Monday, July 30, 2012

Anti-Journalism Stunt Journalism

So there's a new book entitled Trust Me, I'm Lying that's supposed to be an "exposé" of corrupt journalism practices. It might show that, but not as much as it pretends. Because when you lie about something that can't be verified, you can't point the finger of blame at me for believing you.

Here's what I mean: once I went to a ward activity (first mistake) for my BYU student ward (second mistake). I met a guy with the thickest Southern accent I've ever heard. I asked him where he was from, and he said, "I'm from Idaho." I said, "Oh, really?" He laughed derisively and said, "No, not really!" like I was an idiot to think something he told me was true was, in fact, true.

In many cases written up in the news articles about this book, that's just what the author, Ryan Holiday, has done. He supposedly showed the corrupt underbelly of modern journalism by lying about his insomnia. Now, what is the journalist supposed to do? Call Holiday's doctor? Ask for references? If Holiday tells the journalist, "Thirty percent of Americans have insomnia," then yeah, the journalist should totally check that crap out before reprinting it. But when he says, "I have insomnia," and then later says, "Ha ha, I totally don't, jackass!," that's not an exposé, that's being a dick.

According to Forbes, the "capstone" of his douchebaggery came when he lied to the New York Times about collecting vinyl records. Was the reporter supposed to demand inspection of the collection? Ask to talk to Holiday's friends? How can someone "fact check" what Holiday says he hears?

I haven't read the book and I don't intend to; I've got too many other things I'm supposed to read. But when I read people like Tyler Cowen give this book positive reviews, I want to point out that Holiday didn't expose anything but his own desire for easy celebrity. It does not appear he lied about anything that can be actually checked, such as being at an event. That would be newsworthy. Instead he lied about things that have to be taken on trust, and then blamed others that they thought he was trustworthy.

Holiday says he did it to "help change and improve journalism." You'll forgive me if I don't believe your justification, Ryan. See, you've shown nothing you say is believable, and the presence of your book deal makes your crusade appear slightly less altruistic. To paraphrase the Upton Sinclair quote Holiday uses, it's difficult to believe a man wants to end a problem when his salary depends on his not ending it.

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