A Persecution of Phonies: Steve Jobs, Philip Roth, John Grisham


What do the disembodied voices of sexxytime Jewish Guilt-lit author Philip Roth, Apple brain Steve Jobs, and southern lawyer-lit machine John Grisham have in common?

They all have fake doppelgangers, and they’re all having shitty weeks. Kind of.

The guy who ran Fake Steve Jobs, Dan Lyons, is Newsweek‘s tech writer, though it was against the urging of a potentially important business connection: Apple. Not only did Apple urge against Lyons’ hiring, but as he revealed on CNN’s Reliable Sources this weekend, their comeuppance came in the form of stunted access for Newsweek. Despite having an iPad egregiously plastered all over the front of an ass-kissy cover story last week, Lyons’ couldn’t get the advance access to one that so many other tech writers had.

Apple actually made it clear to Newsweek before they hired me — or they got wind that I was going to get hired — that they didn’t want Newsweek to hire me, they weren’t going to like this. And Newsweek hired me anyway, but sure enough, we didn’t get any access, we didn’t get — I don’t have an iPad. I didn’t get a device from Apple.

All for an impersonation act? That’s not nice. Then again, though, neither is a full-on misrepresentation of others in the press. In the New Yorker, today, Judith Thurman looks at an Italian tabloid journalist who was quoted in an interview with Philip Roth to the author as having noted his distaste for Barack Obama, despite Roth never interviewing with the tabloid journalist, let alone having heard of him. So Roth investigated the journalist, and found another interview fabrication, with another author: John Grisham. Grisham, of course, is thinking about suing, legal eagle that he is. Roth doesn’t want to be distracted by it.

The idea of web doppelgangers is by no means a new one, and doesn’t necessarily always turn out too terrible. For example, Manhattan media circles obsessed over the identity of Fake Nick Denton. The media mogul’s impersonator turned out to be Gawker commenter and Gawker-connected blogger The Cajun Boy, or Brett Michael Dykes, who later went on to a short tenure as Gawker’s night editor. The latest media doppleganger comes in two sides: Twitter accounts taking on two wildly different personas of longtime New York Observer editor Peter Kaplan, which are Cranky Kaplan, and Wise Kaplan, the identity of whom has yet to be revealed. We’ll get there.

In the meantime, online impersonations — both through social media, blogs, and in publications — aren’t going anywhere. Expect to see more as time goes on. And expect them to get exponentially better. Then again, they should probably be wise to hide under deep cover, or pick their targets right, unless they want to get found out. A good place to start might be by not picking a famous author working on his next big novel, which is the kind of work that typically lends itself to free time and welcomes distractions. Or by making the quote somewhat believable. Or by not trying to pass it off as real. Or by being American, seeing as how, in comparison, we more or less have this shit down.