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Arts & Life

Credibility Concerns Overshadow Release Of Gay Talese's New Book

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Acclaimed journalist and writer Gay Talese disavowed his new book this week. Then in a statement today from his publisher, he disavowed his disavowal, saying he had said some things he didn't mean when he talked to a Washington Post reporter.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

That reporter told Talese that some of the details in his book didn't check out. "The Voyeur's Motel" is about a man named Gerald Foos, a self-proclaimed sex researcher who bought a motel in Aurora, Colo., cut out holes in the ceilings of a bunch of rooms and spied on his guests from above. This allegedly happened from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s.

MCEVERS: The red flags for The Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi came after he read an excerpt of the book in The New Yorker magazine in April. Farhi says the first problem was that the excerpt was based solely on one person's version of what happened.

PAUL FARHI: As a journalist that's always a problematic thing because you can't always corroborate an individual's story. You have to take their word for it...

MCEVERS: If your mother tells you she loves, you check it out, yeah.

FARHI: That's exactly the idea. And one man in this case was a criminal, a voyeur, who was spying on people. The second thing was the excerpt in The New Yorker describes a murder that happened at the motel in 1977.

MCEVERS: Right, it's a murder that the voyeur says he witnessed as he was watching people in a hotel room, right?

FARHI: That's correct. And there's no evidence that that actually occurred.

MCEVERS: What else did you find was inconsistent about the story?

FARHI: Well, I had to wait a few weeks after The New Yorker excerpt to get the manuscript. And within that manuscript

FARHI: there are several curious things. One is the claim by Gerald Foos that his son occupied the same apartment as James Holmes, who turned out to be the shooter in the Aurora movie theater massacre in 2012. I checked into that. That's not so. That didn't happen. I further got information from the Aurora Homicide Department, which indicated that Gerald Foos wasn't even the owner of the hotel - the motel - during the '80s.

MCEVERS: How did Gay Talese first find out about these inconsistencies?

FARHI: He found out about them because I called him up and I asked him about it. And at first he was shocked by the fact that he had overlooked these things. At first he denied that they were in any way important, and in subsequent phone calls, he came around to the realization that he had been blindsided by his one source, Gerald Foos.

I feel bad for him, frankly. He was nearly in tears yesterday because he was so distraught over the whole thing that I was telling him - and he knows, you know, he said you're going to smear my book. And I said well, I don't want to use the word smear. I said, is there anything inaccurate about what I'm telling you? Is there anything untrue? And he said no, I can't say that. You're being a good reporter. You're doing the things that reporters are supposed to do, which is to check the facts. And he said, I didn't do that in this case.

MCEVERS: But now, as we said in the beginning, the publisher says that Talese does not disavow the book, that he will promote this book. Does that surprise you?

FARHI: Yes, it does because yesterday Talese was increasingly upset about what I was telling him and what he was accepting to be true. All I can say is, I certainly stand by what he told me yesterday. And I think he's had a night to sleep on it and reconsider.

MCEVERS: What has this been like for you? I mean, this guy is a hero of journalism. We all study him in journalism school. You must have admired him yourself.

FARHI: I grew up as a journalist admiring Gay Talese. He's a legend to reporters. Last night, in fact, I read "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold..."

MCEVERS: Oh wow.

FARHI: ...Which is his famous...

MCEVERS: Yeah.

FARHI: ...Magazine profile in the 1960s. And it's magnificent, and it's why I and many journalists admired Gay Talese so much. But I have to say, I don't think this book is up to the same standard as that and many of the other great pieces that Gay Talese has written.

MCEVERS: Well, Paul Farhi of The Washington Post, thank you very much.

FARHI: Thank you, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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