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Please say it ain't true
March 2, 2010 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Poland's late, great, legendary reporter Ryszard Kapuscinski is accused of making it up.

According to his biographer Artur Domoslavski, Kapuscinski never met Che Guevara; was never was sentenced to death four times; his father was not a Soviet prisoner of war; he even got some of his stories about Ugandan fishes wrong. Please God, tell me it ain't true. Not Ryszard Kapuscinski.
posted by MrMerlot (20 comments total)

 
Who among us hasn't made the occasional misstatement about Ugandan fishes?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:48 AM on March 2, 2010 [10 favorites]


I've always been meticulous when describing Ugandan fishies.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:49 AM on March 2, 2010


I have much more in common with him than I thought, except of course the thing with the fish.
posted by unSane at 9:52 AM on March 2, 2010


Kapuscinski never met Che Guevara; was never was sentenced to death four times; his father was not a Soviet prisoner of war; he even got some of his stories about Ugandan fishes wrong.
So much in common! We might be brothers - though my piscine fallacies involved Burkina Faso.
posted by Abiezer at 9:54 AM on March 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Damn you unSane.
posted by Abiezer at 9:55 AM on March 2, 2010


I don't understan why this is news now (I guess it's a way to ratchet the sales of the new bio that's coming out), this general criticism has been levied against Kapuscinski since at least 2007.
posted by Omon Ra at 9:55 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


My favorite Ryszard Kapuscinski story is about driving through road-blocks in Lagos during the Biafrian war that were set up to fleece and vandalize whoever approached. The road was lined with bodies. At the first roadblock, they took of his money and beat him up. At the second roadblock, they took the rest of his money, beat him more severely, and doused the car in gasoline. Upon approaching the third roadblock without any money, he knew they would probably kill him so he just plows through the next one amid gunfire and Molotov cocktails.

I don't even care if it's true.
posted by stinker at 10:01 AM on March 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


> I don't understan why this is news now (I guess it's a way to ratchet the sales of the new bio that's coming out), this general criticism has been levied against Kapuscinski since at least 2007.

Yes, in fact I could have sworn we'd discussed it here, but apparently not. I'm sure the publicity is about the new bio; as for the deception, it's a shame, but the guy was a hell of a writer, and as long as you approach his books with appropriate skepticism about factuality, there shouldn't be a problem. (See: Hunter S. Thompson.)
posted by languagehat at 10:09 AM on March 2, 2010


He actually was sentenced to death 4 times, but he was only executed 3 times.
posted by DU at 10:09 AM on March 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I heard that the last time he got away on a magical rocket unicorn, and is now residing on the moon.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:58 AM on March 2, 2010


Next you'll be saying that he's also never been in Cliff Claven's kitchen.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:14 AM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


as long as you approach his books with appropriate skepticism about factuality, there shouldn't be a problem

Well, ok, but it's not like the publisher put that on the book jacket or anything. This is literally the first time I've heard about this and I'm pretty miffed. Especially with someone like Kapuscinski, where I thought I was in some sense gathering information about how the world works, I have serious problems with fabulists passing themselves off as journalists. It's not a matter of how well he writes - I wasn't just reading for enjoyment.

It's interesting to me who gets away with stuff like this and who doesn't. Stephen Glass was a much better writer than David Brooks, but one of them is unemployed while the other gets a regular NYT op-ed gig.
posted by bonecrusher at 12:30 PM on March 2, 2010


That's the problems with legends -- they are experts at telling people the convoluted fantasies they want to hear -- so much so that they never have to live up to the hype. But if you look carefully at their work -- their story-spinning abilities are mediocre at best -- it's just that their yarns are merely one never-ending love letter to their own egos and some people fall for it...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 12:40 PM on March 2, 2010


Wait until someone WAY more talented and reputed than you dies.

Collect any mud you can get on him. Don't hesitate to make shit up if the only person who could deny it is dead.

Publish "tell-all" biography.

PROFIT!!!
posted by Skeptic at 12:50 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's the problems with legends -- they are experts at telling people the convoluted fantasies they want to hear.

Ricky Jay demonstrates.
posted by Omon Ra at 1:13 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Stephen Glass was a much better writer than David Brooks, but one of them is unemployed while the other gets a regular NYT op-ed gig.

The stuff Brooks writes is so completely devoid of insight, wit, or original thought that nobody can read past the first graph of any give column; which makes fact-checking problematic. Brooks takes advantage of this by sticking anything that's complete horseshit closer to the bottom, where he knows nobody will ever see it. Clever, clever lad.

Glass, on the other hand: his stuff was not only interesting and well written; it was absolutely loopy. At his best, he wrote stuff that nobody except a blind circus geek living in a glass jar (or a New Republic editor) would ever have thought to take seriously. Young Republicans having fun. A church that worshiped Bush 41. Tigers dancing on the graves of the unshriven dead. I was a subscriber at the time, and I was very confused when TNR fired Glass for making stuff up; I assumed that he had been hired to write satire.
posted by steambadger at 1:25 PM on March 2, 2010


steambadger - I'm not talking about current Brooks, I'm talking about his Bobos in Paradise book. With lots of "facts" right out in the open, all fabricated.

I was a TNR subscriber at the time too, and I suppose it's just further proof how gullible I am (and why I'm pissed after discovering this FPP), but it never occurred to me that Glass was making stuff up. In retrospect, the one about investment firm that had an actual shrine to Alan Greenspan in a back room should have tipped me off.
posted by bonecrusher at 2:33 PM on March 2, 2010


this general criticism has been levied against Kapuscinski since at least 2007

2001, you mean; that Slate piece links to a brutal dissection in the Times Literary Supplement from almost a decade ago. I'd really liked The Emperor and was bitterly disappointed to learn just how questionable Kapuscinski's reporting was in that book.
posted by mediareport at 4:25 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


as long as you approach his books with appropriate skepticism about factuality, there shouldn't be a problem. (See: Hunter S. Thompson.)

I think everyone's view of the facts should be viewed with skepticism, not just Dr. Thompson's.
posted by jsavimbi at 7:29 PM on March 2, 2010


Colour me unsurprised.
posted by ruelle at 6:18 AM on March 3, 2010


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