Blogs have been falling all over themselves to report on what seems like the buzziest thing to come out of the Association of Food Journalists conference in Charleston, S.C., this week: the idea that the Twitter parodist Ruth Bourdain (who mashes up Ruth Reichl’s Tweets through the personality of Anthony Bourdain) might have been in the group.
But I was there, at the center of the little exchanges that led to the speculation, and I have to jump in and say: not so fast. A more careful reading of the situation (or, if you prefer, a little better reporting) would turn up zero evidence to support the idea.
With all due respect to Lee Svitak Dean, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune food editor, her statement that Ruth Bourdain must be Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice (no relation to our own Tom Sietsema ) seems to me to be based on a misreading of the entire situation. Dean told me that her proof was easy to look up on Twitter: that RuBo very clearly Tweeted quotes from one of the conference sessions that only somebody who was in the room would be able to hear.
But, as I told her, and showed her in a flash on my iPhone, that was simply not the case. Everything RuBo Tweeted was based on other people’s Tweets from the conference.
Here’s how it unfolded. It all started with one of the most common — and, frankly, tiresome — questions journalists have been asking about RuBo: whether s/he deserved the James Beard Foundation Award for humor writing. I suppose it’s a fair question, given that what RuBo does is probably not exactly journalism, but to me s/he shows by example just how hilarious a well-placed zinger can be. In 140 characters, the rhythm and timing have to be pretty dead on to get a good laugh, and RuBo gets tens of thousands of those every time s/he Tweets. S/he reminds me that if Dorothy Parker were alive today, she’d be a champion Tweeter.
Anyway, freelance writer Debbie Moose of Raleigh, N.C., was the one asking the question, this time of Matt and Ted Lee , who were giving a presentation on food writing in the age of Twitter. In their general defense of the idea, Matt quipped that the Beard award for RuBo was “so 2010,” so I did what any iPad-carrying conference-goer should do, and Tweeted it. And I made sure to include “@ruthbourdain” in my Tweet to get the parodist’s attention.
Which I did. RuBo immediately re-Tweeted it, adding, “Fighting words?” And then s/he started picking up the thread of some other Tweets referencing the Lee brothers, by me and a couple of others — easy to find thanks to the #afj hashtag we were using. For example:
It’s that last Tweet that Dean cited to me as evidence of RuBo’s presence, but she had apparently had overlooked Joan Cirillo’s Tweet from a few minutes before. Of course, I don’t mean to pick on Dean at all here. She does an excellent job with her food section in Minneapolis, and has the awards to prove it. I just think she jumped the gun here, and a lot of blogs interested in the buzz factor jumped along with her.
As for her next assumption, that RuBo must be Robert Sietsema, well, it seems a stretch to me, too. Just because Sietsema is a New Yorker and was at the conference for the first time and was typing on his smartphone right when Dean noticed the RuBo Tweets on hers adds up to exactly squat.
For his part, Sietsema not only denies being RuBo but seemed a little exasperated by the whole thing, telling me on Friday night that he had spent much of the day being interviewed about it by bloggers — and enjoying changing his response for each interview, just to have a little fun with it. He has his own theory about who is behind the parody site, by the way: Anthony Bourdain himself.