News organizations can be fastidious about disclosing conflicts of interest.

I recall a piece in which a newspaper reporter quoted someone in a community association; the editors inserted a kind of "warning" after the quote noting that this person was actually – gasp – a part-time copy editor on their night shift. Potential conflict of interest identified!

When it comes to the book review pages, however, the newspapers are usually running brothels, with nasty conflicts of interest at the larger sheets. New York's expired mag Spy used to have a lot of fun with this corruption in a column called "Logrolling in Our Time." There would be pairs of quotes without comment. For instance,

"Jane Smith has written the Lincoln biography that will stand for a generation." – Joe Doakes, Newsweek

"Joe Doakes surprises and delights us once again with his mastery of antebellum history." – Jane Smith, Washington Post

And so it would go, month after month, column inch after column inch … "Logrolling in Our Time." Needless to say, you could put a strong column together today just by reading the blurbs on the dust jackets in the Civil War section of your bookstore.

I think we all carefully read these blurbs to vett the complements; to the extent we ourselves know the connections between blurber and author, we can use our meager knowledge discount the praise. It is therefore an act of hostility by the publisher against the reader (greater or lesser – you select the degree) when the blurb is made opaque by removing the name. Thus,

"Jane Smith has written the Lincoln biography that will stand for a generation." – Newsweek

It's not user friendly and it lowers deep out of view the sight of one hand washing the other.

I just noticed (this week) that Oxford University Press approaches the blurb quotation style two ways. This is highly unusual because editors strive for consistency in such things. One OUP style is in the usual form: Jane Smith, Washington Post. Almost all their history writers get this manner of blurb. See here and again here. The other way is in the duplicitous style: just "The Washington Post." Thus, "The Washington Post" editorial board gave the complement, not your buddy who free-lanced a kiss-up piece for the Washington Post book page.

Only one writer seems to get that second style of blurb at OUP, a supremely well-connected fellow named James McPherson. See for yourself.

I'm not sure what to make of this myself. I am dead sure what Spy would have made of it.