THE BAT SEGUNDO TOM BISSELL INTERVIEW
Does the truth matter?
What can you do with a journalist, as in my recent exchange, who's helped smear a populist writers group, who refuses to examine the truth of the matter, and instead blindly clings to a distorted version?
"Don't bother me with the truth" is the attitude.
There's a point at which a false narrative becomes truth, simply due to the narrative's widespread acceptance.
It may be that Tom Bissell himself has accepted his own distortions, and the rationalizations for the distortions.
Listen to this interview, to the section referring to the Underground Literary Alliance (begins minute 26 or so). The discussion between Tom Bissell and Ed Champion, on Champions "Bat Segundo" show, is a contest to see how many lies can be crammed into a five minute time period.
Tom Bissell speaks of his "attempt to take them seriously"; "to extend them some empathy when no one would."
These statements are untrue on a number of fronts.
First, Tom Bissell wrote his essay when the ULA was being covered by media across the nation and in other parts of the world. There'd been the numerous write-ups in "Page Six"; countless on-line stories in places like MobyLives and the Alternet; feature articles in alternative papers like the Boston Phoenix and Philadelphia Weekly, including a big article in Village Voice written by Bissell's current boss, Hillary Frey. (Mainstream media is a small world.) Also major write-ups in Soma and the Brown Daily Herald. At the same time The Believer essay came out, the ULA was the subject of feature articles in Black Book magazine (by Bruno Maddox) and the Glasgow Herald (by Aaron Hicklin).
But today, Tom says only he dared cover us! Only he cared, I guess.
Tom Bissell, then, is lying, not just to Ed Champion and the Bat Segundo audience. He's also lying to himself.
Second, Bissell's statements in the interview about his "empathy" ignore the context within which his essay was written. It was commisioned by The Believer, a Dave Eggers flagship, at a time Eggers was engulfed in an intense feud with the Underground Literary Alliance. How can this context be ignored? Bissell acts like he brought forth his essay out of the blue, purely from good intentions, and presented it, all by himself, to the world.
In the Bat Segundo interview, Bissell claims that he wanted to "entertain the possibility that some of the complaints were true." Yet he never looked into our major complaints, in which we documented instances of corruption in the literary world. In the Believer essay, Bissell finessed these matters. He surely didn't address them head-on or take them seriously.
On his part, Ed Champion's questions to Bissell border on the slanderous. I see what he's doing-- trying to be agreeable to his subject to get him to talk-- but in so doing, Ed throws the ULA completely under the bus, while also showing he doesn't know what he's talking about. (Or, his source is the widespread false narrative about us.)
For instance, Ed says, "George Plimpton of course makes this effort to invite them in, and of course they behave boorishly. . . ."
"Of course." Really, Ed? What's your source? You weren't there, unless you were hiding under a table.
The truth is that we invited George Plimpton to debate us. It was our event, not his. We had a contentiously exciting debate, then both teams sat down and had beers together. We parted amicably.
This is the TRUTH of what happened, not any after-the-fact distorted false narrative.
Ed Champion talks of "a duty to invite them in," "to go through the pain of an insulting boor," "even if they shit in our face." He says "go ahead and spit in our face," as if we ever did this. Many of his listeners will believe we did this. This is how false narratives are created. (The added irony is that Ed has often attacked me publicly on-line, while I've attempted to be civil in my dealings with him.)
No one, incidentally, ever invited us in! What a falsehood. All attention we received, from a closed and cronyistic literary world, we worked for. We did, yes, crash a few events on our own, with bought tickets some times but no gilt-edged invites. We asked embarrassing questions-- all that was ever required to get us thrown out.
Bissell, for his part, plays the injured party, and tells Ed Champion in aggrieved fashion, "you can't negotiate with someone who's going to crap in the room."
What does he mean by this? That I've stood up for myself when no one would? That the ULA's writers asked to be treated as equals?
Since what angered the literary establishment, including Dave Eggers, most of all were our exposes of corruption involving some of the biggest names in the lit-biz-- why doesn't Bissell say this? It's highly misleading to attribute the hostility we generated simply to "boorishness" or "bad behavior." Though I guess speaking about things one ought not to speak about is considered bad behavior by the In crowd.
In the Bat Segundo interview, as in his reprinted Believer essay, we still see Tom Bissell pitching his false narrative about the Underground Literary Alliance.
(Feedback from the parties involved is welcomed.)