Uber frat boy turned best-selling author Tucker Max caused a kerfuffle in the blogosphere last week after he offered $500,000 to Planned Parenthood if they agreed to name one of their clinics after him.
The 36-year-old Max, successful author of ribald chronicles featuring drunken sexual conquests and female humiliation, does not exactly occupy the top slot on NOW’s list of Most Cuddly Male Feminists. Smelling a publicity stunt, PP said we’ll try to muddle along without your half mill Mr. Max, thank you very much.
Given some of the things Max has said about Planned Parenthood on Twitter (“In South Florida. This place is awful. Shitty design, slutty whores & no culture, like a giant Planned Parenthood waiting room”), that’s reason enough to reject his “generous offer” in 140 characters or less.
The offer, and subsequent rejection, happened last August. Last week, however, Forbes ran a splashy story about how Max had generously offered 500 large to PP only to be rudely rebuffed. Written by Max’s publicist, 25-year-old Ryan Holiday, the post ignited a storm of debate in the blogosphere over whether the cash-strapped nonprofit should have choked down the vomit welling at the back of its throat and taken the money. In fact, it probably generated more attention for Max than if PP had simply said yes.
Interestingly, the post happened to coincide with the recent release of Max’s new book, in which he renounces his hedonistic womanizing past (because 36-year olds who still act like frat boys are just pathetic). Here at Tynan Writes we are shocked — shocked I tell you — to discover this blatant media manipulation. Or perhaps not.
As the New York Observer’s Emily Witt reported last November, manipulating the blogosphere is Holiday’s stock in trade. Witt was sent a copy of a pitch letter Holiday was circulating among New York publishers trying to sell them on a book about his illustrious if brief career titled “Trust me, I’m Lying.” In it, Holiday detailed some of the strategies he was planning to use to boost coverage of his book:
Relying on the fact that blogs and media outlets simply take for granted whatever is stated in a release, we will state in the press release that the advance given for this book was a spectacular sum. Blogs covering publishing and media will instantly pick up on the fact that a first time author was paid such an exorbitant amount. Combined with Ryan’s experience working with bestselling authors, this will immediately put the book on the radar of the media elites.
Did this work? You betcha. Gawker took the bait, as did Media Bistro’s GalleyCat blog and a handful of others. But wait, it gets better. Holiday also planned to leak fake excerpts that were “too controversial” to appear in the book, and intended to goad some of the biggest names in the blogosphere into a flame war (while secretly tipping them off ahead of time, so they’d have a chance to stock up on napalm):
[My book] will use the sensitive egos of bloggers against themselves. …This book levels direct charges and serious accusations of wrong doing. It names names. Those names make up some of the biggest and highly trafficked sites on the web: Politico, Jeff Jarvis, TechCrunch, Michael Arrington, Ariana Huffington, Mashable, Gawker, Business Insider, Nick Denton and others. Each one of these names will be surreptitiously notified of these embarrassing revelations in advance and baited into responding. So will their competitors. We can expect their angry reactions and protests to drive serious attention and awareness of the book.
It seems like only the Atlantic Wire’s Alexander Abad-Santos is asking the right question – which isn’t “Was Max sincere?” or “Should PP have taken the money?” The right question is, Why did Forbes publish this piece of promotional garbage from a self-professed liar?
Forbes has some first-rate writers in its stable. Andy Greenberg, Kashmir Hill, and Jeff Bercovici in particular are all top notch. But sitting right next to them, indistinguishable in every way to the casual reader, are “contributors” like Holiday. And he’s hardly the only one with a political or promotional agenda who’s been given free reign to blather under the Forbes banner.
Unfortunately the answer is far more depressing than the question: Forbes publishes people like Holiday because this content a) is free, and b) draws traffic like flies to shitake mushrooms (assuming the shitakes are grown in manure). It’s sad to see a once-proud publication like Forbes stoop to this, but the practice is more common than you might think.
I was chatting with a PR consultant a few weeks ago whose main business is creating prefab content for Web sites. Often she or one of her minions will ghost write a story, slap the name of one of her clients on as author, and get it placed on prominent news sites alongside actual posts by real reporters. The story invariably mentions her client in a not unfavorable way, along with links to the client’s site to boost its search engine mojo. The alleged news site usually publishes the story without noting any conflicts. She mentioned a few of the sites that have run her stories without so much as a hiccup; I won’t name them here, but you’d recognize some of them.
“Some of the sites even offer to pay me, if you can believe that,” she said. “I tell them that’s ok, we’re good.”
About once every couple of weeks I get approached by PR people offering to place a story in one of the various venues I write for. Even though that decision is well above my pay grade, I tell them no thanks, the publications I write for don’t do that – yet. But I suspect that this policy is becomingly increasingly quaint.
After PP turned Max down, PETA — which knows a thing or two about splashy publicity stunts — offered to take him up on his offer. They said they’d use the $500,000 to pay for a mobile pet clinic featuring his face and the words “Fix Your Bitches! The Tucker Max No-Cost to Low-Cost Spay and Neuter Clinic.”
This time it was Max who refused, noting among other things that PETA is opposed to hunting, one of the things Max apparently does when he’s not busy hurling all over his latest one-night stand.
See? The man does have standards after all. Wish I could say the same for the sites that give him a free ride.
Photoshop of Mr. Max outside PP courtesy of Jezebel.