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The White Girl, the Gangs….and the Hoax (on Radio)

March 4th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

jones-hoax.gif

I’ll be on Patt Morrison’s KPCC show (89.3 FM) at around 2 pm talking
about the story that broke in the New York Times this morning about a “memoir” titled Love and Consequences by Margaret P. Jones.

The book, which the NY Times
reviewed in swoony terms around a week ago, followed by an equally giddy feature a few days later, tells a tale of a badly-abused, half-white, half-Native American Jones who was raised by a South LA foster family and, by her early teens, was dealing drugs for Bloods gangsters. Jones writes about how she received her first gun, a .38, for her 13th birthday, how her foster brother was shot to death by Crips, how she was healed by the love of her foster mother, “Big Mom,” and how “One of the first things I did once I started making drug money was to buy a burial plot.”

Naturally, there was talk of the sensational memoir,
published by Riverhead books, being optioned for a movie.

There was only one teensy-weensy problem.
“Jones” was not an abused foster kid at all but a upstreet Sherman Oaks white girl named Margaret Seltzer who was educated, not in the failing public schools of South LA, but at ritzy and private Campbell Hall of Encino.

The fraud came to light when Seltzer’s sister saw the author’s photo in the paper and called the publisher to blow the whistle.

Miz Seltzer, who says she….uh… knows
some gang members, insists she wrote the book because “I was in a position where at one point people said you should speak for us because nobody else is going to let us in to talk.”

Right.

The real question is less why Seltzer fabricated the tale (we can kinda guess at that) than why New York literary types were so eager to swallow it unquestioningly, hook-line-and-sinker.

There are, by the way, legitimate voices in East and South LA who grew up during the worst of the city’s gang wars are now (like Seltzer) in their 30′s, and have talent and something important to say. But unlike Seltzer they don’t have private school educations, thus, in most cases, their talent is less readily packaged and still needs more nurturing.

Actually the white Blood girl hoax issue brings up a host of intriguing questions….some of which will likely get discussed on Patt’s show today. So tune in or download later—and let me know what you think.

Posted in Gangs, literature, media | 19 Comments »

19 Responses

  1. Rebel Girl Says:

    This story has infuriated me for reasons I am still trying to tease out.

    One is certainly how and why Selzer’s voice was heard above the others, the “legitimate” voices of such material.

    Another is why she chose to market this as nonfiction rather than fiction – and what this says about writers, writing and the market – how writers become part of the package – not only the text – the desire to sell the self along with the work.

    And where is the responsibility of the publishing industry in this?

    And why do they want to believe in a tale that, frankly, had so many false notes in it from what I could tell? Granted, I haven’t read the book – BUT, I was wincing and shaking my head from simply the reviews I read and the promos about it. The swoony NYT Home article last week, reports:

    Ms. Jones gave birth to her daughter while she was still in college, then graduated with a degree in ethnic studies, She stayed on in Eugene. Rya’s father, she said, was “the first white guy I ever dated, and she was the first white baby I ever saw. I said, she looks sickly, is there something wrong with her?”

    I must say, I thought to myself: no way. The first white baby she ever SAW? Let alone all the black-eyed peas and pork bones cooking ont the stove – recipes from her dead foster mother, Big Mom…her foster nephew Masai…pit bulls…

    What do people in NY believe about us here? This is a cartoon. And no one called her on it.

    Even as she backs away from her story, I still think the writer is lying. From today’s NY Times:

    ” Ms. Seltzer added that she wrote the book “sitting at the Starbucks” in South-Central, where “I would talk to kids who were Black Panthers and kids who were gang members and kids who were not.” ”

    Black Panthers in a south central Starbucks chatting her up while she writes her novel? The mind boggles. How old are these Black Panthers anyway? What does a Black Panther order in a Starbucks anyway?

    And why does this bother me SO MUCH?

    (thanks for letting me vent. Back to my other life now–)

  2. nancy Says:

    It is revolting, mind-boggling really, but allow me to point out that Selzer also got a rave review in the LA Times. So it isn’t just about clueless East Coast types being fooled. Everybody was fooled. She gave a convincing interview to NPR talking in mean streets parlance that people fouind very convincing (though I didn’t hear it). And the story in the NYT home section was written by a West Coast freelancer. That’s how good a psychopathic liar can be.

