Thursday, January 19, 2006

Fooled Me Once

People are still nattering away about James Frey’s book and what a terrible human being he is for lying, that he’s just a rich, drunk, frat boy etc. Ok. Let’s get past that. He ain’t the first. He ain’t the last. And folks are just pissed that they got taken. Hey, “fooled me once, shame on you. Fooled me twice…”

I found a great article in the New York Times Magazine (Jan 8, 2006) by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt entitled “Hoodwinked?”. The tagline reads: “Does it matter if an activist who exposes the inner workings of the Ku Klux Klan isn’t open about how he got those secrets?”

Dubner and Levitt included in their book, Freakonomics, a chapter about the men in white. This is their lead to the magazine piece that centred on 1940s American activist Stetson Kennedy who is best known for taking on the Klan and wrote a book about it called The Klan Unmasked (originally published in 1954 as I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan). Kennedy described how he infiltrated the organization and helped bring it down a notch or ten. He dutifully archived his notes, letters, and reports.

In 1992 Ben Green began writing a book about a black civil rights advocate and collaborated with Kennedy. Turns out the man who unmasked the KKK didn’t lift the hood alone. He had help. Ok, fine. Except in the book Kennedy claimed to have done a lot of things and spoke to a lot people that he himself didn’t really do at all. This came to light with the publication of Green’s book when The Klan Unmasked was footnoted as a “novelization.”

But it was all for a good cause. Right?

Canadian author Farley Mowat has long been an advocate for the North and the First Nations people who live there. And he has “never the facts get in the way of the truth.” This has brought him as much criticism as adoration. But since it’s all for the right reasons, does it matter?

I ask this because Kennedy and Mowat appear to be forgivable. Their respective foes were reprehensible and genocidal. But rather than fuel the battle with zealotry, I believe one must arm oneself with facts.

But what can you believe? Former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair blew his and the paper’s credibility by stealing articles and inventing quotes. Is he just the one that got caught?

History is mainly written by the winners. We only know what we do about Britannia, for instance, because the invading Romans were literate. Interesting that the culture that introduced coinage to that island didn’t recognize that said coin had two sides.

And so here we are in January 2006. George Bush lied to his country and sent young soldiers on a deadly wild goose chase. And Canada goes to the polls after a winter of discontent and rhetoric.

Frey pales in comparison.

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