Sunday, December 28, 2008

Oprah falls for another hoax

She's a sucker for too-good-to-be-true stories:
On Saturday, Berkley Books canceled [Herman] Rosenblat's memoir, "Angel at the Fence." Rosenblat acknowledged that he and his wife did not meet, as they had said for years, at a sub-camp of Buchenwald, where she allegedly sneaked him apples and bread. The book was supposed to come out in February. . . .
Rosenblat's believers included not only his agent and his publisher, but Oprah Winfrey, film producers, journalists, family members and strangers who ignored, or didn't know about, the warnings from scholars that his story didn't make sense. . . .
Winfrey fell, as she did with James Frey, for a narrative of suffering and redemption better suited for television than for history.
More background from the New Republic:
Professor Kenneth Waltzer, the director of the Jewish Studies program at Michigan State University, first began to doubt the truthfulness of Herman's tale a couple of years ago. . . . Waltzer's main critique is that the book's central premise--that Roma threw Herman apples over the fence outside the Schlieben camp in the winter of 1945--is an impossibility. . . . Waltzer concluded from studying maps of Schlieben that it was impossible for either a prisoner or civilian to approach the fence; the only spot where one could access the perimeter at all was right next to the SS barracks.
I wonder if this makes anyone rethink the significance of Oprah's support for Obama.

UPDATE: Note how the guy who bought the movie rights to Rosenblat's hoax scapegoats the Holocaust historian who pointed out the factual problems with the story:
"Deborah Lipstadt has never read the book. . . . She has never spoken to Herman Rosenblat. I find that to be pretty disgusting."
Right. You paid good money for bogus a story, and instead of blaming the con man who hustled you, you instead attack the person who is exposing the fraud perpetrated against you.

This is a fundamental problems with the Oprahfication of culture. There are a lot of people who love a great story more than they love the truth. And so when you tell someone like that a too-good-to-be-true story as memoir or history, the aesthetic of the story gives it a certain credibility in their mind. People like that are cursed with a defective bullshit detector, and can't seem to comprehend that the very perfection of the story as a story argues against its veracity.

From such beautiful fictions are myths made. Much of the popular myth of "McCarthyism" -- the idea that efforts to prevent and expose Soviet subversion during the Cold War was a paranoid "witch hunt" -- is based on bogus anecdotes with no more historical credibility than Rosenblat's fiction. But because the alleged heroism of Edward R. Murrow or the alleged victimhood of the "Hollywood 10" makes such a great story, the ugly truth can't get a fair hearing.


  1. Oprah hasn't listened to Minge and Gary in years..

    maybe she should.. help sniff out some of those phonies..

    (South Park reference, just so you would know)

  2. There are a lot of people who love a great story more than they love the truth.

    Religion in a nutshell. Oprah just prefers hers without gods or demons.