Seeking preferential treatment with the flash of a card is wrong

Newman provided examples of the ReviewerCard in action. He told me about the time he visited a hotel in Geneva where a room typically costs about 400 euros a night, or roughly $500 at the time.

"I took out my card and asked if I could pay 200 euros," Newman said. "In return, I would write a great review on TripAdvisor. The woman at the hotel immediately said yes. It was a win-win for both of us."

Yeah, but wasn't he actually saying that he'd write a crappy review if he didn't get that 50% discount?

"That's one way of looking at it," Newman replied. "But the threat would have been that if I didn't get the rate, I'd write a one-star review. I was offering a five-star review."

He also told me about the time he was among numerous people waiting for a table at a busy Chicago restaurant. He flashed his ReviewerCard and jumped to the head of the line.

Wasn't that unfair to everyone else?

"That's one way of looking at it," Newman said. "I see it as letting the restaurant know that they should treat me good because I'm going to be writing a review."

I asked if he discloses in his reviews that he seeks and receives special treatment from the businesses he writes about.

"No," Newman acknowledged. "But that doesn't change things. If the hotel is close to the train station or has a comfy bed, that's why it's getting a good review."

This is, of course, wrong on many levels and is an example of how the culture of amateurism that was once one of the Internet's more endearing qualities has become a free-for-all unburdened by any thought of ethics or moral integrity.

But it's apparently legal, lawyers tell me. As long as a reviewer isn't making explicit threats to harm a business, the implied shakedown of presenting a ReviewerCard probably won't get anyone in trouble with authorities.

Newman hopes his ReviewerCard will become as influential as the American Express black card — a totem of the bearer's clout and achievement.

I can only hope that businesses see it for what it is: a shameless bid to extract personal favors under threat of Internet ruin. I can only hope they politely inform ReviewerCard holders that they're entitled to the same treatment as all other customers.

"I don't know," Newman said. "If a restaurant brings me free quesadillas and gets a good review for it, what's the harm?"

That's one way of looking at it.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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