Why Tablet paid an author who tried to hoax it

Tablet

The Hebrew sci-fi classic “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” was fake and fake and fake, but Tablet published a piece about its “author” anyway, with a full accounting of why.

Israeli writer Shay Azoulay pitched the magazine a biography of Jacob Wallenstein, whom Azoulay claimed was the author of the first science fiction book in Hebrew, “Blueprint for the World in the Year 2050.”

One problem, though. There was never a Jacob Wallenstein.

Senior editor Matthew Fishbane preludes the faux biography on the faux opus by the faux Wallenstein with the story of how it came to Tablet and how, with a few fairly innocent questions thrown out over time to Azoulay and other colleagues, the folks at Tablet figured things out.

Azoulay quickly apologized, Tablet reports. He just wanted to get noticed.

And he also got paid, a decision Fishbane says in an email to Poynter the magazine “wrestled with.”

“Had we published his story and then found out it was a hoax, we wouldn’t have paid him (or we might have tried to recover the fee)—as he would have clearly breached the contract he signed,” Fishbane writes. “But he strung words together that we published—and which we chose to publish even after finding out what kind of words they were.” He continues:

We realize the dangers that rewarding a liar—or inadequately-identified fiction writer—can pose in the ecosystem of journalism. And we were were trying, perhaps controversially but we feel rightly, to draw a clear distinction between the text and the author. We do think the text is worth reading—as fiction, and with an explanation that makes it clear how it was presented, and establishes a disincentive for any author to try the same stunt with us or anyone else.

So we decided that the right balance was to expose the author’s sins—making it hard for him to pull the same trick elsewhere, and labeling him as a fabulist—while also letting readers enjoy the story of how we uncovered the falsehood, and also to judge the quality of the text for themselves. We hold out hope that he has the good sense to donate the money to charity.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • M. Jacobs

    It’s worth noting that this is the same Tablet that published a series of faux stories of its own Thursday about Philip Roth winning the Nobel Prize for literature. A magazine that has fun hoaxing its readers naturally appreciates being hoaxed by its contributors.