Ripped from the headlines:
The male capuchins, particularly the high-ranking ones, may be discomfited by their reflection because it fails to play by the rules of the monkey hierarchy and show them due deference.. On the other hand, this realization might be expected to build up gradually in the minds of the male monkeys, making it hard to explain why they instantly perceive that the image is not a stranger. Human infants learn to recognize them-selves in a mirror at 18 to 24 months, but they acquire an understanding of mirrors before that. Give a female chimp a mirror, and one can have no doubt she knows just what it is for. The chimp will look at the two important parts of her body that she can usually never see, Dr. de Waal said. One is the inside of her mouth; the other is her rear end. Mirror self-recognition is often regarded as a touchstone of self-awareness. But every animal must have some sense of self, for ex-ample in calculating its weight when grasping or sitting on thin branches. Self-recognition, Dr. de Waal said, may tap into a higher sense of self. But there also may be a spectrum of self-awareness, with the capuchin's version falling short of the chimp's but above that of species that fail to recognize themselves. For example, the capuchin's understanding of mirrors is more advanced than that of male robins, who will ceaselessly attack the intruding male they see reflected, or that of cats and dogs, which will ignore a mirror once they have established there is nothing behind it. Male capuchins probably react differently from females because they take their mirror image more seriously and don't know how to handle it, Dr. de Waal said. But both sexes seem to possess a greater understanding of the illusory qualities of mirrors than is generally assumed.
and a 1995 article on Georg Baselitz which describes how he became the enfant terrible by hanging his work upside down- and something equally discouraging about Arshile Gorky an Armenian Painter who straddled cubism and surrealism, became a favorite among artists of the time yet who was compelled to lie, even asserting that he was a nobleman related to Maxim Gorky.
an article on a book called Men are not Cost-Effective that argues that women are being forced pay a disproportionate share of the cost of incarceration since 94 percent of imprisoned criminals are men.
and an expose on the shoddy scholarship of Alex Haley, from the Village Voice 2/23/93:
Haley, at sea in the writing and desperate to finish the long overdue manuscript, had copied 80 or so passages from Harold Courlander's 1967 slave novel, The African, and threaded them into his family saga, Roots. Apart from the humiliation, a last-minute settlement would be expensive. Courlander and Crown Publishers had previously rejected a $250,000 offer. Now, on the eve of the judge's verdict, surrender would cost much more. Everything was at stake for the apprehensive 55-year-old writer—his honor, his Pulitzer, his fortune, and his legend as the author of the magnificent Autobiography of Malcolm X in 1965 and the epic Roots in 1976. Though Haley's hidden private life was untidy, and his career strung with bro-ken promises (like the one to Betty Shabazz about turning over his rights to her husband's Autobiography, his public image was noble, heroic, even sainted—a status that endures.. They revered their client and urged him to hold out. Even if Judge Ward decided against them on both elements of copyright infringement—i.e., actual and substantial copying—they would win on appeal. Granting all 81 parallelisms on Courlander's list, the amount of plagiarized material came to less than 1 per cent of Roots's lengthy text. How substantial was that? But Haley resisted their advice. A guilty verdict connoted official disgrace. It was bad enough being an accused plagiarist, but if he did not settle before the next morning, he would be an adjudged one, too. Besides, the broadcast of Roots II: The Next Generation, a miniseries sequel about his own life, was just around the corner in February. A negative outcome would definitely dent ABC's promotion. Callagy recalls that Ha-ley said, "I can't take the press on this.... I can't have a case that I copied." Haley was not telling the whole story. Other fears haunted him: the Courlander plagiarism was only one of his trespasses. Haley was a writer of modest talents, as a number of editors would say, who required enormous editorial support. But his prose needed more than polish; as Haley admit-ted under cross-examination, he lifted pas-sages from several books (Travels of Mungo Park, a 17th century West Africa travel-ogue; The Story of Phyllis Wheatley, the biography of an 18th century slave girl by Shirley Graham; and other sources) to fill up the pages of Roots. But beyond the plagiarism, and the