MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2022
The author Taddeo's lies: Can you believe the various things you read in our greatest newspapers?
Also, can you believe the various things you're told by our most trusted journalists and academics?
It's natural to assume that the answer must be yes. But can you safely believe the various things you're told by our leading lights?
Can you believe the things you're told? Not necessary, no! Consider one part of the way Lisa Taddeo's book was reviewed back in 2019.
Full disclosure! We're not sure we'd heard of Taddeo until yesterday morning. Yesterday morning, Taddeo's very strange guest essay appeared in the Sunday Review of the New York Times.
To their credit, many early commenters noted the fact that the essay was very strange. As a general matter, commenters who defended the essay tended to say that Taddeo must have been joking around.
We regard the fact that this essay appeared in the Sunday Times as a "teachable moment"—a teachable moment concerning the intellectual caliber of our floundering nation's most famous newspaper. This week, we hope to explore the intellectual horizons of our liberal tribe writ large.
For ourselves, we've now learned that Taddeo published a substantial best-seller, titled Three Women, back in 2019. The book received a decidedly mixed review in the Times. Parul Seghal started like this:
SEHGAL (6/28/19): Each of us possesses three lives, Gabriel García Márquez told his biographer Gerald Martin: a public life, a private life and a secret life.
Imagine a biography that only charted the secret life. The journalist Lisa Taddeo has produced something of the sort in “Three Women,” a vexed, nearly decade-long investigation into the sex lives and desires of three American women...
Taddeo spent “thousands of hours” with the women, crisscrossing the country six times, moving to their towns for years on end. She even tailed Lina on assignations with her married lover: “After they left, I would go to exactly where they’d been to take in the scenery and the smells and the sounds.”
“Three Women” arrives on gusts of fulsome blurbs and comparisons, by its publisher, to the works of J. Anthony Lukas, Katherine Boo and Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, giants of narrative journalism. It’s a pity. To unfairly and unnecessarily elevate this book gives it so far to fall...
Sehgal's review was decidedly mixed. We aren't saying Sehgal was right or wrong in her overall view of the book. We will make one small observation:
We don't know how Sehgal could have been so confident about the amount of research, and about the types of research, in which Taddeo engaged in the course of composing her book. But for our purposes today, we only note the way the publisher was bruiting the book around.
According to Sehgal, the publisher was comparing Taddeo's book to well-known works by three "giants of narrative journalism"—Lucas, Boo and LeBlanc.
The publisher had every right to say such things, of course. But one month later, the Washington Post's rave review of Taddeo's book included the highlighted passage—and yes, you're allowed to laugh:
FLOCK (7/26/19): To find these three women, Taddeo drove across the United States six times, posted fliers in diners, casinos and coffee shops, and even started a discussion group at the Kinsey Institute, which researches human sexuality and relationships. In some cases, she moved to the women’s towns to interview them over long periods of time. To write this kind of nonfiction—it’s true, but reads like a novel—Taddeo smartly employs not only interviews but also diary entries, legal documents, letters, emails and text messages. The result is a book as exhaustively reported and as elegantly written as Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” or Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s “Random Family.”
We don't know how Elizabeth Flock could have felt so sure that the book, which "reads like a novel," could also be said to be "true." Also, we don't know how Flock could have felt so sure about the extent of Taddeo's research methods.
Let's ignore such nagging points—the niggling question of truth. Instead, let's notice this:
Right there in the Post's review was the comparison the Times review had cited one month before! According to the Post's review, Taddeo's book was "as exhaustively reported and as elegantly written as" those books by Boo and LeBlanc!
One month before, the publisher had been shipping that claim around. Now, the claim appeared in the Post review, presented as the independent judgment of the reviewer herself.
Who knows? It may be that the Post reviewer agreed with the publisher's claim. It could even be that the reviewer included the source of that comparison and some editor took the citation out.
That said, we emitted mordant chuckles when we stumbled upon that bit of text. "Our journalism often works this way," we brusquely told our youthful analysts as they screamed and tore at their hair.
Concerning Taddeo's essay in yesterday's Times, it struck us as borderline nuts. We really began to edge slowly away from the Times when Taddeo, in best Valentine's Day fashion, began describing the various ways she gets her husband to exercise the type of "love language" she prefers:
TADDEO (2/13/22): Say I want to convince Jackson that it’s not safe for our daughter to ride the ski lift by herself. I somehow cannot bring myself to say, “I’m scared, and I don’t want her to go on the lift alone, even though you ski with her often and it is your observed and considered opinion that she is ready.” I understand my fears are not rational, and I know he doesn’t go in for irrationality.
So instead I make up evidence because he respects studies and publications. I often say, “Oh, well yes, they published a study in The Times.” In this case I say there was a study I read, in The Times, about the psychological effects on children ages 5 to 8 of riding ski lifts alone. “They found,” I say, “that it has caused feelings of …”
And here I pause, not dramatically but not casually either, and wait for him to look up—his ears, his eyes, everything ready and willing and open.
“Abandonment,” I whisper. That’s one of his buzzwords.
I add caveats so that it doesn’t look as if I’m lying. “But,” I say, “this was back in 2009, which means of course and naturally things must have changed. Maybe now there are no effects. Like, you know, because of the pandemic.”
But that nonexistent 2009 article will stick in his head. He won’t let her go up alone. I will be happy because I will have gotten my way. I will feel safe.
I am aware that I want to be able to just say, Don’t put her on the lift alone because it scares me. I am aware that I want to be married to my mother. I am aware I am not always or even often in the right. But I am aware that I do not care.
I think this is a feminist perspective?
As Taddeo lies to her husband (her admission), she "adds caveats" so it won't look like she is lying. In this manner, she gets her way.
She adds the thought that this may be a feminist perspective. And yes—in context, this is all about Taddeo's search for the type of "love language" she says she prefers. Happy Valentine's Day!
The nuttiness of Taddeo's essay certainly doesn't end there. As we noted, commenters who defended the essay generally said that they assumed that Taddeo was joking around.
We see no particular sign of that in the lengthy piece. We regard the fact that this essay appeared in the Sunday Times as a teachable moment about the intellectual horizons of our deeply flawed liberal tribe.
Within our liberal tribe, we tend to be very sure of our intellectual superiority to The Others. At present, The Others often seem to be baldly insane—but truthfully, we aren't gigantically better here within our own self-impressed tribe.
How dumb can it get within our tribe? It can get extremely dumb. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our basic skills are extremely limited, and our ranking journalists and academics are extremely fallible.
At certain times, they may even seem to be less than obsessively honest, though such matters are hard to assess.
We plan to offer examples all week, but we'll focus on one recent point of widespread tribal agreement. It involves an "adventure in paraphrase," one in which our tribe's highly fallible leaders have generally agreed to take part.
We tip our cap to Gardner McKay's TV series, Adventures in Paradise (1959-1962). McKay, who was a serious sculptor and playwright, walked away from such Hollywood dreck at a rather early age.
Several stars took similar routes during that general period. When will we liberals walk away from the highly fallible establishment stars we're trained to mimic and trust?
Tomorrow: Judy Woodruff's adventure in paraphrase