The Old Journalistic Trick of Making Stuff Up to Serve an Agenda

For over ten years an Italian freelance journalist has been making up interviews. Is he a nutcase or has he been out on a propaganda mission? I’m convinced of the latter, and I’ll explain why.

Tommaso Debenedetti is (was) an Italian freelance journalist who has been caught making up interviews with Nobel laureates, former presidents, international literary superstars and other important names.

Judith Thurman, for the New Yorker magazine, dug deeper into a lead that had been picked up earlier by the Italian blogosphere: Interviewed by daily newspaper La Repubblica, novelist Philip Roth said he never heard of Debenedetti, even though Debenedetti’s signature is on at least five “interviews” with Roth.

So Thurman made a few phone calls and soon found out Debenedetti, who comes from a family of famous and respected literary critics, had made up a whole bunch of interviews.

Here’s a short list of people allegedly interviewed by Debenedetti: Philip Roth, Elie Wiesel, Gore Vidal, Ken Follett, Paul Grisham, Noam Chomsky, Joseph Ratzinger (just before becoming Pope), Mikhail Gorbachev, Günter Grass, Herta Müller, Wilbur Smith, Nadine Gordimer… just to name a few.

What is incredible is that Debenedetti, on the phone with Thurman, denied fabricating any interview, adding he had either lost or thrown away documental evidence of his interviews.

At this point, it seems clear that Debenedetti is a liar.

But the magnitude and extent of his fake accomplishments really surprised me.

In over ten years, editors in not-so-small newspapers such as Libero (110,000 copies), Il Piccolo (40,000), Il Mattino (76,000), Il Giorno (65,000), Il Resto del Carlino (155,000) and La Nazione (125,000) never asked Debenedetti any proof of his interviews.

Just reading some of the articles, like the ones attributed to Philip Roth and John Le Carré, should have raised suspicions. Although in most cases the interviewees weren’t political figures, what they said was still pretty explosive stuff: Roth and Vidal “disappointed” with Obama? Why wasn’t Fox News on top of this?

Anyways, to say Debenedetti is just a nutcase would be neglecting the big picture: In most of the fake-interviews, a general pro-conservative, pro-Berlusconi, and anti-Obama sentiment is revealed. Most surprising, Debenedetti seemed obsessed with communism coming back, and often asked fake-interviewees to recall the terrible times under the Soviet regime.

Is it a coincidence that Silvio Berlusconi is still today obsessed with communists? He sees them everywhere: In Parliament, in court, even in his privately owned media.

So what’s going on here? Are we dealing with a delusional journalist gone mad? Or are we dealing with one component of a more subtle propaganda machine that is out to spread false information and keep a certain number of Italians under a cape of fear? The fact that this so-called journalist was able to do whatever he wanted for ten years makes me think it’s the latter.

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