massive perjury required to cover it up, Roots, as Haley well knew, was a hoax, a literary painted mouse, a Piltdown of genealogy, a pyramid of bogus research. While Lillian Hellman merely invented herself as an anti-Nazi courier in the "Julia" chapter of Pen-timento, Haley went farther. Overwhelming evidence—from interviews with scholars and surviving associates, along with a re-view of Haley's private papers soon to be made public—confirms that Haley invented 200 years of family history. All of Haley's ripping yarns about his search for Kunta Kinte and his 10-year struggle to write Roots were part of an elegant and complex make-it-up-as-you-go-along scam. Haley did not fool everybody at the time. Shortly after the publication of Roots in 1976, Southern historian Willie Lee Rose cited egregious factual errors in The New York Review of Books. A few months later in The Times of London, Mark Ottaway persuasively argued that the griot whom Haley met in Gambia, the crucial link in Roots's research chain, was a phony and a setup. The Voice's Eliot Fremont-Smith, alone among New York critics, took the Courlander case seriously and challenged Haley's bona fides in a series of contemporaneous columns. The New York Times, in a critical summary accompanying a front-page follow-up to Ottaway, quoted Harvard professor Oscar Handlin's severe observa-tion about Roots: "A fraud's a fraud. ... Historians are reluctant—cowardly—about calling attention to factual errors when the general theme is in the right direction. That goes for foreign policy, for race, and for this book." Following the trial, other scholars would chip away at Roots. Yet Haley stood like a Colossus above his detractors and debunkers, waiting for the clouds to dissolve, and they always did. Even when Margaret Walker, the doyenne of black American belles lettres, sued him for allegedly copying her celebrated Civil War novel Jubilee- few paid attention.
On February 23, the Alex Haley Papers at the Special Collections Library of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville will be opened. And it is in those archives that the truth about Roots, once crushed to earth by white guilt and repressed by black solidarity, is now emerging. Although George Sims, Haley's childhood friend and researcher, said, "Those files at UT, they were purged" to prevent "misinterpretation by nitpickers," and although some relatives and friends declined to be interviewed, enough smoking documents and informed observers have arisen to substantiate the modern era's most successful literary hoax.
To understand the daring and the grandiosity of Haley's fakery one has only to recall the last three chapters of Roots, in which he described his "amazing" detective work and linked himself and his family to the destiny of 25 million African Americans. "Flying homeward from Dakar, I decided to write a book," he states, depicting his spiritual cast of mind after the miraculous resurrection of Kunta Kinte. "My own ancestors' [sic] would also automatically be a symbolic saga of all African-descent people—who are without exception the seeds of someone like Kunta who was born and grew up in some black African village, someone who was captured and chained down in one of those slave ships that sailed them across the same ocean, into some succession of plantations, and since then a struggle for freedom."
But Haley did not decide during a plane ride in 1967 from Africa to go ahead with Roots. By then he was already at work on the book, which grew out of an idea he had sold, getting a $5000 advance, to Double-day in 1964 about his post-Emancipation family in Henning, Tennessee. Such episte-mological problems are embedded in Roots's final pages. The story behind the story, told in the last three chapters, is more compelling than the rest of the book. Here Haley, an amateur genealogist, ex-plains how in U.S. archives he located documents that traced his maternal line to a slave named Toby, who was captured in Gambia, shipped to Annapolis, and auctioned to John Waller, a farmer from Spotsylvania County, Virginia, in 1767—all just like his grandmother said. According to his family, Toby was a defiant slave who had half a foot chopped off after a fourth escape attempt. Then he settled down and mated with a Waller house cook named Bell. They had a daughter, Kizzy, who absorbed her father's frequently told tales of Africa, spiced with foreign words like Kin-tay and Kamby Bolongo, and the English fragment 'Naplis for the spot where Kinte's slave ship docked. Kizzy passed the oral tradition down to her son, Chicken George, a gamecock trainer on Tom Lea's North Carolina plantation in the 1850s. George's son, a blacksmith named Tom Murray, led a brood of eight children out of slavery, one of whom passed the tales to her grandson, Alex Haley.
