Gay Talese disavows upcoming book

Paul Farhi at the Washington Post writes:

In his forthcoming book, “The Voyeur’s Motel,” acclaimed journalist and nonfiction author Gay Talese chronicles the bizarre story of Gerald Foos, who allegedly spied on guests at his Colorado motel from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s.

But Talese overlooked a key fact in his book: Foos sold the motel, located in Aurora, Colo., in 1980 and didn’t reacquire it until eight years later, according to local property records. His absence from the motel raises doubt about some of the things Foos told Talese he saw — enough that the author himself now has deep reservations about the truth of some material he presents.

Talese says he's "not going to promote this book" because "its credibility is down the toilet." The Voyeur's Hotel will be published on July 12th. Talese, of course, created quite a different little shitstorm around himself in April of this year when he couldn't name any female journalists he admired.

Maybe you should send some flowers or kind emails to Grove/Atlantic, the book's publisher, because they are certainly having a wickedly bad week in the PR department right now. Whenever something like this happens with a nonfiction book of reportage, people are always shocked to discover that publishers don't fact-check books. This is never going to change; fact-checking is such an expensive and time-consuming process that publishers would have to lay out a whole lot of cash that they don't have to launch fact-checking departments.

Perhaps the most shocking part of this particular story, though, is that the New Yorker ran a preview of the Talese book in April and either nothing in the excerpt mentioned Foos's voyeurism during the 1980s or their much-vaunted fact-checking department didn't discover any of the discrepencies uncovered by the Post. If it's the latter, that's a whole new scandal.

This is a story that's going to continue for the next few weeks, and it could cause a reevaluation of the entire New Journalism movement which Talese helped create. In another case of bad timing, Talese contemporary Tom Wolfe's new book, Kingdom of Speech, is coming out at the end of August, and it might get swept into this whole Talese conversation. We'll have more as it develops.