I have said that journalists are soldiers who liberate truth from lies and delusions. The same goes for book authors who venture out to write biographies and memoirs.
Just report the truth. It is the simplest mandate of any profession.
As someone who was a journalist who then became an author, I can tell you right now that chronicling the lives of others is an extremely hard, piddly, and time-consuming process.
Truth is an ever-changing shape-shifting vortex of chaos, yet there is such a thing as absolute truth. You find that truth by gathering grains and hunting game, knowing full well people see you as a prime target for manipulation.
A journalist cannot allow lies to infect the product for four very important reasons:
1. Hoaxes, lies, and propaganda become the gold standard of what people consider to be the truth, meaning they are more likely to reject truths as lies.
2. People who question lies with logical Skepticism are not seen as heroes for truth, but fun-spoiling villains who are crashing delusions and lies.
3. The over-the-top yarns of tragedies and triumphs make real cases of both pale in comparison, and hence, are more likely to be ignored. I am not just talking about apples-to-apples comparisons of, for instance, two women who claimed to be raped, but the one who was does not have the same exaggerated narrative than the one who is trying to gain sympathy and generous crowdsourcing funds. I am speaking of people pretending to be stalked because they are so devastatingly alluring and gorgeous overshadowing people struggling to pay their bills or look after ailing disabled parents because the former narrative sounds more sexy than the latter.
4. Those who lie are not bogged down by actually living a life or having to have real experience, so they have more time to learn how to charm and manipulate, seeming cooler, or at least more interesting, rested, and sympathetic than people exhausted by working toward a complicated goal or surviving going through a wringer.
When I wrote the book Don’t Believe It!: How lies become news, I did so with the express intention of giving people a map to counter a disease. The disease is lies. I had countless case studies, but some people griped because I did not include every lie or hoax ever perpetrated.
Yes, I am serious.
If I did that, I would needed to have written hundreds or even thousands of volumes.
The point of the book was to give the map that anyone could apply to any nonfiction account. If you watched, listened, or read a report, the book was the guide to get you to ask active questions in order to determine that report’s veracity without my meddling in your life.
I do have faith and full confidence that other people who are not Alexandra Kitty can and do actually think on their own.
But there are those who never let facts get in the way of a good story.
They spin and glamorize the narratives of those those who have too much free time on their hands and do not know what to do with themselves in a democracy.
The book The Voyeur’s Motel, written by Gay Talese is a case in point. It got attention, The New Yorker magazine published an excerpt of the book in April 2016, and Hollywood decreed it was worthy of becoming a movie.
And it is an interesting enigma. Here is a businessman risking an awful lot supposedly spying on guests and then blabbering about in public.
Gerald Foos doesn’t claim to be selling information or recording it to make any sort of profit.
Why wasn’t he arrested or sued all this time?
No one blackmailed him for breaking the law? Why not?
These days, it is very posh to pretend to be weird and then indignantly claim it is normal at the same time, but despite diaries and hoodwinking an author to report his canards without question, glaring and serious inconsistencies hound this narrative, as The Washington Post outlined with their investigation.
Talese focussed on the lurid taboo anecdotes, and qualifies it by labelling his form of likely story as New Journalim by “weaving” fact with fiction techniques.
The Post looked at public records with no qualifiers.
Talese was all about journalistic colour, and colour is the biggest red flag a news consumer has to know a book or report is questionable, especially if it is heavy on colour, but light on actual facts and research.
Self-indulgence has always been a status symbol, yet logic tells us that there are limits. Self-indulgence is the misdirection that hides the mundane, but there are people who still believe the yarn and don’t see the narrative as outré.
But if some of it is a lie and some of it are exaggerations, then we must push harder to see why did the person making the claim find it necessary to blur and deceive.
It is precisely the belief that *any* story is plausible that must be challenged because too many people have become hopelessly naive, but think they are savvy and street smart know-it-alls because they believe everyone is frolicking in the gutter or living some sort of edgy and hip high-life on street corners. Once upon a time, traditional media had the monopoly on disseminating propaganda, but with social media, DIY propaganda has completely thrown people’s understanding of reality out of whack.
But it goes further than that. All you have to take is so-called “reality shows” and see how out of touch people are. These shows are *badly* scripted knee-slappers, but people get into vicious fights with me because I point out that people on these shows are all acting and faking. Those aren’t their houses, those aren’t their own words, and that sure as hell isn’t their lives, let alone their own hair, lips, and teeth.
Even the “happy talk” of news anchors are scripted. The “noddies” reporters do during an interview are filmed after the fact.
We are surrounded by processed narratives constantly, and then we take it as the unvarnished truth and reality.
Many people lie about their lives, such as puffing up the mundane or making things up whole cloth. Before Snopes blew the lid off the commoners’ urban legends, people spun yarns to gain attention for themselves.
