What can YOU say in six sentences?
The latest bright rising writer to poop in his own chili is Jonah Lehrer of the New Yorker who made up Bob Dylan quotes that the songwriter never spoke. Lehrer is 31, and like several others who lied to their readership, was on the fast track in the world of letters and publishing.
Just a few years ago, James Frey had to admit on OPRAH that his so-called real life memoir was fiction.
Scientist Andrew Wakefield, an English doctor, had to admit that his study linking vaccines to autism was fraudulent after panicking millions of parents worldwide. So scientists lie, too.
I remember the shock waves when Janet Cooke at the Washington Post had to give back a Pulitzer Prize for making up an entire series about "Jimmy," a child heroin addict. The boy didn't exist. Those of us in the newsroom at the Atlanta newspaper who heard about Cooke's lies just went onto shock. Who would be that stupid? Why hadn't her editors caught on before the series went into print?
Same for Jayson Blair at the NYT who wrote dozens of pieces full of fabrications.
Stephen Glass at the New Republic made stuff up that was supposed to be factual. He wrote so beautifully that his downfall felt like a real loss.
So what I want to know is: Why didn't all these talented men and women just write short stories and novels? Is it because reporting jobs pay but fiction writers starve while we wait and hope a publisher will want our manuscripts?
Here's NPR's report of Lehrer's demise.
Joey, I read your response on my iPhone at a red light. Then I drove about five miles, thought about making fahitas for dinner, thought about the Wampum earrings I'm wearing (short for wampumpeage meaning "white shell"), then I thought to myself, Wow. Joey's an addict. Recovered but scarred. Now I'm worried about him.
I forgot it was fiction, just for a second. Maybe I spent too much time in the sun this afternoon, or maybe fiction can be just that powerful and easy to remember.
[Quick shout-out to Gita for the "poop in his own chili" line.]
As Teresa says below, so many questions. But at the end of the day, when the cows have come home, blah blah, it simply boils down to this:
Humans lie when we can. It's hard-wired into us, the evolutionary progression of benefitting from mating displays.
We all do it to a lesser or greater extent, but most people are not severely sociopathic and manage to fall somewhere between there but for the grace of God go I, and the only sin is getting caught.
The thing that interests me is this: we seem to be evolving under the assumption that society must provide checks and balances for all our behaviors. Even more bizarrely, we seem to be complicit in this (evolution), without much questioning or dissent.
The NY Times caught almost as much flak for not having Jayson Blair under some kind of management lockdown, as Blair did for his fabrications. That's unhealthy, I would argue. The crime was Blair's and god bless him for being human.
I think it was C.S. Lewis who opined that a slave is a poor judge of freedom because he has no experience on which to base his understanding of liberty (and I think Lewis' context was the responsibilities of individuals).
We would be worse off if we lost either the desire, means or opportunity for these behaviors, as we would equally be if we lost the character traits which make us avoid them.
Oh. And ditto Robert re: poop in his own chili. One for the notebook.