Jack Shafer is all "where's the outrage" about the recent revelations that known bullshitter David Sedaris sometimes bullshits. In a sweeping j'accuse against the New Yorker fact-checking department, the Washington Post's Peter Carlson and Sedaris himself, Shafer blasts the bullshitting memoirist for using the word "exaggerated" to describe some of the more bullshitty elements of his work:
It gives a writer all the indemnification he needs against charges that he's fabricated. Made-up dialogue? It's an exaggeration. A made-up scene? It's just an embellishment. An altered setting? Hyperbole!
All true, and a fair point. Because when you're reading a humorist—even one of Sedaris' "easy-listening for self-satisfied liberals" caliber—you expect everything to be completely above board, right? If Jack really has an issue with this (and he must have, to ratchet up the dudgeon to 11 on one of the least interesting scandals of the age), a better place to take it up is with the editors and the sales departments at the publishing houses who decide, from the very beginning, where a book will end up being shelved. Their mission isn't to ascertain truth—that would require editors who edit. Instead it's to figure out where people will most likely be looking for the book. In "Fiction"? Who goes back there? Old cat ladies and goths, mostly.
In an ideal world Barnes & Noble would have a huge section in the front labeled "Bullshit," but as we are so often reminded, we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world where David Sedaris is considered a first-tier humorist.
Daniel Radosh brings up the Rodney Rothman case as a counter-point, and it does raise some interesting questions about the New Yorker's standards. (Rothman offers his own thoughts in the comments.) Our feeling is that Rothman took the hard fall because his name was mostly unfamiliar to readers, who did not have the same expectations that some elements of his story might be the kind of bullshit for which anyone with any common sense knows he or she should arrive at a David Sedaris piece fully prepared.