Yesterday, a colleague asked, "Would you have put the Kakutani review [of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"] in the paper?" Michiko Kakutani's review in yesterday's New York Times, from a copy (as she explains) of the book bought from a New York store Wednesday, gives away a few plot details, but mostly gives the writer's view that Rowling has talent, has penned a worthy series and final installment, and that no one should be surprised by the ending.
As everyone knows by now, the book is embargoed until 12:01 a.m. tomorrow morning, and the retailer who sold the book before then breached a signed contract not to do so. J.K. Rowling fumed against the Times's review, and another yesterday in the Baltimore Sun, in a statement reported later in the day.
To the colleague's question, the old newspaperman in me replied, "If I'm Kakutani's editor, and she's got the book, we put something in the paper." On the other hand, the reader and book-person in me asks, Why break the embargo and publish Thursday, why not wait until Saturday, when everyone has the book? A book review is not like a news story -- there's no advantage to being first. Unless it's just to flex one's power to do as one pleases, embargo or not. Or to feel the little frisson of saying, "Hee-hee, I've got the book and you don't -- wouldn't you like to know what I know?"
This is petty stuff, I know, and the newspaperman in me also says, "How many killed?" But here we are all writing stories about leakers and embargo-breakers -- there was such a story right under Kakutani's review. Should we let ourselves become part of the story?
It reminds me of an incident involving pitcher Roger Clemens and an umpire a few years ago (sportswriters and fans with better memories than mine can remember the game and umpire's name). Clemens was ejected from a critical playoff game for something he said to a steamed-up umpire. Afterward, it was said by many that while an umpire can't put up with a direct challenge or really inexcusable conduct, the wise umpire knows enough not to insert himself into the action in a big game.
Presumably, someone will give "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" a careful and considered reading for a review in the July 29 (or even August 5) Sunday Times Book Review. That should be worth waiting for.