Kirn gives as good as he got: A fascinating book review appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post.
The book in question concerns the way a journalist got conned by a con man. The journalist is question is Walter Kirn. In his new book, he refers to himself as a dupe.
Kirn was conned by someone he believed to be a member of the Rockefeller clan. In fact, Kirn’s friend was a long-time Bavarian con man who ended up getting tried and convicted of murder last year in New York.
(The murder occurred in 1985.)
Kirn had known the impostor for fifteen years. In his review, Heller McAlpin raises an apparently excellent point:
MCALPIN (3/2/14): [Kirn’s] improbable friendship began in 1998 when, restless between books and awaiting the birth of his first child, he agreed to transport a crippled dog from his home in Montana to her new adoptive owner in Manhattan, an apparently wealthy stranger named Clark Rockefeller. From the start, the man raises red flags with his claims of having attended Yale at 14, being a “freelance central banker” (whatever that is) and owning a private plane that, alas, was unavailable to transport the dog. Readers might find it odd that despite Clark’s dodgy assertions, Kirn, a veteran reporter, never double-checks any of them, even after Google searches make it so easy.McAlpin is surprised that Kirn, an experienced journalist, didn’t check any facts. By way of contrast, our experience since 1998 has taught us that the nation’s experienced journalists never check any facts.
Admit it! We’ve been right almost all the darn time! You’ll rarely go wrong if you bet on the claim that they won’t check any facts!
In some ways, McAlpin fulfills our unflattering portrait. Just like that, he is accepting Kirn’s claims and assertions, a service Kirn once provided to the faux Rockefeller:
MCALPIN (continuing directly): The explanation for this lapse lies in part in Kirn’s yearning to belong, which he also wrote about in “Lost in the Meritocracy,” his 2009 book about feeling like an outsider at Princeton. The word “con” derives from “confidence scam”—a swindle achieved by winning a person’s confidence under false pretenses. Clearly, someone with shaky self-confidence makes an easier mark.It certainly makes a good story! It might also make a good career move. According to McAlpin, Kirn’s book is being “touted as a 21st-century In Cold Blood.”
Kirn writes: “I recalled meeting a few people like him in college at Princeton—pedigreed, boastful, overschooled eccentrics who spoke like cousins of Katharine Hepburn—but I’d been raised in rural Minnesota, deep in manure-scented dairy country, and I’d never succeeded in getting close to them. Their clubs wouldn’t have me, I didn’t play their sports.” He goes further, spelling out his susceptibility with brutal honesty: Clark was “a man I believed to be a Rockefeller largely because I hoped to be the friend of one.” If Gerhartsreiter had taken a less potent, freighted alias, would Kirn have bitten the bait? But “a Rockefeller...pouring out his troubles to a mere Kirn”—irresistible.
We see a certain irony here. Just like that, McAlpin is accepting and restating Kirn’s account of what happened. By his second paragraph, he’s even vouching for Kirn’s “brutal honesty.”
How are we supposed to know that Kirn is being honest at all? Isn’t it possible that Kirn has made McAlpin a dupe?
In the modern press corps, very few facts will ever get checked. Depending on the power relations, explanations may be accepted without, to borrow the old Hitchcock phrase, a shadow of a doubt.
Greatest tales of the Oscars: In Shadow of a Doubt (1943), young Teresa Wright discovers that her visiting uncle, Joseph Cotten, is guilty of murder back in New York.
It was Wright's fourth film, the first for which she didn’t receive an Oscar nomination. A few years later, she gave the studios some lip, and her career declined.