The Case Of The Extorted Critic: THIS Is A Good Ending?

"You want to give my store a bad review? Huh? You do? Ok, you do that! And Just wait until you see what I am going to do to YOU!!!"

“You want to give my store a bad review? Huh? You do? OK, you DO that! And just wait until you see what I am going to do to YOU!!!”

Washington Post writer Ron Charles sure has some funny ideas about what constitutes a happy ending, which is especially strange, since his is the Post’s fiction editor. (Insert joke about the role of such an editor at the Post here.)

He tells the story of a Brooklyn writer named D. Foy, who was awaiting the publication of his first novel and also  preparing to be married. He contacted a New York tailor shop, with the intention of having a custom suit made for the big day. The men’s shop wouldn’t accommodate his efforts to make an appointment, and in frustration, he left the following complaint on the consumer site, Yelp, quoting the shop’s promotional boasts:

“This is not ’24-7 white glove service.’ This is not ‘unparalleled service,’ nor anything close. Contract this ‘business’ at your own risk, ladies and gentlemen.”

This aroused the torpid tailor, who sent Foy a ominous e-mail: “I was just made aware of your Yelp review. We wanted to answer your questions but felt you were more interested in a fray. When your book comes out on Amazon, I will personally make sure our entire staff reviews in kind.”

Translation: “You dared to criticize our lousy service, and now we’re going to hurt you!”

Foy was incredulous, and wrote back,

“I wanted service, Daniel, and that’s all I requested, very, very politely besides. And you know it. So will anyone else who sees the correspondence I put on Yelp, word for word. But if you feel you need to throw your little tantrum now because you’re not able to take responsibility for your actions, go right ahead. There really is such a thing as karma.”

The Terrorizing Tailor responded,

“Yep. I eagerly look forward to your book coming out. Going to make sure it’s flooded with scathing reviews. . . . Deluge of awful reviews unless that post comes down. Going to make it a top priority.”

So what did Foy do? He deleted his negative Yelp review. (“The author’s life has very much changed,” Foy told Charles. True. Authors used to have some guts. I would inject the sound of a chicken clucking, but I don’t know how to spell it.) In talking to  Charles for the feature article, Foy also insisted that the Post not to mention the business’s name in this story. The tailor then offered to make him a free shirt.

“This story has a better ending than most social-media brawls…” concludes Charles. “Let the wedding bells ring!”

Yeah, Ron, that was great:

  • A frustrated consumer gets bad service, and places his complaint on a public service consumer site to warn others.
  • The object of the criticism, rather than attempting to satisfy the customer and thus earn a favorable follow-up comment, announces a conspiracy to harm his critic in retribution, by having his employees lie in web reviews about the author’s upcoming book.
  • The author caves, deletes his legitimate critique in response to the extortion, and, given a chance to expose the thug in a Post feature story, cravenly refuses to name names.
  • Now other consumers risk experiencing similar poor service, because they have no warning about the tailor’s business practices.
  • If they complain on Yelp, they too may face threats, lies and retribution by the store.
  • Finally, Foy is made an assessory to this deception and shake-down exercise, by being offered the bribe of a free shirt in payment for keeping the secret of the men’s store—that the service stinks, and if you complain, you’ll be sorry-–from the public.
  • And he STILL never got his suit made.

Ron Charles thinks the episode ended well!

Unbelievable.

37 thoughts on “The Case Of The Extorted Critic: THIS Is A Good Ending?

  1. I’m a big fan of the “not one cent for tribute” model. The tailor wants to spam my book? I make sure to plaster Amazon and the Post with my Yelp review, my complaints, and the tailor’s threats. Name and Shame. The gleefully vindictive threats are more telling than any fake book review could be.

    A cursory googling gives me a very good idea of the fancy tailor using the phrases Foy quotes in the Yelp review, but I have a feeling you don’t want your blog to be where I give my guess.

