What is going on with 84-year-old journalist Gay Talese and his new book The Voyeur’s Motel?
On June 30, the journalist and author told the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi he won’t promote his new book The Voyeur’s Motel after the Washington Post raised questions about the accuracy of its story. But then within a day and after the Post’s article about what the Post characterized as his disavowal of his book, Talese changed tune, saying he would promote his book via a statement released to the Post by his publisher. iMediaEthics notes it is likely his contract for the book requires he promotes the book.
“Upon reflection, author Gay Talese says he’s disavowing his earlier disavowal of his own work,” the Post’s Farhi reported July 1. But, Talese’s original statement saying his book had no “credibility” came from an interview with Talese, whereas Talese’s retraction came via a statement released by Talese’s publisher. Talese hasn’t responded to Farhi via phone or e-mail about the retraction, Farhi told iMediaEthics.
In a statement sent to iMediaEthics, Grove Atlantic said Talese’s book will be published July 12. (Full statement below). In that statement, it’s noted that Talese mentioned his source was “unreliable.” In his book, and in the excerpt published by the New Yorker, Talese wrote, “I have no doubt that Foos was an epic voyeur, but he could sometimes be an inaccurate and unreliable narrator. I cannot vouch for every detail that he recounts in his manuscript.”
Talese’s agent told iMediaEthics by e-mail, “Mr. Talese has made his statement. No more to be said.”
Grove Atlantic’s chief executive and publisher Morgan Entrekin told the New York Times that Talese “is going to do all his planned promotion and publicity, and we’ll make any necessary corrections, as any publisher does.” Entrekin commented that Talese was “frustrated dealing with this guy who isn’t completely reliable.”
Talese’s book, set to be published mid-July, focuses on Gerald Foos, a Colorado man who told Talese over decades about how he spied on his hotel guests. “The Voyeur’s Motel is an extraordinary work of narrative journalism,” according to a page on Talese’s book’s site ” It is at once an examination of one unsettling man and a portrait of the secret life of the American heartland over the latter half of the twentieth century.” The New Yorker published an excerpt of the book earlier this year.
In an interview with the Washington Post published June 30, Talese said “I should not have believed a word” that Gerald Foos, the source of his book, told him. “I’m not going to promote this book,” Talese added. “How dare I promote it when its credibility is down the toilet?”
“The source of my book, Gerald Foos, is certifiably unreliable,” Talese told the Post. “He’s a dishonorable man, totally dishonorable. . . . I know that. . . . I did the best I could on this book, but maybe it wasn’t good enough.”
The Post found out that Foos didn’t actually own the hotel when he said he did. “Foos sold the motel, located in Aurora, Colo., in 1980 and didn’t reacquire it until eight years later, according to local property records,” the Post reported. Foos denied lying to Talese, telling the Post “Everything I said in that book is the truth.”
But then, by mid-day July 1, the Post’s Farhi reported Talese’s reversal, quoting from a statement from Talese sent out by his publisher in which Talese said he was just “upset” when he talked to the Post and that he would be willing to correct future editions if necessary.
The full statement from Grove Atlantic, sent to iMediaEthics by e-mail, reads:
“In response to the Washington Post story regarding Gay Talese and his new book THE VOYEUR’S MOTEL, which tells the story of Gerald Foos who purchased a motel in Aurora, the Denver suburb, for the express purpose of fulfilling his voyeuristic desires. Morgan Entrekin, CEO and Publisher of Grove Atlantic says the company will move forward with the publication of the book on July 12, 2016.
“Gay Talese has not disavowed the book and will participate in the promotions in the coming weeks. As Talese states this morning ‘Gerald Foos, as no one calls into question, was an epic voyeur, and, as I say very clearly in the text, he could also at times be an unreliable teller of his own peculiar story. When I spoke to the Washington Post reporter, I am sure I was surprised and upset about this business of the later ownership of the motel, in the eighties. That occurred after the bulk of the events covered in my book, but I was upset and probably said some things I didn’t, and don’t, mean. 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.’
“As Entrekin says ‘The vast majority of the book focuses on Foos early life and the years from 1969 to1980, which is not at issue in the Washington Post story. Grove takes the Post story seriously and will work with Talese to address any questions in future printings.'”