  3. pOPloCk Says:

    Sounds like another “Woody” has been Born.

  4. Celeste Fremon Says:

    True, Nancy. Not fair to blame you east coasters, as buying the hoax wasn’t a geographically-specific activity. I think I’m just irritated at the NY Times right now for a host of reasons.

    I’d like to think I’d have caught it had I read the book in advance, but who knows? It is, of course, easy (and comforting) to claim how wise one would have been….now that it’s after the fact, and I don’t have to prove it.

    There were, however, some things in the NYT profile that seemed pretty preposterous: for instance she said that she’d never seen a white baby until she gave birth to her own, and she thought something was wrong with the child because it was so pale—or words to that effect.

    In any case, interesting issue.

  5. Woody Says:

    It’s not another “Woody,” pOPloCk, it’s another Dan Rather–”fake but accurate.”

    It’s too bad that The NY Times didn’t see through the fraud that was Tawana Brawley and Al Sharpton.

  6. "reg" Says:

    It’s funny because I read the original story last week and it just seemed weird – didn’t ring true – but I also assumed it had been vetted, given recent stuff like the guy who was on Oprah’s list, and must be more-or-less the real deal.

    In other news, after Clinton’s latest “I have a lifetime of experience, John McCain has a lifetime of experience and Barack Obam has a speech he gave in 2002,” count me a Hillary Hater. I won’t vote for Ralph Nader but if I were 30 I probably would. I’m a year older than Clinton, but she embarasses me and makes me feel very, very tired and through with politics when I hear her latest. Ironically, the “white lady of a certain age” has become the retro-60s identity politics candidate – with crazies like NYNOW emitting their spew in her defense – AND the “al Qaeda’s gonna snatch your children” candidate. She’s also managed – late in the game – to play the right-wing “rough up the refs” tactic of intimidating journalists. Combine this with Mark Penn strategizing her politics, Richard Holbrooke hegemonizing on the global stage and the candidate who’s got more money from the “health care” industry than any other person running for President, including John McCain, reforming the insurance system, Ralph Nader looks like a bit less of a wackjob than he did a week ago. If Clinton’s the nominee, he’ll have traction, whether yellow-dog Dems like it not. Honest to god, I think it’s time to pull out Guistra, Dubai and the rest of the global garbage cans Bill Clinton has been dipping into recently and destroy these people once and for all. I’m all for a 527 to spring up and focus on Clinton sleaze, front and center. If she wants to scorch the earth, bring it on.

    I just heard a report on NPR that it’s the high 50s to the low 30s for people who consiider either race OR gender the most important factor in this primary race breaking for…Hillary. Think about that. Well, she’s certainly managed to bring some segments of America together…

  7. Randy Paul Says:

    It’s too bad that The NY Times didn’t see through the fraud that was Tawana Brawley and Al Sharpton.

    Time to call bullshit on Woody yet again. I read the New York Times during that period and as I have for the past 28 years and I can tell that there was nothing, absolutely nothing that the New York Times did that gave any credence to Tawana Brawley’s lies. I also don’t blame the Boston newspapers for not seeing through Charles Stuart’s lies or the Union, SC newspapers for seeing through Susan Smith’s lies.

    Honestly, Woody, your comment above lacks any semblance of relevance. The Times never advocated for Tawana Brawley. Your comment doesn’t even rise to the level of a strawman. It’s a complete non-sequitur.

  8. "reg" Says:

    Yeah, Randy, you may actually read the New York Times but Woody heard it somewhere…

  9. Kate Says:

    But African-American babies aren’t black at birth. That’s the first thing I noticed in the piece that seemed very strange. That and the fact that in LA, social services would never have placed a white kid in an all-black household, nor the other way around. So unlikely.

    Seltzer’s mentor now claims to have been taken in by the deceptions, and according to a source in Oregon, Seltzer frequently proclaimed her “Native American” ancestry. But on the NPR show she couldn’t come up with an actual tribe that she supposedly belonged to.

  10. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Hi Kate. You know, I assumed the same thing about social services. Then out of curiosity I called DCFS on Tuesday and asked them. Turns out they do more cross-racial placements that I’d have thought.

