weekly newspaper Phoenix New Times "busted"
Howard Seftel, a restaurant critic at the Arizona Republic who formerly
wrote for New Times, for recycling his puns, quips and in some cases
In her column, New Times Editor Kristi H. Dempsey wrote that Seftel
had been cutting and pasting parts of archived reviews he'd written for
New Times during his eight years there and using them for his Republic
columns. New Times went so far as to publish Seftel's picture, with an
accompanying cutline advising restaurant owners to be on the lookout for
Dempsey's major concern is that parts of the Republic's "The Rep's
Best" annual review of area restaurants, written by Seftel, tend to
resemble a little too closely "Best of Phoenix" citations he had written
at New Times. For example, she points out that in 1998 Seftel named
Havana Patio Café as the winner of "Best Appetizers," writing that
"you'll be Havana good time." For "The Rep's Best Appetizers," 2001,
Seftel selected the same restaurant, quipping in the Republic, "Either
way, you'll be Havana good time."
The decision to run Seftel's photo, however, risks destroying an
essential part of a food critic's job--anonymity. In defense of the
photo, Dempsey says that her food critic had discussed the Seftel
situation with area restaurant owners and that "people know who [Seftel]
is.... Why should he have any more right to privacy than any other
person we write about?"
Because, Seftel counters, "You can't do a fair and accurate review if
restaurant owners know who you are.... The picture and the caption was
unconscionable. It has nothing to do with the substance or quality of my
Seftel suggests that Dempsey's column "is a hook to publish my
picture." He says that the puns and quips he often uses distinguish him
as a writer. "I wrote about a million words for the New Times. Does
anyone seriously think that I'm combing through my old columns looking
for a quip?"
Dempsey says the Republic has threatened to file a lawsuit about the
picture issue, but Seftel wouldn't confirm that.
According to Dempsey's column, New Times simply wanted to point out
that the Republic has "a lazy restaurant reviewer." (In New Times,
Seftel wrote about Razz's restaurant: "Razz'll Dazzle." Two years later
for the Republic, he wrote: "But you can be sure Razz'll Dazzle.")
Dempsey wrote in a follow-up column that "Howie should be embarrassed
that he can't seem to think of anything new to say about the many new
places he reviews."
The Republic's features editor, Kate Nolan, thinks that Dempsey is
being too hard on Seftel. Besides being known as an excellent restaurant
critic, "he's known for his dumb jokes," Nolan says. "He wasn't copying
anything. This is how the man talks."
Edited by Lori Robertson