JOURNALIST Q&A: Timothy Noah

One of the worst media hits must be Timothy Noah's Whopper of the Week, where the political scribe lays bare the lies of public figures. Before taking up Slate's Chatterbox column, of which Whopper is a part, Noah worked as a reporter and editor at a long list of prominent publications, from The New Republic to The Wall Street Journal. Since he talked to PRWeek about how he catches his whoppers, Howard Dean has made the cut, perhaps silencing some of Noah's more conservative antagonists.

One of the worst media hits must be Timothy Noah's Whopper of the Week, where the political scribe lays bare the lies of public figures. Before taking up Slate's Chatterbox column, of which Whopper is a part, Noah worked as a reporter and editor at a long list of prominent publications, from The New Republic to The Wall Street Journal. Since he talked to PRWeek about how he catches his whoppers, Howard Dean has made the cut, perhaps silencing some of Noah's more conservative antagonists.

PRWeek: Do you think journalists are too timid when it comes to acknowledging the prevarications of public figures? Timothy Noah: It's easier for opinion journalists to use the word "lie," because it's considered loaded. I wish less of a taboo were attached to it. One purpose of the Whopper of the Week feature is to point out that people tell lies all the time. In many instances, it's not particularly shocking. But it is important to know what's true and what isn't. PRWeek: How do you choose a Whopper? Noah: It's been easy filling the Whopper column lately because the administration's been lying its head off about Iraq. But most of the time, it's harder than you might think. I finally gave up doing it every week, rain or shine, because some weeks the Whopper candidates were too ambiguous. The format requires me to provide data, preferably available online, that shows the Whopper to be unambiguously false. Some weeks, that can be hard to find. PRWeek: Do you take much guff from those who earn the dubious distinction? Noah: Not once that I can remember. All my Whoppers are based on statements that have already appeared in print, so usually the person who said them has already experienced some public embarrassment and feels the less said, the better. I do get a lot of complaints from readers that my Whoppers are heavily Republican. But I didn't start the column until after the GOP had seized the White House (ahem, I mean "won the election"). The House was already Republican, and the Senate is now Republican, too. The people in power are the ones who get covered in the press, and newspapers are where I find Whoppers. If readers want to see more Democrats tagged for Whoppers, they'll have to elect more of them to national office. PRWeek: Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was a regular contributor. Do you expect the same level of participation from his replacement, Scott McClellan? What's your early read? Noah: I've seen McClellan toss off a few Whoppers, but it isn't a reflex with him the way it was for Fleischer. When I worked for Newsweek in the late 1980s, Evan Thomas used to say that Adm. John Poindexter, a key figure in Iran-contra, was an "exuberant liar." That's a special category of liar, and not many make the grade. Fleischer is an exuberant liar. Name: Timothy Noah Publication: Slate Title: Columnist Preferred contact method: chatterbox@slate.com Website: slate.msn.com

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