by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
This month’s Over the Edge column in The Reader, which came out three weeks ago but has just now gone online, leads with an analogy about truthiness in journalism involving a story I wrote for The Note more than 20 years ago.
The column’s lead:
As we enter the “fake news” era, here is my first run-in with the genre.
The year was 1994. I had been writing about local music for a monthly regional magazine called The Note as a freelancer for two years, in charge of covering Omaha’s indie and punk music scene. The publication’s editor asked me to write a cover story about an Omaha punk band that recently had been signed by a national record label and was about to hit the road for an East Coast tour.
At the time, Nebraska bands rarely performed outside of the state. In fact, the idea that a local band could grab the attention of a national audience, let alone go on tour, was very much a novelty.
For the story, I came up with the idea of asking the band to call me from the road with tour updates. This was years before cell phones, so the calls would come long-distance via pay phones with reverse charges. Every day for a week, someone from the band — usually the frontman — would call from a remote East Coast location and recap road story after road story dripping with unbridled debauchery, kinky depravity and everything else that makes rock ‘n’ roll what it is.
A side note: I knew these guys well, or at least I thought I did. I had interviewed them before, and had watched them perform on Omaha stages numerous times. I trusted them.
Well, I wrote the story and it was published and distributed throughout college towns in Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. A few days after it hit the streets, I walked in local record store/music Mecca The Antiquarium, and there was proprietor/guru Dave Sink behind the counter holding a copy of the article.
“Great piece,” he said. “I really loved the writing, but you know all those road stories were completely made up, right?”
What happens next and what does it have to do with Trump? You’ll have to go to the column to find out (right here). This is what they call “a tease” in the business, folks. Go read the column and come back. We’ll still be here waiting for you…
Dum-de-dum… *looks at watch*… OK, all done?
By the way, the incident mentioned in the column wasn’t the last time something like that happened. Years later I wrote another rather lengthy band profile and was told afterward (this time via social media) that the entire interview had been a ruse, a lie. Of course I confronted the band who said the guy who posted the comment was Looney Tune-city, completely speaking out his ass.
Still, it never dawns on anyone conducting an interview (especially of an artist) that the person you’re interviewing could be lying directly to your face just for kicks, just so s/he can point at the story to his/her pals in the bar and say, “Check this out, I was bullshitting the whole time.” To my knowledge, it’s never happened to me.
Like any other journalists, I fact-check what is fact-checkable. And if anyone tries to pull the wool over my eyes regarding the local music scene, well, I know people and ain’t afraid to ask more questions. That’s what journalists do.
Still, its’ weird times we live in when we have to assume our president’s words are very likely bald-faced lies…
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2017 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
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