A Q. and A. With Alice Walker Stoked Outrage. Our Book Review Editor Responds.

Many readers expressed concern this week about a By the Book Q. and A. with Alice Walker.

Asked about the books on her nightstand, Ms. Walker, the author of “The Color Purple,” mentioned “And the Truth Shall Set You Free” by David Icke, calling his works “a curious person’s dream come true.”

Readers were upset that we didn’t add context to Ms. Walker’s endorsement of Mr. Icke, a British writer who has blamed the Holocaust on Jews and promoted conspiracy theories about shape-shifting lizards that many consider anti-Semitic.

“By allowing Walker to recommend it to readers, you gave her and the book a forum to disseminate hate,” Marc Gary of New York wrote in a message to the newsroom’s Reader Center. “The Times is better than this. At least provide a corrective by informing readers about the anti-Semitic nature of the book.”

In an interview, Pamela Paul, the editor of The Book Review, explained how we select subjects for By the Book, a weekly feature; how we conduct and edit the interviews; and why we featured Ms. Walker. The questions were drawn from reader feedback.

Why did you choose Alice Walker for this column?

The editor of By the Book chose her because this column was for a thematic Book Review issue on poetry and politics. She is both a poet and someone known to be very political in her work.

When picking people for By the Book, what considerations go into their backgrounds?

We consider all parts of their backgrounds because we want to get a wide range of authors and other public figures. We’ve included everyone from musicians to politicians to actors.

How is the By the Book interview conducted?

It’s always conducted via email. We send a group of about 18 to 25 questions. Some are consistent across all interviews, and others change depending on the person. The directions are to answer as many questions as the person would like, within a suggested length of 950 to 1,500 words, though writers are free to write as much as they like.

Unlike other Q. and A.s by The Times and other publications, we never condense the answers. We run the interview in full online. In print we edit for space by removing entire questions. The idea is that because it’s an email interview, we want to represent the person’s written answers in full.

Do you ever ask follow-up questions?

Back when I was editing By the Book, the only time I went back for more questions was if the person didn’t answer enough to fill the page. The column is a Q. and A. about the subjects and their reading life, not simply a list of recommendations; it’s not a regular phone or in-person interview where you would follow up with questions about their answers.

We never question people on their choices by asking, “Why would you choose this book?” or “Why didn’t you like this book?” The people’s answers are a reflection of their opinions, tastes and judgment. As with any interview, their words tell us something about them.

The intention for By the Book is to be a portrait of someone through his or her reading life. What people choose to read or not read and what books they find to be influential or meaningful say a lot about who they are.

Did you consider going back to Ms. Walker to ask about Mr. Icke’s book?

No. When we interview anyone, whether it’s a public official or a foreign leader or an artist, The Times isn’t saying that we approve of the person’s views and actions. We’re saying we think the subject is worthy of interviewing; that’s our approach with By the Book.

One thing that I think makes By the Book distinctive is that we are not guiding people to answer questions in a way that reflects our views as editors. We’ve also faced criticism when a writer only named white authors, or male authors. My response to that is the same as in this case: Does that answer tell you something about the subject? I think it does, and now readers know it because we’ve informed you.

Just as a reporter wouldn’t direct a senator to answer a question differently, we don’t direct interviewees’ answers in By the Book.

Is there ever an instance when you would disclose something sensitive about an interviewee’s background or provide more context?

Never. By the Book always runs with a note about the subject’s latest book if the person is an author or about his or her latest work or public endeavor if not, along with a quote from the interview. There’s no other introduction or afterword.

If someone mentioned a favorite novel that we thought was terrible, we wouldn’t include a note saying, “Actually, that book is awful.” Likewise, we would never add that a book is factually inaccurate, or that the author is a serial predator, or any kind of judgment on the work or the writer. We do not issue a verdict on people’s opinions.

Given The Times’s large platform, are there any beliefs that we shouldn’t allow people to espouse?

If people espouse beliefs that anyone at The Times finds to be dangerous or immoral, it’s important for readers to be aware that they hold those beliefs. The public deserves to know. That’s news.

Do we have standards for what, if anything, we wouldn’t include?

By the Book has to be factually accurate and conform to Times style. We check to make sure the interviewee has spelled the name of the author correctly and gotten the title accurately, but we do not investigate the accuracy or assess the quality of the books mentioned.

In retrospect, would you have done anything differently with the column by Ms. Walker?

No. Readers have certainly learned something about the author and her tastes and opinions. I think it’s worthwhile information for them to know.

Our readers are intelligent and discerning. We trust them to sift through something that someone says in an interview, whether it’s the president or a musician or a person accused of sexual harassment, and to judge for themselves: Do I agree with this person?

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