Haley did not want Roots to be regarded as fiction, thus the book's final chapter included the claim:
To the best of my knowledge and of my effort, every lineage statement within Roots is from either my African or American families' carefully preserved oral history, much of which I have been able conventionally to corroborate with documents. Those documents, along with the myriad textural de-tails of what were contemporary indigenous lifestyles, cultural history, and such that give Roots flesh, have come from years of intensive research in fifty-odd libraries, archives, and other repositories on three continents.
Yet, once questions were asked, Haley never engaged in any sustained defense of the factual content of Roots. A charmer and disarmer, he telephoned historian Willie Lee Rose after her blast in The New York Review of Books. "Why are you being so hard on me, Willie Lee?" he said. "I was just trying to give my people a myth to live by." He could also snarl: after Ottaway blew Kunta Kinte's cover and threatened to shipwreck Roots in the Times of London, Haley dismissed the criticism, calling it "a cheap shot. It's like saying Anne Frank nev-er existed or that the whole Nazi thing was a hoax." Releasing his much promised, virtually completed, yet unpublished My Search for Roots would not have dispelled the criti-cism. Since the last three chapters of Roots, a miniversion of Search, were riddled with falsities, a sequel would invite more doubts and risk further exposure. The manuscript of My Search for Roots, along with boxes of other Haley papers in the Special Collec-tions Library in Knoxville, undermines the integrity of Roots and its author. Consider the following:
1. The Griot Tape: The encounter with Kebba Kanji Fofana in the Gambian vil-lage of Juffure on May 17, 1967, was the defining moment of his career. Upon this single scene he built the church of Roots. But listening to the tape recording of the exchange strongly suggests that the events of that pivotal day were fabricated. Fofana recited no lineage of the Kinte clan as worshipfully portrayed in Roots. Instead Haley fed him a few prearranged questions, and the griot replied with answers massaged by Haley's Gambian associates. As long as he lived, Haley apparently never let anyone hear the tape.
"Haley told me that the name of the ship was part of his fam-ily's oral history." The ship's name, of course, does not appear in Roots's family oral history.
CHOPPING THE FAMILY TREE
"Can Roots be accepted as a pioneer work of black family history," Gary Mills and Elizabeth Shown Mills asked in a 1981 arti-cle in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, "or is it a delusion that encourages mediocre scholarship in the na-scent field of Afro-American genealogy and relegates black family history to the aca-demic dark ages from which Caucasian ge-nealogy has already emerged? In short, is Roots a legitimate tool for Clio?" In the late '70s, Gary Mills used Roots to interest students in his black history courses at the University of Alabama in Gadsden. But, much to his frustration, he kept running into errors in the text. So one summer he and his wife, Elizabeth, editor of The National Genealogical Society Quar-terly, backtracked Haley through Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland archives to scrutinize the documents vaguely referred to in Roots. "We expected ineptitude, but not subter-fuge," Elizabeth said last fall from her home in Tuscaloosa. "Like every amateur genealogist, Haley made amateur mistakes, preferring his family's traditional oral his-tory whenever it conflicted with the evi-dence. But the records show that he got everything wrong in his pre–Civil War lin-eage. One hundred and eighty-two pages and 39 chapters on Haley's Virginia family have no basis in fact." Mills and Mills declared in Virginia Mag-azine : "By contrast, exhaustive research in the same repositories that [Haley] cites in-dicates the existence of only three peripher-al documents that were incorporated into Roots, and all were misinterpreted or mis-represented. In addition, a boundless num-ber of other documents exist which undeni-ably contradict the identifications, relationships, ownerships, and other specif-ic facts that are crucial to the story." The Millses discovered, for instance, that Kunta was not the slave named Toby owned by the John Waller family in Spotsylvania, Virginia. Furthermore, Waller's Toby died eight years before he supposedly fathered a daughter named Kizzy in 1790, as por-trayed in Roots. Most damning of all when stood next to Haley's text, Toby had been in America at least as early as 1762, five years before the Lord Ligonier docked in 'Naplis.
