Liars and Pranksters and Frauds, Oh My
November 13, 2014 § 1 Comment
Here at Brevity we’re all about the truth. While some authors–notably Pam Houston in her essay “Corn Maze”–make a case for judiciously incorporating fictional elements that smooth out a narrative–we’re in favor of the tangled web of real life on the page, loose ends, messy plot lines and all.
Other journalists, not so much.
Longform has curated a collection of some of the most notable falsehoods in non-fiction: Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass and Janet Cooke, of course, but also some pieces intended as pranks, such as this gem from the New York Sun in August 1835, describing the discovery of life on the Moon:
At the foot of this boundary of hills was a perfect zone of woods surrounding the whole valley, which was about eighteen or twenty miles wide, at its greatest breadth, and about thirty in length. Small collections of trees, of every imaginable kind, were scattered about the whole of the luxuriant area; and here our magnifiers blest our panting hopes with specimens of conscious existence. In the shade of the woods on the south-eastern side, we beheld continuous herds of brown quadrupeds, having all the external characteristics of the bison, but more diminutive than any species of the bos genus in our natural history.
Equally fascinating is the level of language in the Sun’s story–the article about Dr. Herschel’s “Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made” is flowery beyond novels of the period, and yet this was a mass paper, a tabloid, intended for everyday reading. The life-on-the-Moon story ran as a six-day serial, and it was America’s first “media event.” The Sun sold 100,000 copies at a time when the population of New York was only 300,000.