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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Lead Systems Developer / Software Developer

COMPETITIVE + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Lead Systems Developer / Sof...

Recruitment Genius: Social Media & Engagement Manager - French or German Speaker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The world's leading financial services careers...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive - 6 Months Contract

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Digital Marketing Executive...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Senior Account Manager

40-45K DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Manager / Senior Account Manag...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future