Marketer explains how he manipulated the mass media

Former marketing director for American Apparel, Ryan Holiday, explains how he leaked fake information and lied to reporters. And he says, what he's done is the rule, not the exception.

Image of Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
Author: Ryan Holiday
Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover (2012)
Binding: Hardcover, 259 pages

Tess Vigeland: Ryan Holiday is a liar. And he's perfectly happy to have you know it.

After all, the title of his new book is "Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Master Media Manipulator." Holiday's day job is corporate marketing strategist for the likes of American Apparel. But the book details his side job as a source for all manner of media outlets, often on subjects he really knows nothing about. His book is an amalgam of media criticism and rampant braggadocio.

Ryan Holiday joins us now. Welcome.

Ryan Holiday: Thank you for having me.

Vigeland: So Ryan, I understand that you were pulled over for a speeding ticket on your way in. Did you lie your way out of it?

Holiday: No, I told them I was on my way to a Marketplace interview, and they actually let me off with a lesser ticket.

Vigeland: Right. I'm glad we could help you out there.

Holiday: Yeah.

Vigeland: Will you be lying to me today?

Holiday: I hope not.

Vigeland: OK, excellent. Give us a rundown of some of the subjects that you have been quoted as an expert on.

Holiday: Turntables, insomnia, barefoot running and -- my favorite, of course, is boat winterization.

Vigeland: And do you own a boat?

Holiday: I don't own a boat. I don't own a turntable either. And I don't suffer from insomnia.

Vigeland: All right. So what was your ultimate goal here? Why bother with this kind of thing? Were you bored, you needed something to do?

Holiday: No, absolutely not. So I discovered about a year ago, there's this service that's called HelpAReporterOut.com. Basically, the reporter needs a subject for a trend piece; I'm promoting something, I say, 'I'll be your trend subject,' and we trade. The reporter doesn't really have to do their job, and the source gets free publicity. So what I wanted to prove was that this backroom arrangement left the front door wide open to all sorts of media manipulation. And so, in about six months, I was able to deceive almost every major media outlet -- not a single one fact-checked, not a single one asked, 'Hey, why are you giving us this information? What's in it for you?' Look, sources have always been self-interested -- we've known this -- but we've almost embraced that self-interest and not asked: 'What are the consequences of doing so?'

Vigeland: What is an example that perhaps surprised you more than any other that you were able to get yourself in a publication talking about?

Holiday: The opening chapter of the book is about this marketing campaign that I did for a best-selling author who turned his book into a movie. And what we did was we created a national, multi-city boycott and backlash against his movie -- and it was entirely fake in its origins -- and we did that by buying billboards and vandalizing them ourselves and leaking photos, by baiting feminist groups to protest the screenings of the movies. And from these sort of these dubious origins, came imitators and real backlash. We ultimately ended up with denunciations in everything from the Washington Post to the Chicago Tribune. The week the movie came out -- which as we all know, when people say, 'Don't go see this movie,' that's exactly what people go out and see.

Vigeland: You going to continue to try to work your magic through these sources, or are you done?

Holiday: What I've been saying is, look, I'm not quitting the game, but I hope to change the game, because I don't think this is the way that it should be played, and I don't think it's best for the society that we live in that this is the way that it's played.

Vigeland: Ryan Holiday is the author of "Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Master Media Manipulator." I sure hope that he has not done that with me today. It's out now. Thanks so much for joining us.

Holiday: Thank you for having me.

Vigeland: By the way, multiple news organizations posted corrections after Ryan Holiday's book came out.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.
Image of Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
Author: Ryan Holiday
Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover (2012)
Binding: Hardcover, 259 pages

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