    • Why do you feel that? Charles did, to his credit, leave enough hints in his piece to accurately identify the shop—the promotional language in the negative Yelp review, its local, and especially THIS…“Long entranced by the bespoke suits at a certain New York men’s shop, Foy decided it was time to spruce himself up for the wedding.” “Bespoke?” Who uses THAT word these days? Well, one upscale NYC haberdashery does, which also uses the other phrases. Of course, I could be completely mistaken, so this is just an idle guess….

      • OK, I felt you MIGHT not want it, since it was just a guess, and I was playing it polite. A commenter on the Post article points to the same tailor, saying that Cached data from Yelp fingers them for the responses. Besides, they also have a tailor named Daniel, same as the name Foy responds to. Funny thing: Every negative Yelp review that has been allowed to stand contains the name “Daniel,” and when you look at Yelp’s filtered reviews the only ones that have been removed are one-stars. Just idle speculation, though.

      • “Bespoke?” Who uses THAT word these days?

        Anyone who went to school and graduated prior to the year 2000? And is an author? Or knows anything about suits?

        I’m 35, and I know precisely what the word means (and its general etymology). I’ve used it several times, and hope one day to be able to afford such a suit again.

        I’ve long been of the opinion that acquiring a bespoke tailored suit is one of the finest and most pleasurable experiences a man can have that doesn’t directly involve his cock.

      • Wouldn’t you think, if they’re trying to impress potential clients, they’d press the fold lines out of the pants of the suit they feature? Just a small thing, but it speaks about their attention to detail.

      • Bespoke is very trendy these days, especially in the auto industry. It sounds good to say that the the Pontiac Aztek has “completely bespoke interior and exterior” than to say it is uglier than anything that was made until the current Nissan lineup.

      • “‘Bespoke?’ Who uses THAT word these days?”

        What…what other word would you use? The only synonym I can think of is OOAK (for one-of-a-kind) but that’s awkward and borderline text-speak. Seriously, I shop online frequently, ‘bespoke’ is a very common term. I really can’t figure out what you meant here.

  2. Not that I think caving was good for the author to do, but I understand. There has been ongoing issues with vindictive reviews being used to to bully writers. I’ve seen pack echoing on writing sites as well. Authors are told they have to establish a presence and bad reviews will kill your chances. It takes a level of confidence to shrug this off, which that writer doesn’t have.
    I hope I could stay firm enough to quote Wellington’s ‘Publish and be damned.’

    • I agree. Not doing the heroic thing doesn’t make him an ‘accessory’ in my opinion, any more than paying a ransom makes a family an ‘accessory’ to their child’s kidnapping.

          • Two months later, CRConrad points out, correctly, that I mispoke here, and re-reading the section in question, was too vague in the post on the point of being an accessory. Foy WAS an accessory, because he caved to a threat. That’s not a happy conclusion, which was the premise of Foy’s story. In fact, we do not know whether he accepted the after-the-fact gift, bribe: he just says he was offered it, doesn’t say he accepted it. Assuming he rejected it, it was an attempt to pay him for assisting in the cover-up, which he already had done. The offer acknowledged his role. It was an attempt at outright corruption, but using the proper, non-legal definition of accessory (this wasn’t a crime, after all—this is ethics), Foy was already being an accessory by providing assistance.

            What I should have written in response to your comment is that pulling back the criticism isn’t “not doing the heroic thing,” but rather doing the cowardly thing. And while remaining neutral may not make one an accessory, which properly requires assertive action, reversing course when one 1) was ready to blow a whistle and 2) either accepts a benefit or the removal of a detriment or threatened detriment to do so makes the crucial diifference between inaction and action.

            • Thanks for the cowardly implied but not explicitly stated criticism of this poor Johnny-come-lately… Maybe you better set up your blog to lock out comments by “confused” people like me who get pointed to the whole kerfluffle only months after it was hot news, if commenting too long after the fact is ethically suspect anyway?

