A disturbing report by Wai Kit Leung (see here for background story):
I started reviewing CDs and DVDs for MusicWeb International, a UK-based classical music review site, in February this year. Shortly after I started, I was assigned to review, among other discs, the debut album of American oboist Katherine Needleman on Genuin. Being an oboist, I was aware of the potential pitfall of passing judgement on a fellow oboist. A quick search on Amazon.com revealed that this disc had garnered an unusually high number of positive reviews (all 5-out- of-5) within days of its launch.
With that knowledge, I thought it would be safe for me to proceed.
The disc turned out to be a disappointment to me. Being a conscious reviewer and told by my team that I should be honest with my opinion, good or bad; I wrote a somewhat critical review of the album, detailing what I liked and what I didn’t like. Bearing in mind the number of 5-star reviews the album had earned on the US Amazon site, I wanted to be inclusive of those listeners’ opinions, and added a sentence at the end: “Get this album if you want David Ludwig’s Pleiades or if you are a fan of the American style of oboe playing”.
I had qualms about writing a less-than- stellar review, but the Editor-in- Chief vetted it and had it posted on MusicWeb. Later I showed the review to at least eight other reviewers from MusicWeb, as well as to Len Mullenger, MusicWeb’s Founder. All of them told me my review was fine. Mr. Mullenger told me he “cannot really see anything he thinks needs changing”. Genuin must have endorsed the review as well as they quoted it on the official product page.
Ms. Needleman, however, took offence at my review. She hunted me down on Facebook, and repeatedly tried to drag me into dog fights with her and her fans/friends. When I refused, she proceeded to broadcast misleading and inflaming messages (“ … So not only does he insult me, which I find rather amusing in this case, but in his quite amazing review, he insults an entire nation or perhaps continent of oboe players as well.…”) to multiple Facebook groups, including the “Oboists of the World” group and the official Facebook page of the International Double Reed Society, with a combined membership of over 10,000. She also broadcast my private company info in her posts.
Within minutes I got insults, abuses and threats from dozens of Ms. Needleman’s fans and friends. They dug up my photos and company info and posted them on thread, threatened to boycott my company and asked others to do so as well. “Atlantic Woodwindrepair” (bassoonist Rick Shepard) posted that he had sent emails to MusicWeb’s Editor-in- Chief and Founder, asking for my dismissal, and asked others to do the same.
The following day, Len Mullenger told me MusicWeb “cannot cope with the distraction of dealing with numerous incoming e-mails from myself, the artists and artist’s friends”, and dismissed me. This is the same person who reassured me a day earlier that he didn’t see anything wrong with my review. He also made several allegations against me, none of which I had heard from anyone from MusicWeb before, and to me clearly remarks Ms. Needleman and her fans/friends made in their email campaign.
The attacks on Facebook continued for another week. Several people, most importantly Robert von Bahr of BIS Records, joined the debate and pointed out to the crowd that it was my duty and right as a reviewer to write my review, and that the crowd’s and Ms. Needleman’s behaviour was undignified. However, the mob continued their abuse. Most of these posters had not even heard the album, but that didn’t stop them from insulting me. Very few actually debated the points I made in the review. Interestingly, when a few passers-by saw enough, jumped in and reprimanded the mob, the mob declared the situation “out of control” and closed the thread within minutes.
In reality, it had been out of control for over a week. Several members of the gang were practically vicious. Sylvain Gnemmi, a French oboist playing with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, repeatedly used vulgar language to attack me, and posted my personal photos and company info on the thread, even made up stories about my company. Multiple people had asked him to stop, but he refused, claiming that was his freedom of expression; Dimitrios Karaminstzas, Artistic Director at Klassik in Moabit in Germany, posted a few replies that were particularly threatening; Tamber King, an oboist from the US, repeatedly hurled personal insults at me (accusing me of having mental problems) as well as at other people who didn’t share her viewpoints. And then there was bassoonist and repairman Rick Shepard, owner of Atlantic Woodwindrepair, who campaigned for my dismissal.
This mob had no respect for freedom of speech, and more crucially, press freedom. Ms. Needleman, who started what a bystander aptly called “a witch hunt”, made no effort whatsoever on reigning in her supporters, even though she was monitoring the threads closely. It appeared to me an orchestrated move to smear, discredit, intimidate and destroy a critic who didn’t sing her praises unreservedly.
I never expected such a blatant violation of press freedom in the Western world. Artists’ reputation should be built on artistry, not manipulation or intimidation. Perhaps these people thought that if they showed their collective power, no other critics would dare to write anything less-than-stellar about their favourite players.