Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Journalism Takes a Nosedive

Major Mike

I read with astonishment today David Sarashon’s commentary on the furor over James Frey fictional accounts of his life as told in his “non-fiction” work A Million Little Pieces. Mr. Sarashon glosses over the many misrepresentations that Mr. Frey used to sell his book, and justifies these lies with:

Memory, after all, is not a Xerox machine; it's something we build around ourselves to explain our lives. Naturally, as time passes, it gets a little more interesting, or useful, than the life itself was.

As Dickens wrote, we all want to be the hero of our own lives. And we all know that legends tend to build up around heroes.
So it's strange to hear an argument about whether Frey's book should be in fiction or nonfiction. Probably all memoirs should be in a separate category, drawn from the legal-disclaimer slogan of so many TV movies: "Based on a true story."

Sarashon publishes this as Frey comes out with…

I wanted the stories in the book to ebb and flow, to have dramatic arcs, to have the tension that all great stories require," writes Frey, whose three-page note will be included in future editions of the book, to be shipped later this month,and was posted Wednesday on the Web site of his publisher, Doubleday, an imprint of Random House, Inc.
Never mind that Frey greatly exaggerated the tales of his “addictions” and “travails.” He slanders various law enforcement agencies with his claims of improper treatment and abuse. From CNN…

Frey's note, itself a story of suffering and redemption, confirms much of what The Smoking Gun published in early January and builds upon his admission to Winfrey last week that he had lied: He invented a three-month jail term, exaggerated other run-ins with law officials and distorted his role in a train crash that killed a high school classmate. He also acknowledges making himself appear "tougher and more daring and more aggressive than in reality I was, or I am."
I can live with all that…I simply won’t buy his lame “wannabe” book. Too bad he will reap the rewards of his lies, but that is the by-product of a consumer world populated with those willing to empathize and co-miserate with the zillions of sad souls with zillions of sad stories. Good for him…his money will evaporate as quickly as his credibility. He will likely end up penniless and a prisoner to his former addictions. He should take good notes this time, because that will be the story worth reading.

But that is not my point. What got to me was Sarashon’s ready excuse making for these falsehoods.

When we arrange our memoirs, or just our memory, at least we want to tell ourselves a good story.

Dishonesty is the lie we tell other people.

Memory is the lie we tell ourselves.
What I see here is the extension of the Rathergate illogic, after the documents were found to be forgeries…”well, just because we can’t prove it, doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

Well, truth is the point. Not the great nature of the story. Not the possibilities. Not the excitement generated. Not the “dramatic arcs, to have that all great stories requires.” Not total book sales, but the truth is what makes the story.

And it disturbs me greatly that a “journalist” would go out of his way to make excuses for a literary liar. Sarashon should be appalled that a writer of any piece would categorically lie about events sold as true. He should not be lending support, as he seems to be lowering journalistic standards to below those set for children’s books.

The capper for me is his line below…

And it's not like there's no difference between outright dishonesty and carefully arranged memory.

No, there is NO difference. Try getting away with that dissection with your fourteen year-old.

The truth is the truth, no matter how poorly told or received. A lie is a lie, no matter how well it is told and how much it is believed. It is up to journalists to know this as the bedrock of their profession. It is frightening that Sarashon is claiming the gap between the truth and a lie is meaningless…I guess as long as your book (or your paper?) sells, it is inconsequential.

So, I guess there is no reason to believe that anything that comes out of the Oregonian is true…as long as the story is good. He shows a pathetic lack of understanding of the value that the truth holds in all journalistic endeavors…especially when the written word is advertised as the “truth.”

Another nail in the MSM coffin, hammered in by David Sarashon.


Mr.Atos said...

And Sarashon fancies himself a competent journalist. Now there's a fiction... Children's section for juvenile indulgence in the mastery of pretend and prestidigitation.

This is no different than Dowd classifying Clinton's lies to be of the "Endearing" variety.

What exactly is a journalists that devalues the truth?

A propagandist! There's the fact.

dueler88 said...

I knew society was in trouble when I started studying Deconstructivist Philosophy (, and its related architectural method, in college. Luckily, I had a prof that was willing to accept that notion that it is completely irrelevant in a world of facts and rationality.

While I understand, as an artist and armchair philosopher, the notion of subjective realities and poetic license, those concepts rarely translate in to the real world. You can delude the meanings of things to yourself all you want, internally. But the world has specific facts, meanings, and phenomena that are what they are and nothing else.

Attention news media: you may consider yourself to be deconstructivist philosophers, but your philosophy doesn't have real applications, especially within your vocation. I've already cut you loose from my realm of relevant commentary, and I hope I can spread the word.