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One of the Village’s Voices Silenced

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Slushpile favorite Neil Strauss has been getting a lot of attention in the last few days. Last week, reports containing more details about the film version of The Game appeared in numerous outlets, including this article in Variety. I have also seen Strauss quoted in the April issue of Men’s Fitness and a number of other media outlets. But the most recent mention of Neil Strauss has attracted considerable attention and scrutiny. The top-rated pickup artist in the world did nothing wrong, but a young journalist who interviewed Strauss certainly did. 

On February 28, the Village Voice featured an article by Nick Sylvester that involved Strauss and his book. Entitled Do You Wanna Kiss Me? How New York’s Women Are Wising Up to The Game‘s Pickup Tips, the article explained that many of the Big Apple’s loveliest ladies are becoming immune to the usual pickup artist techniques. The article ended with Sylvester meeting Steve Lucien, DC, and Vic at a Lower East Side bar called 151. The men were described as TV writers from LA who hit New York in search of new targets.

The problem is, that exact conversation never happened.

First, the article mysteriously disappeared from the Voice‘s website (hence the cached version I linked to above), and there were rumors in the newsroom that something big was happening. Eventually an Editor’s Note appeared acknowledging that the 151 bar meeting was fabricated and that Sylvester has been suspended.

Sylvester himself admits “the trip and my encounter with him, DC, and Vali did not happen as I reported, or at all. The scene was a composite of specific anecdotes shared to me primarily by the two other parties, DC and Vali.” What I can’t figure out is that in every version of the article I’ve seen, the person in question is referred to as Steve Lucien. But in this note acknowledging the fabrication, the name given is Steve Lookner. I don’t know what that’s all about, but I guess it’s not that important.

What is important is the question of what kind of frigging idiot do you have to be to fabricate aspects of a Village Voice story that involves one of the Voice‘s most famous alums? Neil Strauss wrote for the Village Voice for christsakes. Although there are no allegations that the Strauss quotes are not accurate, you have to know that folks around the newsroom are going to pay extra attention to this piece. And pickup artists either shirk the spotlight entirely (so they can fly under the radar and ply their skills without being noticed) or they dash around to gather any amount of attention they can (so they build a reputation for themselves and ultimately offer PUA workshops to earn money and acolytes). Either way, these are not people who are going to ignore an article in the Village Voice. We’re not talking about a small family of Internet-deprived bee-keepers in Pontotoc, Mississippi here. These are folks that are going to pay attention. So why in the world fabricate something?

Stephen Glass. Jayson Blair. Mitch Albom and his past-tense article about the national championship game, that he actually wrote before the game happened, containing NBA players in the stands, having a conversation, who weren’t even in town and who didn’t talk to each other. There are many others, but for now, we can add Nick Sylvester to the list.

I’m not naive. I realize there are hundreds of thousands of words of journalism printed, spoken, and posted each day. I realize that the vast majority of journalists are over-worked, underpaid, decent people just trying to make deadline. And I’m cynical enough to accept that fabrications, embellishments, and distortions happen every single day. I could even live with it if those self-righteous journalistic pots weren’t calling the blogging kettles black.

I’m sick of seeing traditional media outlets denigrate blogs and independent websites because of the assumed lack of fact-checking, integrity, and veracity. The old fogeys keep bitching and moaning about how bad the blogs are, and each day, more and more of these situations at traditional media outlets come to light.