Now, Gods, Stand Up for Fakers!

By Cockburn, Alexander | The Nation, June 9, 2003 | Go to article overview

Now, Gods, Stand Up for Fakers!


Cockburn, Alexander, The Nation


Thank God for fakers! Matchless as deflaters of human and institutional pretension, they furnish us rich measures of malicious glee at the red-faced victims. Pause here to honor Konrad Kujau, whose forged Hitler diaries burst upon the world twenty years ago, fooling the editors of Stern, and of Newsweek.

Kujau churned out the diaries in longhand in the back of his shop in Stuttgart, slopping tea over the pages to lend the requisite touch of antiquity, spurring his weary imagination to such daily entries as "Meet all the leaders of the Storm Troopers in Bavaria, give them medals.... Must not forget tickets for the Olympic Games for Eva.... Because of the new pills I have violent flatulence, and--says Eva--bad breath."

Kujau never did get his Gothic lettering right and used the initials F.H. instead of A.H. It didn't make any difference. Stern's experts pronounced them genuine and so, to his lifelong embarrassment, did the late Lord Dacre, a k a Hugh Trevor-Roper, who, as the designated expert hired by Rupert Murdoch's London Sunday Times, gave them his scholarly endorsement.

Faker du jour is Jayson Blair, the disgraced New York Times reporter. I give him an F for lack of ambition in the faker's arts. He exhibited the caution of the tyro: a faked quote here, an imagined description there, a paragraph or two of sedate plagiarism. In its heyday, half a century ago, Time magazine reinvented the world in a weird elliptical style. Blair's timid inventions are testimony to the banality of today's journalese, by which our own Gothic world is tamed in the interests of corporate capital on a daily basis.

Circumspectly ambitious as only a Times-man can be, Blair served just the sort of fare that would please his bosses, not least the Times's executive editor, Howell Raines. Blair's finest hour, fabricating background and unattributed quotes from cops and prosecutors amid the media maelstrom after the arrest of the Washington snipers, came, I hear, because Raines sent him down from New York, hoping that scoops from Blair would upstage the Times's Washington bureau and thus advance Raines's intrigue to replace its current chief with one of his own toadies. Blair obediently rose to the occasion.

How Blair must be chafing at the unfairness of it all! Why him? He makes up a few blind quotes from high-level FBI officials and prosecutors, and the skies fall in. He even has to endure the indignity of having William Safire, unindicted besmircher of a thousand reputations, pontificating about journalistic integrity. Where are the whole special supplements of the New York Times that would be required to apologize for its baseless insinuations against Wen Ho Lee (a Jeff Gerth special, written with James Risen and abetted by William Safire), or against the Clintons for their real estate dealings in Whitewater (another Jeff Gerth special)?

The Times went overboard with its four pages on Blair's deceptions, but the overkill, as no doubt publisher Arthur Sulzberger and Raines knew, has played to their paper's long-term advantage. …

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