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Michael Thompkins
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Guest Blogger Brian Hilling Offers Some Thoughts on a New Type Of Fraud in Journalism that Dovetails with our Postings on Misha Defonseca

by Michael 4/12/2010 9:40:00 PM

 

Consider this Brian's First Song on this website--there will be more.  --MT

Once upon a time, there were certain kinds of fraud that a perpetrator might have felt safe committing.  In the literary context, we have the fake memoir. Not every fake memoir, to be certain; in a world when pretty much anyone can write a memoir, some frauds will be more easily apparent than others.  Margaret Seltzer, for instance, found herself called out by family and friends all of a week after the publication of Love and ConsequencesMisha Defonseca, however, telling a more obscure story that was difficult to verify, seems to have gotten away with her ruse for a decade before professional researchers—in this case, genealogists—managed to pluck away the vital threads binding together her tapestry of lies.  And this is important, the idea of getting caught.  Because compared to the narcissism we might suggest as a prerequisite for inventing such a fantastic biography, it is hard to figure just what degree of delusion one must suffer to publish fake interviews with famous people.  Jane Thurman reported for The New Yorker last week on the alleged fraud perpetrated by Tommaso Debenedetti.

Last month, Paola Zanuttini, a journalist from La Repubblica, the progressive Roman newspaper, interviewed Philip Roth about his latest novel, “The Humbling,” which has recently been published in Italian. “We had a lively and intelligent conversation about my fiction,” Roth said. The Q. & A. ran on February 26th, as the cover story of Il Venerdì—La Repubblica’s Friday magazine—with a fierce-looking closeup portrait of Roth, and the title “Sex and Me.” Zanuttini focussed on the relationships of Roth’s aging protagonists with their much younger inamoratas, the feminist response to them, and his own marriages and romances. “Your descriptions of sex are ruthless,” she asserted. “Ruthless?” he countered. She backed down a little: “They describe things as they are, raw and naked.” “I am pleased by the notion that I can still be scandalous,” he said. “I thought I had lost that magic.”

The real scandal revealed by the interview, however, came at the end, when Zanuttini asked Roth why he was so “disappointed” with Barack Obama. She translated, aloud, remarks attributed to him in an article by a freelance journalist, Tommaso Debenedetti, that was published last November in Libero, a tabloid notably sympathetic to Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister of Italy (who is embroiled in his own sex scandals with much younger women). “It appears that you find him nasty, vacillating, and mired in the mechanics of power,” Zanuttini said. “But I have never said anything of the kind!” Roth objected. “It is completely contrary to what I think. Obama, in my opinion, is fantastic.” He had never heard of Debenedetti, or of Libero. The interview, with its bitter judgment of Obama’s banality, failure, and empty rhetoric about hope and change, was a complete fabrication More...


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The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions.