Ed Driscoll

Sailing The Lonely Planet In The Ship Of Sin

Back in the fall of 2005, when the media were inventing all sorts of lurid stories in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I wrote:

In 1981, Janet Cooke was a Washington Post reporter who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning story of an eight year old heroin addict. She was eventually forced to return the prize, when when it was discovered that Cooke cooked the books and invented Jimmy out of whole cloth. (Walter Duranty’s Pulitzer is still on the books, incidentally.)

Asked about Cooke in an interview, new journalism pioneer Tom Wolfe replied:

It reminded me of when I first went to work on the New York Herald Tribune and they were still laughing over the ship-of-sin scandal from prohibition days. An informant had told the Herald Tribune that there was a ship of sin operating outside of a three-mile limit off of eastern Long Island. On board you could get liquor and dope and sex. So the Tribune sent a reporter out. He didn’t find the ship, but he did find a saloon in Montauk, and he phoned in about five days’ worth of the most lurid stories in the history of drunk newspapermen. Half of New York City gasped and the other half rushed out to eastern Long Island to rent motor launches, until it was discovered he had made up the whole thing. These things happen about every three or four years; some reporter gets caught piping a story out of his skull…Phony stories are going to be written every once in a while, so long as you give reporters the trust that you have to give them.

And travel writers, apparently:

The Lonely Planet guidebook empire is reeling from claims by one of its authors that he plagiarised and made up large sections of his books and dealt drugs to make up for poor pay.

Thomas Kohnstamm also claims in a new book that he accepted free travel, in contravention of the company’s policy.

His revelations have rocked the travel publisher, which sells more than six million guides a year.

Mr Kohnstamm, whose book is titled Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?, said yesterday that he had worked on more than a dozen books for Lonely Planet, including its titles on Brazil, Colombia, the Caribbean, Venezuela, Chile and South America.

In one case, he said he had not even visited the country he wrote about.

“They didn’t pay me enough to go Colombia,” he said.

“I wrote the book in San Francisco. I got the information from a chick I was dating – an intern in the Colombian Consulate.

“They don’t pay enough for what they expect the authors to do.”

Incidentally, no word yet on the completion date of this very different travelogue.