Mr Rent-a-Quote fools mainstream media

PR boss's hoax exposes flaws in modern newsgathering methods

Los Angeles

With a keen imagination, a decent poker face and a career that sometimes revolves around being economical with the truth, it was perhaps inevitable that the PR strategist Ryan Holiday would have a formidable talent for pretending to be someone that he's not.

Even he was surprised by quite how formidable that talent was, though. In a burst of relentless self-promotion that lasted just a few weeks, the self-confident 25-year-old managed to lie his way on to the pages, websites and airwaves of an extraordinary cross-section of America's most prestigious news-gathering organisations.

Earlier this year, Mr Holiday decided, by way of an experiment, to get himself quoted as an "expert" source by the writers of articles and blogs on as many different subjects as possible. The big catch: he wasn't an "expert" in any of the subjects in question, and some of the time, he wouldn't even speak to the writers.

Mr Holiday ended up not just appearing on dozens of blogs, but also in supposedly blue-chip forums. On Reuters, he was quoted as a bright young member of "Generation Yikes". On ABC, he claimed to suffer from insomnia. When MSNBC carried a piece on "flu etiquette", he popped up telling a fictitious anecdote about a boss who sneezed in his face while he worked at Burger King. Readers of the CBS news website were regaled with a made-up tale about Mr Holiday's former workplace.

Mr Holiday's stunt, which was carried out to promote a book about his career as a publicist called Trust Me, I'm Lying, was facilitated by a website called Haro, or "help a reporter out". The site allows hard-pressed journalists seeking "expert" case studies to connect with people who fancy seeing their name in print.

"I think of the site as a microcosm of everything that's wrong with journalism in the era of the online medium," he told The Independent on Sunday. "My premise was that plenty of blogs would be fooled, but not traditional outlets. In the event, I found that mainstream news organisations were just as easily taken in."

Part of his success is undoubtedly testament to his skill as a liar. But plenty can also be attributed to sloppy journalism. Each day, Haro would email him a list of reporters in need of a case study, with outlines of the subject they were writing on. He'd reply to the ones he thought might be easily fooled.

Many writers of articles in which he was later quoted never actually bothered to speak to him: instead they exchanged emails. And when they did insist on a phone conversation, Mr Holiday would often ask his personal assistant to pretend to be him.

His finest hour came thanks to The New York Times. In April, the paper ran a piece on vinyl record collectors. Mr Holiday was quoted declaring them to have "a fuller sound" and saying that when he first listened to jazz on vinyl, "I could hear hands going up and down the frets, and stuff that they probably didn't want you to hear".

The anecdote was made up, of course. Mr Holiday thinks the newspaper chose him as a useful case study because of his fashionable address (he lives in New Orleans) and hip day job, as the head of marketing for American Apparel, for which he has over the years masterminded a string of elaborate publicity stunts.

"When the public read The New York Times, and their one-sentence quotes from people, they tend to assume the reporter talked to his source for ages," he said. "This shows that isn't the case. This whole process has taught me that the difference between a journalist and a blogger these days is a lot smaller than you think."

Several of the articles have been withdrawn or amended, and Roy Furchgott, the NYT reporter who quoted him, told Forbes that he never expected someone to lie about something so petty. "He gave a fairly credible account in line with what most vinyl record collectors and owners say," he said, "so I took his word on it, and you're telling me that he suckered me."

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Ricky Gervais performs stand-up
people
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

Trend Writer / Copywriter

£25 - 30k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Trend Writer / Copywriter: Retail, Design and...

Business Development Manager / Media Sales Exec

£28 - 32k + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Business Development Manager ...

Digital Marketing Assistant

£17 - 27k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Digital Marketing Assistant to join ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering