Journalist Irin Carmon responds to Trust Me I'm Lying book chapter about her work at Jezebel

Last week I interviewed Ryan Holiday, author of the book, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. The post included an excerpt from Holiday's book, which focused on his interactions (as director of marketing for American Apparel) with a journalist for Jezebel named Irin Carmon. Carmon (who is now at Salon) wrote an essay in response to the chapter in which she claims the chapter is full of inaccuracies.

Posting emails with speculative headlines was not my favorite part of working at Jezebel, nor was writing a half-dozen or so times a day. I agree with Holiday that neither are particularly conducive to journalistic enterprise. (That’s partly why, after two years, I moved on to Salon, with a different pace and editorial mission.) My favorite part about working at Jezebel was being part of a raucous, funny, feminist community on the Internet that also wasn’t afraid to call people out, even people we liked, when the occasion warranted it. I also learned how the sometimes raw tools of the Internet — emotion, immediacy, direct access to primary sources — could be used for good as well as gossip. They could mean the difference between well-meaning and unread and well-meaning and widely-discussed.

But in Holiday’s formulation, sexism or discrimination aren’t real, they’re just something he uses as a way to sell products. No one actually believes in what they write or the issues they’re writing about, because, Holiday claims, we are all motivated by a desire for attention or money. I’ll freely admit that like most writers, I prefer my work to be read and I like to be paid for my labor. But you know what reliably gets more traffic than articles about gender or, the beat I’ve been on for several years now, politics and reproductive rights? Cats and iPhones. You know who reliably makes way more money than journalists? PR people and authors of self-aggrandizing tell-alls.

Strangely, though Holiday’s criticism hinges on using me as the poster-child of bloggy disregard for reporting, the two other stories he cites are examples of old-fashioned newsgathering. It’s true that, in one of the cardinal benefits of Internet transparency, they came from a clearly-stated point of view, in this case a feminist one.

Take the story about women on the Daily Show. Holiday says this story was a “lie” because he doesn’t believe I contacted the show for comment, because he claims I relied solely on anonymous sources, and because the women working on the show issued an open letter disputing the piece. Let’s start at the top. “Did Carmon really send repeated requests for comment to The Daily Show?” he asks. “Who did she contact? Did she provide time for them to respond? Or is it much more likely that she gave the show a cursory heads-up minutes before publication?” The answers: Yes; the publicist I’d worked with on past stories; yes, a week; nope. (You can read the emails here). Ad hoc efforts to reach current staffers through unofficial channels were unsuccessful. In the end, the piece had interviews with five named sources — three former correspondents, one former executive producer, one former high-ranking writer — plus anonymous accounts from a show insider and a former correspondent who both asked not to be named because they feared alienating their powerful former employer. I also quoted a female comedian who had auditioned repeatedly for the show.

Did I ruin journalism? A new book says I'm everything wrong with the Internet -- but its author can't even get his facts straight


    1.  I don’t think it’s fair to call her thin skinned when he attacked her directly and she’s responding to those attacks.  When I read the original article, I was struck that he picked a feminist website and woman writer as his object of attack. One side effect of the democratising nature of the internet is that people get a louder voice than they would have otherwise, something he bemoans as a publicist. This has especially benefited women. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that he picked on a feminist blogger, especially since the internet was very quickly central to feminist discourse.

      Also, since a lot of the original article was whining that it was difficult for targets to respond to attacks, it does seem ironic that you’re calling her thin-skinned for doing so.

      1.  Why does this strike you?  Should he have not used her as an example, because she is a woman and/or because she wrote for a feminist blog?  It wasn’t the ideals of the movement that he was criticizing, but the methods and motivations of the author.

        1. I used her because she epitomized the kind of “outrage journalism” that blogs produce and because I had personally experienced it from her and could speak from that perspective. 

    2.  How dare she reply to a dude who called her out in a public forum by responding in a public forum!  I mean, what, she could have just let that dude claim whatever he wants, but…why let liars lie?

      1. And, in particular, how dare she reply directly on-topic, to the specific accusation, after he invited her to comment by emailing her a link himself?

        1. Madness, I tell you. On the flip side, just to play devil’s advocate, maybe these “internet girls” will be the death of people like…whatever this PR dude’s name is. Wouldn’t that be…actually, that’d be okay.

  1. “But in Holiday’s formulation, sexism or discrimination aren’t real, they’re just something he uses as a way to sell products. No one actually believes in what they write or the issues they’re writing about, because, Holiday claims, we are all motivated by a desire for attention or money.”

    I am shocked that a PR flack might start to project his own ethically flexible epistemology onto the world at large…

  2. so… this guy wrote about her supposedly not calling the subject of her journalism for a response to what she was about to publish without first calling her to get a response to what he was about to publish…?

    1. Isn’t it their job to generate traffic for ads?
      Without content, there would just be pages filled with ads.
      A writer who can consistently bring a decent number of page views may not get paid in money for that traffic but they do get paid in other ways: job security to some extent, being able to make a move to Salon to get away from Gawker…

      Speculative headlines appear to generate traffic and page views. Shocking news.

      1. If you want to look at things that way, the sole job of nearly everyone in journalism is also to generate traffic for ads. 

        We can choose just how focused we are on our own cynicism about the whole thing. However, we don’t really get to take abstract sneering over the economic generalities and use it to excuse naughty claims such as “her pay is determined by the number of pageviews her posts receive.” 

        1. Sure, but some people are more insulated from that need and thus create better, more honest work. At the end of the day every public CEO’s job is to boost the stock price–but the mark of a quality CEO is the horizon with which he judges that increase. Bloggers and blog publishers rarely recognize this fact and chase short term gains over long term aims. 

          1. Sure, but some people are more insulated from that need and thus create better, more honest work.

            I wonder which class of people you fall into…

  3. Lets be fair: her notice to TDS was as innocuous as possible and really just asked for an interview with someone on the show.  

    If anything this says something about the quality of the women she interviewed: people blaming their lack of success on their gender. Disgusting.

      1. I was under the impression that no discrimination had ever been shown or proven and that vast majority of Daily Show female workers (which comprise some 40% of the show’s staff) vehemently defended the show and called the accusations false.

        Wasn’t Holliday’s whole point that she intentionally misrepresented the story and the people making the claims to drive page views and generate outrage exactly like you’re displaying?

  4. Nearly very time I’m suckered into reading something because of a “speculative” headline at Jezebel, I end up reading the article using Elmyra Duff’s voice in my head because of the nonstop use of “ironic” juvenile language.

  5. The real problem with Ryan Holiday’s book is that if you read it carefully and read between the lines, it seems that the real purpose of the text is more about advertising himself than “warning” anyone about anything.

    At one stage in the book he complains that his old tactics bother him because, and I’m paraphrasing in the extreme, they now have the ability to hurt HIM and that there’s “no control”.

    In places, the book pretends that he has moved on from his old ways, but he constantly writes about himself doing these things in the present tense–he’s either guilty of sloppy writing or he’s dropping hints to people he knows can read between the lines that his services are still available.

    Or both.

    The title of the book tells you all you need to know on that front–he says at the end that part of the reason for his tell-all is to do a “controlled burn” of his former plays and scams, but one gets the idea that he’s moved on to more complex plays and scams–like writing a tell-all book about tactics that no longer work or are no longer needed–as though they are still relevant. He’s smirking all the way to the bank, in my view.

  6. Wait.  So you’re telling me that not all of the information in Trust Me, I’m Lying is 100% truthful?

  7. It’s good to see Boing Boing giving space for Irin Carmon’s response. That excerpt seemed really out of place for Boing Boing and stood in contrast to the much more civil and informative interview.

  8. I don’t have a horse in this thing, and don’t know much about it.  I read the blurb on the original story and was intrigued enough to consider the book.  I hope the overall message–the mad rush for page views and to scoop everyone else trumping everything else, including truth–doesn’t get lost.

    As in most things, I’m sure the truth lies somewhere between what Carmon and Holiday have said.

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