    The Native American thing is a wild card, though. I know from anecdotal observation in children’s court that if a kid has Native American blood, DCFS leaps through a whole different set of hoops in terms of placement.

    Whatta story!

  11. Woody Says:

    Randy and reg, you’re both pretty pathetic. If The NY Times had earlir exposed the Tawana Brawley/Al Sharpton fraud for what it was, there wouldn’t have been all the marches and protests by sympathizers and suicide by one of the innocent accused.

    Randy: …I can tell that there was nothing, absolutely nothing that the New York Times did that gave any credence to Tawana Brawley’s lies.

    Bias Cases Fuel Anger Of Blacks – December 14, 1987

    Oh, really? That’s the way to stir ‘em up.

    If The NY Times had vigorously exposed the Tawana Brawley/Al Sharpton fraud for what it was as promptly as they did in the case that Celeste provides, rather than inciting mobs, there wouldn’t have been all the marches and protests by sympathizers and suicide by one of the innocent accused.

  12. Woody Says:

    Well, nuts. I meant to cut the first paragraph after I wrote the last one. Sorry.

  13. Randy Paul Says:

    Woody,

    That was early in the case while her claims were being investigated. If you look beyond that, you’ll see headlines like this:

    Questions Persist in Dutchess Assault (February 4, 1988)

    Abrams Frustrated by Lawyer in Assault Case (February 7, 1988) – That article was written by Clifford May, btw

    Girl’s Lawyers Sought Limits On Inquiry – (February 19, 1988)

    Actions of Brawley Lawyers Raise Troubling Questions – (February 23, 1988)

    Sharpton: Champion or Opportunist? – (February 24, 1988)

    Brawley Case: Stubborn Puzzle, Silent Victim – (February 29, 1988)

    In other words, they reported the news and as her story fell apart they reacted accordingly. Cherrypicking one story out of hundreds only proves you’re either intellectually dishonest or lazy.

  14. Woody Says:

    Randy, you said, “nothing, absolutely nothing.” Nothing means not even one. Picking only one story that disproves your “nothing” is adequate and is intellectually honest. Your denying that is what is dishonest.

    BTW, the NYT was only reporting her silence ordered by her attorneys. That doesn’t mean that they felt it was bad enough to investigate it to the extent of Celete’s story, which was my point.

  15. Randy Paul Says:

    Woody, they reported her claims. That was the extent of it. They didn’t express an opinion on the veracity of her claims:

    Miss Brawley, who is black, had been beaten. ”Nigger” and ”KKK” had been written in charcoal or marker on her torso, feces had been smeared across her body and her hair had been chopped off, the police said. She later told her family and law-enforcement authorities that she had been abducted and sexually assaulted by six white men – one of whom wore a police badge.

    They made no claims as to who had done what to her if anyone other than herself. Those are facts as to how she was found. They went on to make this statement in the same article:

    The case of Miss Brawley has provoked the most anger and has become the subject of a dispute about its prosecution.

    Local law-enforcement officials have questioned the truthfulness of the girl’s statements. Other people, like B. Harold Ramsey, president of the local chapter of the N. A. A. C. P., and Clarence McGill, head of the Dutchess County Committee Against Racism, charged there has been a cover-up because of Miss Brawley’s allegation of police involvement.

    I’ll cut you some slack because you seem to believe that Neal Boortz is a reporter, but what that article you linked to does is report the facts available at the time. It ends no credence to her claims.

    Just more strawman nonsense from you.

  16. richard locicero Says:

    Way back when McGraw-Hill was making waves in the publishing business with its “Autobiography” of Howard Hughes an intrepid NYT reporter got ahold of Noah Dietrich, HH’s right hand man for many years, to get his opinion of the manuscript and the controversey. “It’s bullshit” said Dietrich. the reporter asked for a different quote – “you can’t print ‘bullshit’ in the TIMES” he said. “Why not?” asked Noah, “You print enough of it every day!”

  17. Woody Says:

    Randy, it’s more than just reporting facts. It’s what is reported, what is not reported, and how it’s written so as to obtain the desired response. An encyclopedia reports facts. The NYT reports a slant with selective facts.

  18. pOPloCk Says:

    Like I said, again, another “Woody” has been born.

  19. Randy Paul Says:

    Woody,

    You’ve proven nothing.

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