Where does journalism end and fiction begin?

I’m not one who often considers reviewing books, however, a book was recently published that purports to be a journalistic examination of ‘Facebook,’ an iconic social networking business enterprise.

The Accidental Billionaires — The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal by Ben Mezrich hit the bookstores recently.

The editors at Businessweek have already called it “a tawdry mishmash.”

I agree with them, but my question is… Is this really journalism?

The author admits that he re-created dialog and scenes for the book, and that he was unable to talk to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO.

His preface, warning that “liberties are about to be taken” elicits a Bloomberg reviewer to remark, that the author is “simply making stuff up.”

As a writer of fiction,I can tell you that ‘making things up’ is why it’s called ‘fiction’.

In journalism, ‘making things up’ is called ‘lying through your teeth‘.

“Ben Mezrich clearly aspires to be the Jackie Collins or Danielle Steele of Silicon Valley,” Facebook spokesman Elliot Schrage told a reporter for Reuters.

Mezrich says he relies on commonly accepted reporting techniques — interviews, documents, piecing a story together — and that his style upsets some journalists.

That most of his previous books have suffered both lack of factual integrity and similar criticism by both fellow journalists and even his own subjects has not deterred him.

Mezrich told Time Magazine that, “My style is this sort of immersion journalism, where I go inside the story and built it as a thriller, as a narrative.”

In the world of writers and authors, that’s called historical fiction.

Mezrich says, “There are a lot of journalists who don’t get what I do. They don’t understand my style or they’re frustrated by it. And sometimes they’re quite angry about it, which is funny. I re-create the story. It’s a true story. It’s non-fiction.”

When you’re making up conversations and creating what you think happened or might have happened, it’s hardly non-fiction, and it’s definitely not journalism.

Not surprisingly, the book is doing well on the retail sales chart.

What is equally not surprising is that the book has already been optioned for a movie, where even more ‘liberties’ will be taken by screenwriters and movie executives.

That the same actors who have appeared in previous film incarnations of Mezrichs’ other books are already out praising the book as if it were a gift from god makes me stand back and wonder if this isn’t just a set-up for another tawdry made-for-television-movie-of-the-week expose.

In the end, this book is a work of fiction.

If there is any truth in it beyond the name of the company and it’s co-founders, it is that the controversy over this book is going to generate a lot of traffic on the internet, and a lot of money for the author, the lawyers, and probably the owners of Facebook.

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About Gwendolyn McIntyre

Author, editor, businesswoman, musician, lover of jazz and horses. Chief investigator of all things that go BUMP in the night.
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