Another day, another installment in the seemingly never-ending John Tesar-Leslie Brenner duel: Today, the Knife and Spoon chef/restaurateur posts a letter to Facebook that he's sent to Dallas Morning News editor Bob Mong, demanding answers for what the chef says are Brenner's transgressions against journalism.
Tesar's letter asserts that Brenner has violated multiple tenets of the code of ethics put forth by the Society of Professional Journalists. Among other things, he brings up the now-infamous "Barbecue Gate" of 2012 in which Brenner was accused of plagiarizing an article Daniel Vaughn penned for D Magazine for a newspaper feature of her own. The chef also argues that Brenner has made errors in her reporting "and instead of rectifying them, she is arrogant and combative, making excuses." (That last tidbit no doubt refers, at least in part, to a recent taco-related controversy in which Brenner may have incorrectly identified a protein.)
Dear Mr. Mong,
We've had several phone calls the past few weeks in reference to my feelings about the Dallas Morning News restaurant critic Leslie Brenner. While I've been vocal about her star system and even participated in her recent Q&A, I wanted to come straight to you for some answers to troubling questions I've had that only you, as the editor of DMN and Ms. Brenner's boss, can and need to answer.
The DMN website says the paper "continues to earn the trust of its readers" and has to "deliver an uncompromised truth in journalism." Unfortunately in Ms. Brenner's instance, that is not the case anymore with her clear violations of the journalist's code of ethics.
"Seek truth and report it with integrity and honesty" - Ms. Brenner has multiple instances of not doing so in numerous reviews, as described by other outlets in town
"Never plagiarize, always attribute" - again, another glaring blemish on Ms. Brenner's resume with "Barbecue-Gate." To quote her, I don't believe stealing the majority of another journalist's article is an "accepted journalistic practice."
"Minimize harm" - As a one-paper town, the DMN's printed words hold an infinite amount of merit and the repeated inaccuracies I've seen in many reviews fosters harm and can make or break a restaurant. This is my livelihood and my family depends on me and I will not let her take that away from me.
"Be accountable and transparent, admitting mistakes and correcting them promptly" - on numerous occasions, people have pointed out her errors and instead of rectifying them, she is arrogant and combative, making excuses.
We've established the star system is deeply flawed as all star ratings have their controversies and criticism - Michelin and Forbes included - but Ms. Brenner's continued lack of journalistic integrity has surpassed this and become a standalone issue.
She is correct in her recent interview on KERA - she works for the readers, not the restaurant community - but she is forgetting that we are readers too and as such, I am demanding answers as how you can continue allowing Ms. Brenner to not uphold fundamental journalist rules.
You, as the editor, have a cardinal responsibility to the reader to hold yourself and your staff to the highest standard and you are letting yourself and us down. We want some answers and it's time for DMN to take this seriously. Please note that I will be taking this letter to the public.
chef/restaurateur Knife and Spoon
While Tesar's bringing up "Barbecue Gate" is certainly relevant, the chef might be reaching a bit when he states "this is my livelihood and my family depends on me and I will not let her take that away from me." (Tesar's two restaurants, Knife and Spoon, currently maintain rather favorable three- and four-star reviews, respectively, from the Dallas Morning News.)
While it could perhaps be argued — though it'd be nearly impossible to prove — that some of Brenner's more damning one- or two-star reviews may have negatively impacted restaurants, the critic herself doesn't believe it: In a recent appearance on KERA radio show Think With Kris Boyd, Brenner said, "I think that that's very flattering to suggest I have that much power ... I think that I'm one voice among many. I know that when I criticize a restaurant that people are very dependent on the business doing well and everything but I think it's an exaggeration to say that I can close a restaurant. I don't believe it and I know plenty of restaurants that I've given less than glowing reviews to that are thriving."
Stay tuned for the next chapter in the never-ending epic saga that is the Tesar-Brenner feud.