LIES ON THE PRIZE
How did Haley pull off the Roots scam so smoothly? Although the book sways with the lightest breeze from experts—as Ottoway, Wright, and the Millses proved—there was a savant's grace to Haley's grift.
How is it possible that Haley got away with it for so long? The answer is that no person or institution wanted to chal-lenge him. Take Judge Robert Ward, for example. In December, sitting in his cham-bers at the federal court building in Foley
Square, Judge Ward disclosed his unren-dered decision in the Courlander trial. "Pri-or to closing arguments," he recalled, "I had reached the tentative conclusion that not only was there copying but that it was in sufficient and compelling amounts to be substantial." The 62-year-old Nixon appointee nonetheless regarded his mercy as properly Solomonic. "Haley had written The Autobiography of Malcolm X and young black writers looked up to him," Ward said. "I did not want to destroy that, especially if the plaintiff was inclined to-ward a settlement." The judge's sentiments led him to wash his hands on the matter of suspected perju-ry. He chose not to pursue an affidavit, delivered after the trial by Courlander's lawyer Bob Kaplan, from a Skidmore Col-lege instructor who swore that he handed Haley his personal copy of The African in 1971. "I got all the truth there was to get at the trial. If you read the record, it's all in there." Haley, of course, hoped nobody would read the record. As long as they did not, he could pretend he settled Courlander only to save legal fees and that he had accidentally copied only three snatches from The Afri-can. Apparently, no reporter asked him why he had not waited a few hours more for the judge's decision or how three minor borrowings added up to $650,000. Thus Haley got away with the plagiarism and the hoax, never apologizing, never explaining, never confessing, never feeling the heat, and smearing his few critics as racist or jealous, "gnats," "parasites," and "scorpions." "Nobody wanted his ass," said former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, who voted for Haley's special prize when he was a member of the all-white, 17-man Pulitzer board. William McGill, for-mer president of Columbia and an ex offi-cio presence on the 1977 Pulitzer board, said, "If we blew the Haley prize, as we apparently did, I feel bad." Asked if the complexion of his colleagues was linked to Haley's award, McGill replied: "The an-swer to that question is yes. We were em-barrassed by our makeup. We all labored under the delusion that sudden expressions of love could make up for historical mis-takes.... Of course, that's inverse racism. But there was no way to deal with sensitiv-ities like this."
his prize should • be rescinded." - • The white male establishment (no blacks or women would sit on the Pulitzer board until 1979) recoiled from treating Haley harshly, and there was perhaps more reluc-tance among black intellectuals to disre-spect the writer who discovered Kunta Kinte. Dr. John Henrik Clarke, the grand old dean of black historians who mentored both Malcolm X and Haley, had qualms about Haley's bona fides, but he, too, kept silent. White men had visited so much evil on people of color with their lies that Dr. Clarke felt no obligation to trample down a black man who did so much good with his. The last line of Roots contained a great amen that even Malcolm X could love: " . this story of our people can help to alleviate the legacies of the fact that pre-ponderantly the histories have been written by the winners." "Our people need heroes and heroic oc-casions, something to feel good about them-selves," Dr. Clarke said in December in the book-strewn basement office of his Harlem brownstone. Though blind and aged 72, he still writes and lectures across the country. "When someone almost brings it off we eliminate the almost and give him the bene-fit of the doubt. "Look, Haley is not my enemy," said Dr. Clarke, expressing his tortured ambivalence about Roots. "I cried real tears when I realized that he was less than authentic. But we don't need no more phonies. We don't need no more fakers. . . . We're not weak-lings. We can take our tea with or without sugar." Alex Haley was certainly no hero to Mar-garet Walker—author of the landmark poem For My People (1942) as well as the celebrated, 3 million-seller Civil War novel Jubilee (1966). "I can't begin to tell you my absolute indignation," Walker said on the telephone from her home in Jackson, Mis-sissippi. Now 77 and working on her mem-oir, she spoke forlornly of her plagiarism case and the kiss of the Pulitzer prize.
