I should not have believed a word he said
July 1, 2016 9:58 PM   Subscribe

Remember how Gay Talese was writing a non-fiction book about Gerald Foos and his voyeurism? Well, not so fast on the non-fiction part. Talese will no longer promote the book, and blames Foos, calling him a dishonourable man.
posted by jacquilynne (47 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'll just leave this recipe for Schadenfreude Pie by jscalzi here, then. Somehow, it seems vaguely relevant.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 10:00 PM on July 1, 2016 [12 favorites]




Well, he's certainly a man of his convictions, isn't he?
posted by jacquilynne at 10:03 PM on July 1, 2016 [10 favorites]


A lot of people stand to benefit from him just putting on that natty outfit and trotting the unlikely hokum that is this story around the country. The initial disavowal when the reporter called, instead of a self protective "no comment," suggests Talese is not operating at full power (he's 84, after all) and can be cut some slack.

But it really is disappointing that neither The New Yorker nor Grove Press asked the obvious questions about veracity, especially with the murder witness claim.
posted by Scram at 10:16 PM on July 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


In conclusion, Gay Talese is a land of contradictions.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:16 PM on July 1, 2016 [14 favorites]


Maybe Talese should consider retirement? Something as straightforward as checking to make sure that the subject of the book actually had ownership and control of the property where all the action takes place should have been an obvious and easy step to take.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:25 PM on July 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


Clearly someone's reputation is going to end up in a million little prices.
posted by Artw at 10:41 PM on July 1, 2016 [18 favorites]


Maybe Talese should consider retirement?

I think he should consider opening a menswear shop with Leonard Cohen.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 10:49 PM on July 1, 2016 [30 favorites]


Eh, maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm pretty sympathetic to Talese here. He clearly had several reservations about Foos based on the timeline of how the story developed. And every editor/publisher I've heard talk seems to talk about how its their responsibility to help fact check and serve as quality control... I imagine it's also an editors responsibility to maybe give extra attention to a story involving a reporter who has moved from height of career to twilight ages over the past four and a half decades. Especially a story the author is pretty upfront on not entirely trusting.

Also, you can interpret Talese's retraction of his reaction as "octogenarian who is losing his judgement"... But there could also be an element of "author who's developed deep misgivings about promoting his book being reminded by Grove publishing that he signed a binding contract that says he will promote his book."
posted by midmarch snowman at 10:51 PM on July 1, 2016 [33 favorites]


Maybe should have taken a Jon Ronsin approach and talked to *lots* of unreliable weirdos.
posted by Artw at 10:55 PM on July 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


So, wait, do people have sex in hotels or not? Please answer quickly, time-sensitive situation over here.
posted by No-sword at 10:57 PM on July 1, 2016 [26 favorites]


If nobody is watching, what's the point?
posted by Artw at 11:01 PM on July 1, 2016 [10 favorites]


So it that a re-avowal?
posted by gottabefunky at 11:05 PM on July 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't know much about writing, but surely it would have been prudent to do a bunch of fact-checking up front, so he didn't end up hinging an important piece of the plot on something that turned out to be false.
posted by mantecol at 11:10 PM on July 1, 2016


It's just unbelievably negligent of him not to have hired a fact checker to watch his source closely through spyholes in the ceiling.
posted by No-sword at 11:16 PM on July 1, 2016 [35 favorites]


Awful lot about male writers behaving badly on the Blue lately.

and the dude-bro novelist
they never will be missed

posted by gusandrews at 11:48 PM on July 1, 2016 [12 favorites]


Never mind Foos, did anyone have a crawlspace in Conservative Party HQ?
posted by zompist at 12:39 AM on July 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


I heard about half a segment about this on the radio yesterday afternoon coming home from work and wondered if it would show back up here. It seems like there's this huge wave of sentiment that the entire thing must have been made up and the whole story is a fraud, and yet reading the links, there's no dispute that Foos owned the hotel from 1969 - 1980 and from 1988 - 1995. There's also no dispute that the peeping crawlspace actually existed because Talese went up in it at some point and the next owner of the hotel acknowledged it was there. In the original article it was mentioned how he said he'd started in the 60s before records showed that he owned the place, so we were already introduced to the notion that Foos may have been something of an unreliable narrator and there was no way to verify most of his claims. The sense I got when reading the original piece posted here was that maybe he observed and meticulously recorded all these things or maybe he wrote down his fantasies about these things, but the main thrust of the book (that the skeevy motel owner spied on his guests for a couple of decades) still stands.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 2:41 AM on July 2, 2016 [7 favorites]


Anyone else getting the feeling that this whole dis/avowal thing was a publicity stunt?
posted by mochapickle at 3:28 AM on July 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


If a couple fall into bed in a hotel, and there's no one there to watch it, does that make a sound piece of journalism?

