Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is pretty well known in the Marketing and Media communities. He dropped out of college at nineteen to apprentice with Robert Green, the author of The 48 Laws of Power, he was previously the Director of Marketing for American Apparel, and he’s helped with marketing for authors and musicians (probably most notably he played a pretty important role in promoting the book I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell for his good friend Tucker Max). This guy knows his stuff.
I mention all of this because I want to talk about a book he wrote. This book talks about a very important problem that exists in media today. A problem he admits to being a big part of.
In the book Trust Me, I’m Lying Ryan talks about how being a media manipulator works. There are stories of him creating fake email accounts and using those accounts to be quoted in blog posts and news stories as an “expert”. There are also stories of how he promoted a book by vandalizing billboards in the middle of the night and stirred up conflict at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
In fact, the billboard he vandalized to manipulate the media/public was one he bought to promote his friends movie. When he was helping his friend Tucker Max promote the movie I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell Ryan paid for several billboards to go up. Nothing unusual about that. What was unusual was that later on, in the middle of the night, he vandalized one of the very billboards he paid for, took photos of it, then emailed it to a blogger using a fake email address in order to make people believe that there was an uproar about the movie when there wasn’t. And it worked. People started talking about it. They argued with each other on social media about it. It got a lot of attention and sales for the book that the movie was based on went way up. Which was the plan all along.
So what does this have to do with the media and the problem the media currently has? Probably the fact that none of the writers and “reporters” who quoted the fake personas he created bothered to do even a cursory background check. Probably the fact that writers and “reporters” are publishing stories without fact checking and don’t even talk to the subjects of their stories until after they publish. Probably the fact that most blog, newspaper, and TV news reporters care more about getting clicks on their websites than telling the truth. When Ryan sent those photos on the vandalized billboard to a blogger he used a fake name and the blogger who wrote about didn’t bother to find out if he was who he said he was…which he wasn’t.
These are problems within the media that have actually existed for longer than the Internet has even been around. They have existed since the first newspaper was created. And these problems make it very easy for people like Ryan Holiday – media manipulators – to twist the narrative to suit their needs.
In Trust Me, I’m Lying Ryan pulls back the curtain and shows just how bad it really is. Because it’s one thing to manipulate for something as small as selling books, but it’s another when people start manipulating the media in ways that ruin people’s careers and risks their lives.
For example, Ryan talks about the time in 2011 when a Pastor named Terry Jones manipulated the media into covering his staged burning of the Koran, which lead to protests in the Middle East that killed almost thirty people. And the media let it happen.
If you’ve ever wondered just how much of what you read on the Internet, in newspapers, or see on TV is true and how much is probably definitely completely made up then you should really pick up this book from a guy who knows first hand how easy it is to get the media to say what you want them to say.
The only real criticism I have of this book is that he has a tendency to repeat stories and some of the concepts he talks about to go on a little longer than they probably should. He also tends to complain about the same few blog sites repeatedly (Gawker and Huffington Post) which can feel like he has some kind of personal vendetta sometimes and can make it a slow read in some places.
All in all, I’d give Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator a solid 4 out 5 stars.