By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

‘Wife bonus’ story called into doubt. Shocking, eh?

CG-UOQ3XAAAb4wpI am shocked, shocked to learn that the “wife bonus” story has been called into question.

Last month I shared with my ethics class an opinion piece that appeared in The New York Times claiming, among other things, that some rich women on Manhattan’s Upper East Side were paid “wife bonuses” by their husbands based on “how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a ‘good’ school — the same way their husbands were rewarded at investment banks.”

The article, by a “social researcher” who goes by the name Wednesday Martin, was based on her forthcoming book, “Primates of New York.”

Martin’s Times piece was, shall we say, remarkably thin. There was not a single named source who could provide direct evidence of the practice. Nor were there any experts cited who could talk about the phenomenon. Statistics? We don’t need no stinking statistics. My students and I agreed that this was worth keeping an eye on.

Well, well, well. The New York Post reported over the weekend that Martin’s claims may not actually be true. Or as the Post puts it in its headline, “Upper East side housewife’s tell-all book is full of lies.” And though “wife bonuses” are not one of the “lies” exposed by the Post, its veracity appears to be on shaky ground. Here’s what Martin wrote in the Times on May 16:

Further probing revealed that the annual wife bonus was not an uncommon practice in this tribe.

And here’s what she told the Post:

I don’t necessarily think it’s a trend or widespread. It was just one of the many strange-seeming cultural practices that some women told me about.

Granted, not a full retreat. But Martin is clearly hedging.

Now it looks like “Primates of New York” is headed for the monkey cage. The Times today reports that the publisher, Simon & Schuster, will “append a note to future editions of the book, written by the social researcher Wednesday Martin, clarifying that some of the memoir’s details and chronologies were changed.”

We await public editor Margaret Sullivan’s take on the latest bogus trend story to find its way into the Times — something she has already joked about with her “Monocle Meter,” named after a trend story about young hipsters wearing monocles that appeared to be — well, uh, you know. Unsubstantiated.

Hat tip to Peter Masalsky for the “Casablanca” inspiration.

Also published at WGBHNews.org.


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5 Comments

  1. Todd Wallack

    For what it’s worth, the New York post found someone to go on the record about her “wife bonus” (though she actually gets a flat percentage of her husband’s bonus.) http://nypost.com/2015/05/28/i-love-my-wife-bonus-deal-with-it/

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Todd: And I’m sure that there was a hipster or two in Brooklyn wearing a monocle. A few outliers does not a trend make.

  2. Remember when Simon & Schuster used to publish books worth reading? And the New York Times checked stories out?

  3. I don’t know why you are awaiting anything from the public editor. It should be clear by now that the path to publishing /talk show success is to start by getting some “controversial” aspect of social mores into the NYT (see Tiger Mom, see Princeton Mom, etc.). NYT is either condoning this for readership/clicks, or actually getting paid to run this type of thing. For the sake of print viability, I hope it is the latter. They need the money.

  4. Bill Schweber

    Any idea why the NYTimes is so smitten with this book and author? I believe they have had 4 independent articles on it, from different angles. That’s one good publicist working for the author, but it also takes a willing pitch recipient. The Times has given this book more coverage than many other worthy topics. I think a large part of it is sheer laziness on part of their writers (sad to say, an increasingly commonplace work ethic characteristic at the Times, IMO)–this is such as easy book and story to cover, no heavy lifting or real research needed.

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