How many times have people told me their friends were mortified when their dog “killed” their neighbours’ pet rabbit and dragged it to their yard and secretly replaced it, but then found out the neighbours buried their rabbit and were shocked when it came back to life?
Off the top of my head, I count about north of twenty in my life. Is that canard considered no longer outré or over the top and just a normal thing in life?
Of course it is over-the-top…and also hopelessly false. A thousand people telling the same silly fib doesn’t normalize anything. It doesn’t make one worldly thinking it’s par for the course because they hear stuff like this all the time. It makes you gullible and obtuse to nuance and what is the barometer of determining the veracity and motive of someone’s narrative.
As a journalist, I encountered my fair share of puffing because certain people understood that the media actively sought salacious, lurid, extraordinary, and impressive anecdotes and they perpetually pushed aside those who told the truth about their lives, problems, struggles, and even accomplishments. I always triple checked every little fact, and many times, what was spun to me was vastly different than the truth. People would cop to certain sketchy, but supposedly gutsy things, but not only was it not true, but it was always used as a misdirection to hide something more pathetic, alarming, or at least less than impressive. Carny is common, but it is merely smoke and mirrors to hide the nature of reality. One can never be mistaken for the other.
But all this sanctioned puffing has its price and the price is people’s internal lie detectors are perpetually misaligned and malfunctioning, meaning we are losing our pulse on reality. We hand over the reins of our perceptions to others with agendas who dictate to us how to interpret information. Overestimates are as bad as underestimates. Wishful thinking has replaced detached, logical analysis to see what are the problems and what is working for us.
Worse, treacherous people hide in these assumptions and delusions and they can victimize others because no one can *see* their true deceptive and manipulative nature. Even if something seems to be the norm, it doesn’t make it normal. Everything must be questioned. Once upon a time owning slaves was an enviable status symbol (how many little white brats back in the day had serious self-esteem *issues* because kids made fun of the fact their dad just owned one slave while their dads had a whole whack of them), and women were property of their husbands. Norm, not normal, just sanctioned insanity people are too scared to question.
This particular case reeks of it: if someone tells you he operated a business or owned a property, right off the bat you have to verify that information from every angle and take nothing for granted, including gaps and omissions because there is a reason why he is keeping that information from you. I used to go so far as to track down people’s old high school yearbooks — and sometimes that was as far as I had to go to see a source was being less than honest with me, and often that indirect way of probing someone’s honesty showed me what kinds of things they would be likely to hide and how they would go about to hide it. It is not an easy job. Naked for the world to see and you must be brave — and thorough.
Chroniclers have to be obsessive in gathering facts. They have to be annoying and skeptical sticklers who seem rude. Looking at someone’s social media feed is not enough and often deflects attention to the actual truth about them. Those sites have become amateur press releases. Interviewing people is not enough because they have practiced what they tell you. Joining them on a supposed escapade is definitely not enough because they are more than likely putting on a performance to an audience and you are their proxy. Every rock has to be turned over and that means real work and not spewing someone else’s lies at cocktail parties where people seem to have some sort of best fake laughter contest going on.
Misapplied egalitarianism is a filter that can turn into a blinder. Whether an over-the-top action is a truth or a lie, it, it is a problem to confront, even if everyone does it. If people are expending more energy and finite resources than necessary and are getting measly returns for their actions individually or collectively, the deliberate squandering must be questioned. Either the person is lying about doing it or they are bringing long-term harm to themselves or others when those same resources could be used for something productive. Journalists and authors are not supposed to be propagandists or apologists for stupid, dysfunctional, or destructive behaviour. They are to see if (a) the claims are in fact true, realistic, or accurate, or are they a lie, misdirection, or ruse, and (b) do these actions make logical sense as they stand, or is there an ulterior motive for doing them, namely hiding something more sinister in order to exploit or raid resources?
Why and how are the two most important questions out there, yet so few people actually have the courage to ask them.
The story must fit the facts. The facts are not supposed to fit the story. Ask the right questions and you find the truth.
But questioning people is spun by liars to be seen as offensive, politically incorrect, and dangerous, but it is essential. It means you do not take anyone’s word at face value. You are not beguiled by some little dog and pony show people put on for your benefit. I can tell you from personal experience that I have had people spice up and choreograph their so-called natural settings for my benefit — but when I came to observe when they did not know I was there and/or asked someone else they did not know was there on my behest to observe, the results were completely and radically *different*, and yes, people do use confederates to make a lie seem credible.
And in this case, there was not even an attempt at any fact-checking or verification. Too many grifters and their apologists get rewarded and it is killing journalism and publishing alike.
As for the credulous New Yorker, The Post stated:
New Yorker editor David Remnick said he hadn’t had time to review the magazine’s vetting of the excerpt it published in April but would look into it.
Too busy to ensure the truth is the defence here, and that attitude says it all.