…to which the teller of the fish story goes on to elaborate how the fish was the size of a VW bus, yet after a five hour struggle he reeled it in without help. In truth, the fish was the size of a sardine and he barely broke a sweat, but who’s going to discount the story?
And that’s the rub. Someone ALWAYS knows the truth and can either remain quiet or “out” you. It depends on the risk of blowback.
Which appears to be the case with NY Times bestseller author Greg Mortenson, who told a whopper of a fish story with his “memoir” Three Cups of Tea. Seems that 60 Minutes decided to check the veracity of his story. Lo and behold…it was a lie. So Mortenson pulled a James Frey. Lovely. And while he has raked in barrels of money to build schools in Afghanistan (which appear to be a bit of a stretch as well), his publisher is having some serious sphincter pucker. They’re probably holding emergency meetings right now, wondering whether to pull the book off the shelves and figuring out what their response will be.
They’ve already issued a few statements to the effect that they’ll be looking into the allegations. And of course, they’re having to fend off the cries of, “Editor, vet thyself!”
Yah, sure. It’s easier said than done. Vetting a story takes a lot of money and time. And unless the publisher has an unlimited budget, it simply can’t be done. How does one track down all the people who were involved in this story? Villagers? Taliban? People need to be realistic about what a publisher can realistically pull off. That’s why contracts stipulate that it’s the author’s responsibility to ensure the story they’re telling is true.
Greg Mortenson knowingly lied. And made a fortune doing it.
I detest liars with every fiber of my being because someone always gets hurt. A publisher produces a book in good faith only to get burned. This hits close to home because we specialize in publishing authors’ personal journeys. Over the years I’ve had some real whopper queries cross my desk and I always reject them because I know I can’t verify the story. They’re simply too fantastical to believe at first blush. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I have a reputation to consider, and I can’t afford to be caught up in something I can’t authenticate because the first thing I’d have to do is recall the books. Pardon my French, but screw that!
Getting caught in a lie is so pathetic – except if you’re a politician, and they do it as a natural course of business and have no shame. Sadly, that lack of shame has leeched over into society. And it’s not just in lying about their stories. People also stretch the truth with their bios. I remember the woman who queried me and listed herself as a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Anyone want to guess how quickly one can find that out? About two seconds. I wrote her a scathing letter telling her that not only did she have the IQ of a camel in order to lie about something so easily verified, but that I would make sure to tell all my agent and editor friends about her as well.
And that’s my opinion of Greg Mortenson – not that he gives a rip. He’s made his millions and will slurk off to some hidey hole where he belongs. Or he’ll brazenly continue the lie like a politician. Who knows? But I feel for his publisher.
Seems good faith is in short supply these days. I don’t welcome or embrace the decay.
Does lying bother you as much as it bothers me?