No.
posted by Ned G at 3:55 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


A peeping Tom who set up a hotel to indulge his nonconsensual fetish, "dishonourable"? You don't say.
posted by gingerest at 4:32 AM on July 2, 2016 [19 favorites]


In the New Yorker article he mentions his frustration not being able to verify the murder. There's definitely allusion to an unreliable narrator. But so much really did seem to be true, it's disappointing he missed this key inconsistency. It seems to me the whole story is actually enhanced by these inconsistencies. People would talk about it for years. Did he or didn't he? I think he did, but it's so shocking to believe and he *did* lie about some stuff, maybe he didn't?

It's almost like Foos deliberately set himself up for plausible deniability if anything came of it legally -- and it's probably working. And the story's just too good to not write about, even if (though?) Talese knew it was unreliable.

I think it's possible we are all being played (by Talese? By Foos?) and it's brilliant. Yes, Talese may have disavowed his disavowal because the publisher turned the screws on him, but it's also added publicity and may be part of the plan. Whichever, I am more likely to buy the book now and I'm sure the Spielberg movie will do really well.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 4:37 AM on July 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


One thing that does seem well corroborated by multiple witnesses is that Foos did in fact outfit the attic to spy on his guests and did so frequently for some period of time. What is in doubt are the specific events Foos claims to have witnessed, particularly the murder. I would suspect that Foos ginned up the "journal" to give his story a bit of extra gravitas, and it probably contains a mix of honest observations and exaggerations crafted to make the story more interesting.

Foos must be kicking himself that modern spy cameras didn't exist when he was conducting his project.
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:06 AM on July 2, 2016


I also want to second Slarty Bartfast's suggestion that the discrepancies might be deliberate in order to provide plausible deniability, since Foos committed a hell of a lot of actual crimes, as well as being a total asshole, if any of this is true.

What may have happened here is that Foos (and everybody except Talese) realized the hook for this story is the general tale of what Foos did, how he got away with it scot free, and that the whole thing puts ice water in your veins if you ever stayed in a little hole in the wall motel. But the hook for Talese was the "research" and what Foos "learned about human behavior." To hook Talese Foos needed something that looked more solid than a series of oral anecdata, so he took his memories and stitched them together with a little embellishment into something that looked more solid. And of course Talese fell for it hook, line, and sinker.
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:37 AM on July 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


[Foos] said he never mentioned any of these property transactions to Talese while he was researching the book because “I didn’t think it would be interesting to people to see two voyeurs fighting over the same turf.”

Uh huh.
posted by Shmuel510 at 6:27 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


A peeping Tom who set up a hotel to indulge his nonconsensual fetish, "dishonourable"? You don't say.

posted by gingerest


Came here to say this, found it already said better than I could have.
posted by nevercalm at 6:52 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


A peeping Tom who set up a hotel to indulge his nonconsensual fetish, "dishonourable"?

No, no, that part was honourable. It's only when Talese got fooled because some of the wank diary journals may have been fabricated that the guy becomes dishonourable.

Talese creeped up in the attic in 1980 and spied on people having sex. He wrote all about it. The creepy part of this story was verified by Talese personally and gleefully, even if some of the details aren't.
posted by Nelson at 7:22 AM on July 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't understand why anyone would read this book, even if it were all true. The whole thing just makes Talese seem gross and pathetic.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:34 AM on July 2, 2016 [6 favorites]


Foos must be kicking himself that modern spy cameras didn't exist when he was conducting his project.

I'm kicking myself that anyone is giving this sex offender legitimacy and that Gay Talese will use that legitimacy and the dollars it will gin up to pay for more caviar baths in his fancy New York apartment or whatever.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:52 AM on July 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yeah, agreed with Bringer Tom that the "research" seemed to be the hook-- like, "peeping tom hotel owner" is creepy and unpleasant, but peeping tom hotel owner who can definitively say that we are all banal, thoughtlessly evil people on vacation because he's watched hundreds of couples do horrible venal things over decades-- that guy is a Guy Talese book.
posted by peppercorn at 8:33 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


new journalism plays the line btwen fact and fiction and has for decades, we can just assume that new journalists are making up shit, for the sake of a larger story, this is the logical end of that consquence
posted by PinkMoose at 8:50 AM on July 2, 2016


This happens with disturbing frequency: charming grifter spins a nonsensical over-the-top yarn and gullible author and/or journalist reports it as fact. Chroniclers are looking for the outré story to grab attention, and won't let the facts get in the way of a stupid story.

This dynamic has three peculiar consequences:

1. Those who see the logical flaws and express their Skepticism are not seen as heroes of truth, but jealous villains who are spooling everyone's fun indulging in a toxic delusion.

2. The lie is more exciting than truth; so those who have real stories of good or bad are ignored or disbelieved because the truth loses out in the bargain to the dressed up lie. The hoaxer works on getting attention, and hence, has the advantage because the one telling the truth thinks the facts speak for themselves.

3. Lies become our collective gold standard, and people become less savvy, mistaking lies as truths and become more vulnerable to misinformation and lies.

It is very troubling when lies get plaudits and attention and it is not harmless.

