News Flash: Man Bites Sandwich

Double Down Sandwich featuring two chicken fillets, two pieces of bacon, two melted slices of Monterey Jack and pepper jack cheese and sauce. (Credit: KFC) CBS

Man bites sandwich. Is that news?

Media transparency reached a new height - or maybe a low - on the streets of New York City this week with the food Web site Eater National posting pictures of The New York Times restaurant critic scribbling notes as he chowed down on a KFC meal.

The post, titled "To Catch a Critic," features multiple shots of reviewer Sam Sifton ordering the new chicken-stacked Double Down sandwich at a Manhattan KFC and then eating his bagged meal at an outdoor table. Raphael Brion, editor of Eater National, on Tuesday called the pictures "a lark" taken in the spirit of an esteemed food critic reviewing a fast food sandwich that replaces bread slices with chicken filets.

"That in itself is an interesting phenomenon," Brion said.

Not everyone is swallowing that.

"I don't get the point of it," said Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism at New York University. While it is now common for bloggers to analyze and dissect the performance of reporters, Rosen said taking pictures of a journalist eating is different.

Photos of NY Times' Critic Sam Sifton

"It's very close to celebrity stalking, which is creepy," he said.

The 5-year-old Web site says it "posted operatives" at every KFC in Manhattan on Monday after Sifton revealed that he'd sample the much-hyped sandwich that day. Brion said that was a joke. In reality, there was a contributor at the 33rd Street KFC covering the buzz about the sandwich's debut who was told to be on the lookout for Sifton in case he showed up.

Sifton - wearing a tie and a blazer and sporting a backpack over one shoulder - knew he was being photographed and mentioned in his review the "geek paparazzi" lurking "anonymously in the bushes." (For the record: Sifton panned the Double Down as a "new low.") Reporters in general have been pulling the curtain back on their work in recent years, doing everything from linking to source material to Tweeting on the job. The Times even provides peeks into its news meetings through Web videos.

But food critics are a different breed. Times critics in particular have been famous for cloak-and-dagger techniques to make sure their restaurant visits remained anonymous. Ruth Reichl wore wigs. Pictures of Frank Bruni were so rare they were coveted by New York City chefs like a rare baseball card.

Pictures of Sifton, who took over for Bruni last year, were available from the get-go, so many people in the culinary world know what he looks like.

Sifton politely declined comment, but he seems to have weathered the exposure with a sense of humor intact. He tweeted afterward that he "Got my Jennifer Aniston on today at lunch."

KFC is a unit of Yum Brands Inc.

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