"When we lost," Walker said, "I told my children that someday we'll know what a hoax Roots is." (Her copying claim against Haley was difficult to argue without the discovery process, which was denied her. Without this legal tool, Courlander might not have prevailed. "The trouble with Mar-garet Walker," Haley told a friend of Walk-er's and Haley's, "is that she didn't have the right lawyer.") Recalling testimony during her case, Margaret Walker is convinced that Haley's Playboy editor Murray Fisher is central to understanding Roots. "Haley was a hack and needed professional help," she argued, saying Fisher largely wrote Roots. Two Ha-ley letters divulged by his Doubleday editor Lisa Drew at Walker's hearing demonstrat-ed that Haley and Fisher fought over credit for the book just as the completed manu-script was being readied for the publisher in October 1975. Fisher wanted "Edited by Murray Fisher" stamped on the title page, a demand Haley agreed to reluctantly. Haley later reneged on the pledge after becoming angered by Fisher's boorish I'm-the-boss behavior during a story meeting with the producer of the miniseries. According to the correspondence, Haley erased his editor from the marquee and told him off at the same time. New West magazine later re-ported that Fisher got a 10 per cent royalty cut, which would add up to an estimated $500,000. It was just money, money, money, Walker said.
Ken McCormick, former Doubleday editor in chief, is frail, but when he reminisced about Alex Haley he was as feisty as Jedediah Leland recalling Charlie Kane. "Haley was an intriguing guy," Mc-Cormick observed last fall in his West Side apartment. "Almost anything you could say about him is negotiable." McCormick said that he started to won-der about Haley's reliability every time he came in with a request for $10,000 more in advance, without showing or delivering any manuscript. On the question of authorship, McCormick mentioned a second and third writer. This development followed the first 185-page installment Haley brought Doub-leday in 1971. "The material was a mess," McCormick said, repeating his advice to Haley. "Alex, quit kidding. We want this book to go. Work with a writer and we'll pay for him. . . . We got a lot of rewriting and paid two people who really wrote the book." When asked for their names, he remembered Murray Fisher's but not the other. At the Walker trial, McCormick testified that Roots, contrary to the company line, is a novel. ("You consider it to be fiction?" Walker's lawyer asked. McCormick replied, "I do, personally.") Editor Lisa Drew, in her testimony during the Courlander trial, said she lobbied Doubleday's publishing committee to create the nonfiction label. This genre switch was extremely signifi-
cant. Most houses are purposely indifferent to the factual content of their nonfiction titles unless libel is in the air. By taking ir upon itself to designate the book nonfic-tion, Doubleday vouched for the truth of Roots. But how could they possibly know? At the Walker hearings, where Drew alsc took the stand, she was asked, "Did you check and corroborate the historical facts that are contained in the book?" "No," she replied, "that isn't part of the editorial function, so I didn't do that." "Did anyone do that at Doubleday?" "No."
