Gay Talese Backtracks from Denouncing His Own Book

Days after denouncing his upcoming book The Voyeur’s Motel, Gay Talese says that he stands by his work

The April 11th issue of the New Yorker held a long exerpt from Gay Talese’s forthcoming book The Voyeur’s Motel. The book chronicles Gerald Foos, the titular voyeur who spent decades watching the guests of his Colorado motel have sex through a special viewing platform he built in the ceiling. Foos recorded his findings (number of orgasms by gender, race of couples, etc.) and presented it to Talese as a sort of cultural study. In a particularly film-ready twist*, Foos claims to have witnessed a murder in his motel in the 1970s, when a drug dealer strangled his girlfriend.

*In fact Steven Spielberg has already bought the movie rights to the book.

The piece immediately evoked questions about its journlastic ethics, but it wasn’t until the Washington Post fact-checked the article that Talese found himself in truely hot water. The Post discovered that Foos lied about various events, most notably the fact that he didn’t own the hotel for a period of eight years in the 1980s. Faced with the inaccuracies, Talese recounted his book on Thursday, saying, “I should not have believed a word [Foos] said. I’m not going to promote this book. How dare I promote it when its credibility is down the toilet?”

Days later, Talese changed his tune. The journalist claims that he stands by the story as he told it in the book, which is to be published on July 12 by Grove Press. He released a statement saying, “Let me be clear, I am not disavowing the book, and neither is my publisher. If, down the line, there are details to correct in later editions, we’ll do that.”

It may not be a surprise that this isn’t ending well (as the Post dryly noted, “So the guy who made elaborate amendments to his Colorado motel in order to spy on the sexual activities of his paid guests turns out to be very, very unreliable”) but The Voyeur’s Motel is furthering the already rife debate on the problems with new journalism, and more specifically new journalism’s fact-checking problem. The Daily Beast said, “At first defiantly defensive, then abjectly apologetic, and then pitifully self-flagellating, Talese made a variety of clashing statements to Farhi between Wednesday and Thursday, as though the the author was transitioning through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s “Five Stages of Grief.” The Huffington Post noted, “There’s something very A Million Little Pieces about the sequence of events that has unfolded.”

Twitter, already on Talese’s case for misogynist comments he made at Boston University this spring, has also taken Talese to task.

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