Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Getting on the "Anchorman 2" Hype Bandwagon

Headline of the Day

From the New York Post, about a dustup a prominent TV meteorologist had with his estranged wife:

"Ballbuster wife" is teste: WABC weatherman Bill Evans claims low blow in car fight

The story is pretty good too, in the Post's uniquely prurient sort of way.

It's not every day that a reporter gets to write that Evans told police his wife “grabbed the waist band of his underwear and reached for his scrotum with her free hand, subsequently scratching it, which resulted in bleeding."

And that's from the affidavit given to police. You really can't make this stuff up.

The Truth Comes In For a Crash Landing at The New York Times

Noah Gallagher Shannon Backpedals; Hugo Lindgren Keeps Wiping Egg From Face

It's the embellishment that won't go away.

You might remember that compelling Lives column in The New York Times magazine last month in which Noah Gallagher Shannon wrote about two hours worth of anxious moments when the flight he was on prepared for an emergency landing that might not have ended well.

It was a gripping read. Only problem: it didn't ring true with a lot of people. Which is a problem, as the Lives column is meant for nonfiction accounts. In other words, real things that happened in real life. And, yes, maybe a lot of people were caught up in the story initially to not ask, "Hey, how come I never heard about this?" That soon changed.

The man who has most been on the case trying to unspool this yarn has been the great James Fallows at The Atlantic. Last week he interviewed Shannon, who acknowledged he was not as fastidious as he should have been for an account that Fallows labels as "plainly false."

It was driven home to me that it was wrong to give the impression of certainty, of fact, and the things I was a little uncertain or hazy on, I should have qualified those observations, and I think that would have been the better journalistic thing to do--or done more background research. But I didn't at the time, and I have to apologize to the readers and The New York Times for that, and I take full responsibility.

That's a stand-up response and a better one than the B.S. first offered up by Times magazine editor Hugo Lindgren, who labeled the narrative a "personal experience of a fearful moment." Except, it appears, that fear trumped many of the facts surrounding what actually happened.

This is yet another example of how editors give more of a pass to memoirs than for other nonfiction. Too often, even when there is fact-checking, we are inclined to take the author at his word. That rabbit hole turned into a full-sized crater back in 2006, when James Frey fessed up that "A Million Little Pieces" was essentially a work of fiction. Even so, his editor Nan Talese foolishly defended the genre by insisting a memoir was an author's impression of how something happened. And if it never happened? Not a problem, so long as there was an impression that it had occurred. It was a lame explanation then, and Lindgren's variation also comes up short.

Even the Times realizes this, as public editor Margaret Sullivan pointed out yesterday. "The Times needs to stand for truth, not truthiness – yes, even in a memoir-style feature article in the magazine."

She later added: "I have reason to believe that in the next day or so, Mr. Lindgren may amplify his current note to readers ... It would be a good move — as would linking to that blog post from the online version of the original article, which is not the case now. A straight-up acknowledgement of the factual problems of this article is the only way out of this."

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

A Dishonest Takedown of "Revenge Wears Prada"

N.Y. Daily News Critic Shows True Colors in Review. Green With Envy?

I've done enough reviews of music, TV, films and books to know that, over time, you're going to dislike more than you like. It's part of the game.

No doubt, it's also more fun to write reviews of dreck. The adjectives flow more freely. You're angry that you had to waste your time--notwithstanding the fact that you're getting paid to do so--and you want the world to know that in no uncertain terms. But at least when I did a takedown I was fair. And honest.

The same can't be said about Sheryl Connelly, the book editor at the Daily News in New York (given how the News has been gutting its staff lately I'm surprised Connelly is still on the payroll, but that's for another day).

Connelly went into the storeroom for a few extra gallons of venom to review "Revenge Wears Prada," the sequel to mega-bestseller "The Devil Wears Prada," by Lauren Weisberger. The book, which was released today, will undoubtedly attract a lot of attention and sales based on its pedigree. Connelly, shall we say, is not a fan. In fact, she's more bitchy about Revenge AND Weisberger than Miranda Priestly on her worst day.

Sure, she's entitled to her opinion, such as it is. But where I have a problem is at the end of the review when Connelly writes:

Full disclosure: In a recent conversation with the author, I told her I liked “Revenge Wears Prada.”

I lied politely only because the truth would have been as bad as the book.

It's dubious enough that critics are hanging out with those they would write about. It's not something you're supposed to do. But that Connelly would not only lie but seem to relish in telling us that she did so is bad form.

Lied politely? How about not saying anything at all? In that sense, Connelly is no better than many of the characters she professes to hate in the book.

Full disclosure: Lauren and her husband Mike are friends. And I haven't read the book yet. But trust me, she doesn't need me or anyone else to stand up for her. She'll do just fine, thank you, even in the face of reviewers who have an agenda--likely rooted in deep-seated jealousy that a young author hit it big, real big on her first try--that goes way beyond evaluating the worth of the book.

And that's the truth, more than Connelly is able to muster.