WESU Public Relations Director and recent WesCeleb Andrea Silenzi ’07 has found herself in the midst of a feud with The New York Times, after collaborating with NYC area radio station WFMU to create and then submit a fake anecdote to the Metropolitan Diary column.
Running each Monday in the New York Times Metro section, The Metropolitan Diary publishes humorous conversations and other anecdotes that readers submit. Many consider it to be geared towards a predominantly older audience with its innocuous yarns about life in New York City.
“I hope my mark in history isn’t as the girl who hoaxed the Metropolitan Diary,” Silenzi said. Silenzi’s working relationship with WFMU began last summer, when she volunteered to create and then run the “Seven Second Delay” blog, a forum used to summarize and continue the discussions initiated during Freedman and Breckman’s show.
“I was expecting this [to have an impact] just in the blog, not all over the internet,” she said.
WFMU Station Manager Ken Freedman and DJ Andy Breckman, who co-host the radio show “Seven Second Delay,” first concocted the prank during their Jan. 10 program. They spent the show brainstorming the perfect entry for the Times’ column.
“The key components, we realized, were pithy tales of the filthy rich which were A) overheard, B) overwritten and C) dealing with the stock market,” Freedman wrote on “Beware of the Blog,” the WFMU blog.
A blogger then posted a humorous example of a “perfect” Metropolitan Diary entry on Silenzi’s blog, based upon Freedman and Breckman’s comments from the program.
The anecdote involves a precocious child whose father works on Wall Street and who, after overhearing a phone conversation, is convinced that his father wants to “sell his shorts.”
“A blogger who goes by the name ‘Robin’ wrote it up and posted it on Andrea’s blog, then it was her idea to submit it,” Freedman said. “But it wasn’t like there was a conspiracy there. It was a group effort.”
Silenzi submitted the false item to The Times under her name.
“The decision to use my name was arbitrary,” she said. “I didn’t think they’d accept it.”
When contacted by Metropolitan Diary Editor Michael Pollak, Silenzi said that she had overheard the story. The item was published in the Feb. 12 print issue of The Times, but was pulled from the paper’s website after only six hours.
“If only they had corrected Judith Miller’s errors as quickly,” Freedman commented online.
Other websites were quick to pick up on the story, including political pundit Arianna Huffington’s blog, “The Huffington Post”, and Gawker, which posted that the prank could potentially shut down the Metropolitan Diary.
“I came home Monday evening after my writing class and discovered that within the hour, [the ”Seven Second Delay“ blog] had received 5,000 hits,” Silenzi said. “This is a blog that usually receives 39 hits a day. This past week alone, we’ve had over 20,000. It was really overwhelming.”
Pollak was quick to contact Silenzi by phone and e-mail.
“He saw my Senior Interviewer profile online, and saw that I was interested in applying for a Fulbright,” Silenzi said. “On the phone he said something along the lines of ‘I wonder how people on the Fulbright committee would feel if they knew you lied to The New York Times.’ Thank God I didn’t apply!”
Silenzi said that Pollak accused her of lying and arrogance. “I asked him if he’d ever been 21 and interested in challenging paradigms,” Silenzi said. “He said that he’d never been as arrogant as I was. [He also said] I was arrogant for having so much information about myself on the Internet.”
Silenzi joined Freedman and Breckman on their Feb. 14 program in order to discuss the hoax and search for a five-year-old boy, a son of a stockbroker, who would read the hoax item on the air. Near the end of the show, the radio hosts brought Pollak on air to join the conversation.
“I never thought it would get to the point where it did and become a magnet for anyone who dislikes The New York Times like the Gawker blog does,” Freedman said. “On one hand it’s admirable that The Times fact checks the Metropolitan Diary, but it’s bizarre that they became so vindictive about it.”
The Times published a correction last Friday, attributing the fake story to a plan deliberately concocted by WFMU.
“The Times implied in the editor’s note that we were encouraging our listeners to fabricate an entry, which is not the case,” Freedman said. “The entry that ended up being written [and then submitted by Silenzi] was based on an impromptu conversation from the show.”
Silenzi plans to continue running the “Seven Second Delay” blog and making sense of what she calls her “fifteen minutes of fame.”
“I stand by it,” she said. “It was important to me to start this conversation.”