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Esquire freelancer: Opening scene of story was imagined

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Jeff_Carroll, Jan 21, 2013.

  1. Jeff_Carroll

    Jeff_Carroll New Member

    In 2009, like a lot of people here, I read a lengthy piece in Esquire magazine about the NIU school shooting. Much of the media coverage of the piece focused on the reporter David Vann's immense and comprehensive reporting. Like many on here - the story was discussed here extensively - I was always bothered that the opening several paragraphs included details that Vann could not have witnessed.

    Today, inspired by the sports media soul-searching triggered by the Manti Te'o piece, I emailed David Vann for his version of the reporting effort. Vann has subsequently turned his piece into a book, "Last Day on Earth: A Portrait of the NIU School Shooter."

    With permission, here is his reply:

    Hi Jeff,
    My editor made me write that opening scene, which I really resisted almost to the point of a falling-out with him, since the entire story otherwise was a mountain of facts, with nothing made up. One problem with the story is that no one else has access to the files, so no one can check and see how faithful I was in the entire piece, and this stupid scene up front calls all of my reporting into question, as I saw years ago on your forum. And I'm not supposed to tell anyone that my editor made me do it, but I'm tired of protecting him. In my book, I say "I imagine" for that scene because no one was there in the room with him and there was no video. I do think that's obvious anyway from the context, and I know what he was wearing in the end, what guns he had, what was found in the hotel room, etc., so I think it's clear anyway that I'm imagining that moment. I just would like everyone to know that in the rest of the story and book, I don't do anything like this scene.
  2. Jeff_Carroll

    Jeff_Carroll New Member

    Obviously, I will reach out to David Granger next.
  3. 21

    21 Well-Known Member

    When he says 'my editor' is he referring to Granger?
  4. This is getting into Brian/Stewie Griffin "I'll top you" territory.
  5. Jeff_Carroll

    Jeff_Carroll New Member

    21, good question. I suppose this is a philosophical split on how narrative/new journalism is executed. Must imagined scenes be designated as such? Doe it matter if it's "obvious" that they were, as some might argue was the case here?
  6. Norrin Radd

    Norrin Radd New Member

    The original story led to a lengthy thread here.


    OK, maybe not "lengthy" . . .

  7. pseudo

    pseudo Well-Known Member

    Presumably the one Vann mentions in the acknowledgements of the book -- which is billed as "creative nonfiction," for what it's worth:

    "I owe enormous thanks to my editor Tyler Cabot at Esquire. He assigned this story to me, then worked tirelessly, every day, for months, through the entire grueling process of interviews, writing, editing, and fact-checking. The two of us were equally familiar with more than a thousand pages of information from the police files in addition to all the interviews, and it was an amazing conversation, the closest collaboration I'll ever have with anyone. This is his book as much as mine."

    But that's just a guess.

    Add: Here's the Google Books link, in case anyone prefers to do their own fact-checking.

  8. Uncle.Ruckus

    Uncle.Ruckus Guest

    Why would he kiss Cabot's ass in his book then say what he said to Jeff? No one held a gun to Vann's head and made him warmly acknowledge Cabot.
  9. 21

    21 Well-Known Member

    Hm. So if that's the editor he's referencing in his email to Jeff Carroll, that would seem somewhat....inconsistent?
  10. Norrin Radd

    Norrin Radd New Member

    Are we seeing the start of a "Jeff is LYING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" groundswell here?

    Is it really so difficult to reconcile the two statements? They could have argued over the opening, but enjoyed the collaboration overall.

    You never had a collaborator who you butted heads with, though what you ended up producing was great?
  11. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    I don't think the acknowledgement changes the charge at all. Feelings change. Vann could have been uncomfortable with it years ago, wanted there to be no hurt feelings when the book came out and been grateful for the assignment, but years later realized it was quite wrong.
  12. Uncle.Ruckus

    Uncle.Ruckus Guest

    No, I don't think Jeff is lying at all. I'm saying, why the flowery words in the book but then an admission of "I'm tired of covering for him?"

    If you don't like the guy, why thank him in your book?
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