7.06.2005

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit is a wonderful collection of essays
by Lawrence Block about writing mysteries.

The phrase sprang to mind in an entirely different context when
I read the comments on my previous post about the
"vitamin salesman" who claims he can cure cancer.

He self published that book so there was no editor looking
over the manuscript for ... to put it charitably ... wild ass claims.

But, there are other books categorized as non fiction
and published by major publishers that have wild ass claims
as well.

Edward Klein's diatribe about Hillary Clinton leaps to mind.
And James Frey's Million Little Pieces.

I haven't read Klein, and don't intend to.
I did read James Frey's book and found myself wondering-
did anyone check up on this?
It's a memoir, and truth is stranger than fiction, and maybe
I'm too much a cynic but there are some parts of that
book that made me wish he'd published it in the New Yorker.
The New Yorker has a fact checking department that is
pretty much legendary.

I've sold non fiction and no one has ever asked me if I verified
anything. No author has ever been asked for proof of some
of the stories.

Maybe I'm not selling wild ass non fiction (that's probably true),
but should fact checking only come into play when there are
wild ass claims?

With the advent of the internet anyone can claim to be anybody.
It's clear people will write just about anything to sell a book
(Ann Coulter springs to mind).

We're about ready to indulge in a lot of talk about the checks
and balances in the government and the role of the judiciary
with the resignation of Justice O'Connor.

Who's checking us?

1 comment:

Peter L. Winkler said...

"I've sold non fiction and no one has ever asked me if I verified
anything."

I recently pitched Playboy magazine an idea for an article about the most hotly debated questions concerning James Dean to tie in to the 50th anniversary of his death. I was assigned a 250 word piece. The assistant editor made me compile a bibliography of sources for their research department! Even after doing so, he said that it was not responsible for me to write that a person who circulated a rumor about Dean was incorrect when I had Dean's college roomate refuting it!

Somewhere I ran into an interview with Frey where he said he started the book as a novel. I suspect a lot of memoirs are fiction marketed as nonfiction.

There's no downside for these writers, unless they defame someone. Otherwise, there's no accountability. I think Coulter is the poster girl for this.