I was a journalist who wrote a book to combat this sort of manipulations because of the frequency it happens. I hadn't shortage of case studies and was frustrated that cons Luke be believed over the square shooters.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:54 AM on July 2, 2016 [9 favorites]


I think we're all forgetting what's really important here. Did that guy ever sell his baseball card collection?

I've been on tenterhooks.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:07 AM on July 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just wanted to pick one important nit. The argument against Talese is that Foose sold the motel and then bought it back. However, there is no evidence that Foose moved out of the motel during that period. It's quite possible that he sold the motel but continued to live there, manage the motel for a new owner, and continue his "research." That's not even, necessarily, unlikely and would be very easy to verify.
posted by charlesminus at 9:36 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


Covered in the article, charlesminus:
Talese said it was his understanding that Foos and his family lived in the motel even after he sold it “to a Korean family” (in fact, the initial buyer, the Ballards, are not Korean), and after it was sold a second time to LeFebre. “He lived in the goddamn place,” Talese said at one point.

In fact, he did not, according to both Ballard and Foos. Still, Foos said in an interview that he had access to the annex, which he called his “sexual researcher’s station,” during the three years the Ballards owned the place.
A bigger issue is that there's no evidence at all that the murder he claims to have witnessed ever took place. Talese claims it was a police clerical error, but that seems kind of unlikely to me.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:40 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


describing gay talese as new journalism seems a stretch...
posted by nadawi at 9:57 AM on July 2, 2016


This happens with disturbing frequency: charming grifter spins a nonsensical over-the-top yarn and gullible author and/or journalist reports it as fact

That's not what happened in Talese's case. The grifter Foos appears to have mostly been doing his creepy sex voyeurism, it's not nonsensical nor over the top. And the author and/or journalist presonally went along for one escapade. "Finally, I saw a naked couple spread out on the bed below, engaged in oral sex." The factual doubt that's been raised now is how many years Foos was doing this and exactly what property he owned when. The basic fact of criminal voyeurism aren't in question.

I think what's really going on is Talese is ashamed of his book and annoyed that someone bothered to fact check him.
posted by Nelson at 10:05 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]



describing gay talese as new journalism seems a stretch...


he is widely praised as its first innovator. New Journalism, the nonfiction genre, not new (recent) journalism.
posted by listen, lady at 10:51 AM on July 2, 2016 [13 favorites]


it really is disappointing that neither The New Yorker nor Grove Press asked the obvious questions about veracity,

but in no way surprising. i suspect no one has fact-checked talese for decades. no, not even at the new yorker.
posted by listen, lady at 10:56 AM on July 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


but in no way surprising. i suspect no one has fact-checked talese for decades. no, not even at the new yorker.

Nobody is fact-checking books. When I signed my contract to write non-fiction, it contained a clause stating that I was responsible for fact-checking, and that I vowed to the best of my knowledge that everything in my book was true. My editor was concerned with having a good balance of stories and making sure those stories were well-told, my copyeditor was concerned with my grammar (though she did double-check my dates.) The publisher's lawyers took a look at one entry to make sure that a trademark hadn't been infringed. But the veracity of my statements about historical people? Nobody checked that but me.

I totally agree with midmarch snowman regarding the re-avowal. The publisher plainly reminded Talese that his contract impels him to cooperate with publicity efforts. All told, this is a fascinating clusterfuck. I wonder if the book will ultimately be pulled.
posted by headspace at 11:15 AM on July 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


Nobody is fact-checking books.

which is why i was talking about the new yorker's vetting process.
posted by listen, lady at 11:26 AM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


ah forgive me, i thought you were using the term in the newer snarky way
posted by nadawi at 11:27 AM on July 2, 2016


That article is just a steady stream of WTF? and gross characters.

When they include the quotes from the guy that bought the motel from him and he's like "He's a complete pervert ... sure I went up into the vents with him to watch people a bunch of times! ..... but I shut that stuff down when I took over..." it's a little hard to believe him.

Oh and then out of left field they hit you with some false claim that he lived in the same apartment as the Aurora shooter.
posted by mannequito at 11:33 AM on July 2, 2016


I don't understand why anyone would read this book, even if it were all true. The whole thing just makes Talese seem gross and pathetic.

That's exactly why many people will want to read it!
posted by chavenet at 3:20 PM on July 2, 2016


The grifter Foos appears to have mostly been doing his creepy sex voyeurism, it's not nonsensical nor over the top. And the author and/or journalist presonally went along for one escapade.

It is both. The author is not interested in people looking after their sick parents, people struggling to pay their bills, or anything in the world of the mundane. He is recounting a yarn with the narrative of a man who claims to have too much free time on his hands and has no idea how to comport himself in a democracy.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 3:23 PM on July 2, 2016


And now people are paying attention to the book again, so Talese wins.

I have never paid much attention to him but this latest kerfuffle did make people mention when he became a hashtag on Twitter for unfortunate remarks about women writers, which I totally missed, so that's interesting.
posted by emjaybee at 5:06 PM on July 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


Credulous liar caught, blames other liar.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:17 AM on July 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


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