              Just one thing before I do you the immense favour of not bothering you any more: So by your revised standards, a kidnapped child’s family paying the ransom — as per Chase’s original simile above — *is* after all guilty of accessory-level cowardice? If not, why not; if they aren’t, then why is this guy?

              Oh and BTW: No, that there was a happy conclusion was not the premise, nor even the conclusion of Foy’s own story, on Salon. It wasn’t the premise of the story by someone else on WashPo either, only *possibly* the conclusion. Or “Let the wedding bells ring!” could have been just a snarky sign-off not implying any impending nuptials between Foy and the tailor at all.

              And hey, you wanna talk unethical, how about your insinuation that “we do not know whether he accepted the after-the-fact gift, bribe: he just says he was offered it, doesn’t say he accepted it”, when as late as earlier today I quoted him explicitly turning it down: “After everything he’s done, he thinks I’m actually going to pal up with him, like some stooge for his master’s lollipop, much less give him my address? He really did have no idea. Doubtless I would’ve liked to tell him this, with a generous helping of what-to’s and how-for’s besides, but instead I wrote: “Thanks for your offer, X. I do appreciate it. I don’t think you need to go out of your way on my account though. Maybe pass that offer on to the next guy?”

              I dunno, maybe you aren’t the Internet’s final autohrity on ethics, after all.

              • 1. You’re a jackass, CRC. You began the conversation rudely, and you are an invited guest. You used the sad typo tactic, and you didn’t follow basic web etiquette, making me hunt down what you were commenting on.
                2. You won’t be missed.
                3. No, paying a ransom is not aiding a kidnapping, because it gets the kidnapped child BACK. And you are putting words in my mouth, which is another breach.
                4. And you still don’t comprehend what “accessory” is.

        • Accepting a gift because he didn’t do the right thing would have made him an accessory. But since he didn’t, it didn’t: As he didn’t actually accept the offered bribe, it didn’t make him an accessory.

          Read a bit more thoroughly next time, mmmkay…?

          • Wrong. Look up “accessory” next time, mmmkay? WHY he became an accessory after the fact is irrelevant, be it extortion or via bribery or just because he likes to let lousy businesses prey on innocent consumers. What matters is, he did it.

              • He didn’t what?, CRC?He didn’t assist a business in keeping from consumers the fact that it provides crummy service by allowing the business to suppress information communicating that fact? The critic certainly did—that is exactly what he did. He has not committed the CRIME of being an accessory, but according to the definition of the word, he certainly is one. This is ethics we’re talking about, and what he did was wrong, whether by bribery, threat, or simple compliance by silence.

            • From http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/style-blog/wp/2013/08/16/authors-beware-bad-reviews-dont-suit-you/ : “And then — what do you know — the tailor offered to make him a free shirt. Let the wedding bells ring!”

              The tailor offered, but not a word about the (non-)customer accepting.

              And from http://www.salon.com/2013/10/27/so_much_for_my_yelp_revenge/ : ““We’re going to send our tailor to your residence to measure you up for a custom shirt. I’m paying for it.”

              If before I’d had any doubts as to the man’s soundness, they were herewith dispelled forever and a day. This guy’s insane, I thought, as in certifiably. After everything he’s done, he thinks I’m actually going to pal up with him, like some stooge for his master’s lollipop, much less give him my address? He really did have no idea. Doubtless I would’ve liked to tell him this, with a generous helping of what-to’s and how-for’s besides, but instead I wrote:

              “Thanks for your offer, X. I do appreciate it. I don’t think you need to go out of your way on my account though. Maybe pass that offer on to the next guy?””

              i.e, somewhat wordy, but still an explicit refusal. Are you saying the mere OFFER made him an “accessory”?!? Or did you still just miss that he DIDN’T ACCEPT THE OFFERED BRIBE?

                • Chase Martinez, August 20, 2013 at 9:42 pm: “I agree. Not doing the heroic thing doesn’t make him an ‘accessory’ in my opinion, any more than paying a ransom makes a family an ‘accessory’ to their child’s kidnapping.”

                  Reply to this by Jack Marshall, August 20, 2013 at 9:55 pm: “No, accepting a gift because he didn’t do the right thing makes him an accessory. It’s a thank-you bribe.”

                  He didn’t accept any gift, and that’s what — you yourself said! — would make him an accessory. Ergo, he is, _by your own explicitly stated measure_, not an accessory.

                  That’s what he didn’t do: Accept the bribe.

                  Which is what you were talking about.

                  Remember?

                • “The show”? Could it be that you write so many of these things that sometimes in the heat of discussion you get them mixed up…?

                  That would explain why you seem to have switched from the standard for “accessory” that you yourself set up in your reply to Chase Martinez above. Because I’m sure you wouldn’t d oanyhting so ethically suspect on purpose.

                  • 1. The ” the show” was supposed to read “the store”…it was an autocorrect of a typo, of which I make many, most NOT caught by autocorrect. Finding significance in typos is dirty pool.

                    2. My response to Chase was incorrect: thanks for pointing me to it, and my statement in the post was unclear. “Finally, Foy is made an assessory to this deception and shake-down exercise, by being offered the bribe of a free shirt in payment for keeping the secret of the men’s store—that the service stinks, and if you complain, you’ll be sorry-–from the public.” In fact, he was already an accessory for the reasons I have stated: he helped the STORE (got it!) continue to deceive customers. The receipt of the bribe offer, assuming he didn’t take it, confirms that he received assistance of value in the store’s efforts to hide its performance and to keep luring unsuspecting customers. But he was already an accessory—he just didn’t accept payment for it.

                    3. Your sarcasm and implied accusation is uncalled for. There have been over a hundred posts since this one was written, and I didn’t take the time to immerse myself in that issue before responding to your comment, which, again, mistates what constitutes an accessory. Proper form on your part would have been to quote the part of the post that prompted your confusion. That would have avoided this exchange.

                    • 1) No, it’s not “dirty pool” — it actually occurred to me later that it could be a typo, though I thought for “shop” — but at the time I hadn’t thought of it, and genuinely thought it indicated you had mixed this up with some other post about a show. As you say yourself, you’ve apparently written a lot of posts since this one, so that felt entirely reasonable.

                      2) No, your response at the time was correct; demanding that everybody be a superhero is a ridiculously high standard that nobody in the real world outside an Ayn Rand novel can live up to. Your claim now that this ridiculous standard is what you meant all the time smacks of retconning. (Unless of course you apply this Randroid standard consistently; I must admit this is the first and so far almost only post on this blog that I’ve followed.)

                      3) My sarcasm was born of the exasperation of no less than three replies from you indicating that you didn’t get what I was talking about, although it was there plain for all to see no more than two comments up from mine, and also spelled out explicitly in that first comment: “As he didn’t actually accept the offered bribe, it didn’t make him an accessory.” If you were confused as to where I got that standard from, you could have asked.

                      Asking, and/or scrolling up, in stead of leaping to conclusions and ascribing ulterior motives to innocent commenters would have been “proper form” on *your* part.

  3. Several years ago I was looking for reviews on B&B’s in Key West when I landed smack in the middle of a negative ratings war between three places.
    It was so juvenile I decided not to stay at any of them.
    It’s the customer / consumer that loses.

    • A lot of small businesses don’t respond well to Yelp, etc. reviews… A lot of people see it as a personal attack. My family’s ex-landlord threatened to withhold our deposit if we didn’t take down a review on [INSERT LAZY CONTRACTOR FRIEND OF LANDLORD].

  4. But he didn’t say that the episode ended well. He said that it ended _better than most social media brawls_. That’s not exactly a high standard.

  5. Reminds me of the whole Amy’s Bakery affair (http://www.amybouzaglo.com/) – worth reading her ‘response’ to the Yelp review, even if you don’t have time to watch the whole episode. Woman’s convinced there’s an organized conspiracy to plant mediocre reviews about her restraunt, and she just gets crazier from there.

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