The Art of Lying


Speaking of Twain: What's happened to the art of the journalistic hoax?

Yesterday The New York Times devoted 14,000 words to correcting the many misstatements of Jayson Blair, a recently resigned reporter with a habit of making things up. To quote the Times' summary: "He fabricated comments. He concocted scenes. He lifted material from other newspapers and wire services. He selected details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when he had not."

The scandal has provoked much commentary, mostly on whether big papers should be hiring kids straight from college before they've paid their dues in the newsprint sticks. But no one seems concerned with how dull these inventions are. Say what you will about Stephen Glass, but at least his lies in The New Republic were entertaining to read; Twain himself might have concocted the best of them. Blair, meanwhile, created uninteresting details (an interviewee "turning swiftly in her chair") and bland clich?s (a combat veteran declares, "I am still looking over my shoulder"). It's no surprise that Blair is guilty of plagiarism as well as invention: Even when he makes stuff up, it feels like something you've read before.

Glass has a book coming out later this year, a frankly fictionalized account of his spell spinning fabulations at TNR. I can't wait to read it, if only to remind myself how much fun a hoax can be—when its author puts some care into its creation.