Cheaters never win, my mom said. And it looks like she was right.
This week the fur flew when senior associate editor Nick Sylvester was suspended from his gig at the Village Voice. Turns out the boy wonder/music critic had fabricated reporting for his cover story "Do You Wanna Kiss Me?" on the pick-up artist’s guide The Game by Neil Strauss. (You might remember Strauss from other literary merits such as ghost-writing porn star Jenna Jameson’s memoir.)
The story’s been pulled from the site, but it’s not really worth reading, anyway. It’s a pretty thin piece of trend-reporting that doesn’t hold much water. Basically, Sylvester interviews a few women who have read The Game and can use it against the would-be players who try to pick them up. He then attempts to extrapolate that into something–it’s not clear what–about the state of dating in New York. He interviews Strauss and uncritically swallows a lot of his garbage about picking up women–for one, he fails to be very critical of the whole "art" of picking up women at all, let alone Strauss’s basic assumption that social success is measured by belt notches.
Given how flimsy the journalism is, one can’t help but wonder why the whole piece wasn’t cast as a short diary from a woman’s perspective–but wait, guess what? Dolly, a New Yorker who writes a blog about her love life, and had recognized men running The Game on her, did pitch the Voice, in January, and never heard back. Then Sylvester was assigned the story.
Golden boy Sylvester has nothing to worry about. "I just adore that kid," acting Voice Editor Doug Simmons told Gawker . "The thought of firing him is a painful one for me. I hope this review can bring an understanding to the paper — and to Nick — about the boundaries of journalism."
Yes, cause the boundaries of journalism were so unclear before. Thank goodness Simmons cleared that one up!
What happened here doesn’t quite add up. First, Sylvester’s lie was painfully obvious, violating the cardinal rule of fake journalism: Don’t quote real people who you’ve never met. (Make them up!) And stranger still is why he bothered with lying at all. He claims to have met one especially colorful pick-up artist at Bar 151 in New York, but in fact the scene he related was a "composite" of anecdotes told to him by others. So why lie? Why not just quote the people you interviewed in real-life?
Usually Sylvester writes pretentious, garbled, mumbo-jumbo name-dropping music reviews, and some have speculated that the poor kid just got in over his head. It was a Jayson Blair-esque case of too much, too soon. But even that doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t take genius to know that you don’t make up facts in a reported story. Sylvester, who was yanked from the stage at this year’s Plug Awards for reading Malcom Gladwell’s New Yorker essay on profiling in lieu of presenting the award he was there to give, seems to have a problem with taking anything seriously. Maybe he thought the Voice piece was supposed to be a prank. For now, the joke’s on him. He’s not only been suspended from the Voice, but yesterday he was fired from his gig as an editor at indie rock go-to site Pitchfork .
But the really outrage-inducing part of all this is that Sylvester won’t be up at night sweating out the difference between "fact" and "fiction" in our topsy-turvy, no-holds-barred post-modern world where right is left and up is down. He’s more famous than he was before, and in the long-run, his career will be just fine. He has Simmons. He’s young. He’ll still get a book deal.