Murray Fisher insisted that he knew nothing about a hoax and that his reputa-tion as "the white guy who really wrote Roots" was unfair. He said that he did not recall important prepublication milestones like the first appearance of the Mandinka fragments, the disastrous first submission, or the parts of the book he himself auth-ored. Haley remarks on the acknowledg-ment page that Fisher assisted in plotting and "drafted some of Roots's scenes." In an early interview, Fisher said Haley's acknowledgments were exaggerated. Yes, he did some writing at the end of the or-deal, but Haley rewrote on top of him, leaving nothing of his labor behind. Except-ing that, it was all Haley's book with no abnormal editing requirements. But a sheaf of 50 to 75 manuscript pages in a folder marked "Fisher Edited Copy" at the Knoxville archives indicates that Fisher downscaled the degree of his collaboration. These Fisher-marked pages, corresponding to the first chapters of Roots, constitute a total rewrite, with hardly a line of Haley-typed manuscript surviving Fisher's pencil. And there were no author revisions either. Copy-edited by Fisher meant final copy. According to Bill Shaw, the Philadelphia book collector who bought a chunk of Ha-ley's papers at auction in October, there are more chapters that were substantially re-written by Fisher in his collection. When Shaw informed Fisher that he was talking to the Voice, Fisher implored him not to cooperate. Confronted with the contents of these folders in a later interview, Fisher admitted he rewrote the African section—more than a fifth of the book—because Haley was trapped in a quagmire of Africana. "Final-ly, we ran out of time and I just simply decided to take the bull by the horns and finished them [the African chapters]." After that, he said, Haley got on track in the slaveship section and that it was easy sail-ing through the Civil War to the end of the book. But this rendition of the history of Roots is not consistent with other facts. Although no Fisher line-edits or rewrites of the mid-dle and late chapters have surfaced, Fisher and Haley became more and more attached as the manuscript grew. In 1973, Fisher signed a contract for 10 per cent of Haley's royalties and 5 per cent of the movie rights. The next year, he quit his Playboy job in Chicago and moved to Los Angeles to work full-time on the project. He labored with Haley during long interludes in the author's Jamaican hideaway in 1974 and in 1975. Fisher said he was also in Haley's hotel room during a crash retooling of the final 180 pages of the text. Initially, Fisher denied seeking credit on the title page and was unaware of any 10 per cent royalty deal. Then he said he did not remember such things. Only after docu-ments suggested otherwise did he relent. "There were levels of openness depending on the information you had," he said. "I don't want to feed the fires of doubt .... You can use this as a pretext to impugn my credibility. . . . But I'm trying to be truthful."
Haley could persuasively lie about anything- little lies like passing off store food as home-cooked and big lies like stripping down to his shorts and staying 10 nights in the darkened hold of the freighter African Star which sailed from Dakar to Florida 1973, in order to divine the agony of Kunta Kinte's crossing. ("That never happened," said Frank Ewers, the Star's former first mate. "I had the keys to the hold and Haley never went down there at night. He would have died from the cocoa fumes.") Money problems often forced Haley to beg editors for more advances on four books that were never completed. In 1973, while working on Roots, he and a young Leonard Jeffries, then the head of Black Studies at San Jose State, won a $459,000 grant from the Carnegie Endowment to amass black genealogical documents from around the world and put them in a reposi-tory called the Kinte Library. A codirector with Haley on the project, Jeffries told the Voice that he had no idea where the collected documents were and that his own were destroyed by a flood in his home. Then there was the time Haley refused his only son Bill a loan, saying he had spent $5 million in two years because he was dying of lung cancer, a disease Haley did not have. It was true, however, that Haley was
borrowing money himself and died broke. He never, of course, confessed to the Roots hoax, though he once came close. In the spring of 1990, he had graciously invit-ed a young New York genealogist named Charles Galbraith down to his farm in Knoxville. Galbraith had made a name for himself in the profession by tracing back the lineage of Kitty Dukakis through New York and back to Ireland. He originally intended to write a tribute to Haley for putting the field of genealogy on the American map, but after reading the Millses' refutation, his admiration diminished. When Galbraith arrived at Haley's farm, he was a skeptic. Nevertheless, Galbraith hoped that Haley would somehow explain himself. For most of their conversation, Haley stubbornly stuck to the legend, denouncing detractors and awkwardly refusing to read Galbraith's copy of the Millses' article. No matter what anybody said, Haley consoled himself with having written "the two most important books in black culture since the Civil War period, or the civil rights period." But at one point in the taping, Haley raised the curtain ever so slightly on his predicament. In the middle of a meander-ing, inarticulate defense of his intellectual honesty, Haley perhaps said too much about Roots: "And I have no question but what there must be a hundred other errors in the book. I would lay claim to them. I'd lay claim to some of them in innocence, I would lay claim to others in carelessness, and to oth-ers for one or another thing. But the only thing I would also strongly lay claim to, none of them were an effort to slick over something. Not an effort to get away with something."
" I was caught up in the sweep and the swell of the hugeness of the overall thing. The quest for the symbolic history of a people just swept me like a twig atop a rushing water. It was sort of like riding a tiger. You ride this tiger and the crowd's cheering, if you fall off the tiger, you's eaten"