One of the enduring mysteries of the Lianne Spiderbaby plagiarism scandal has always been – who was the person who finally caught her and how did it all go down?
La Politique Psychotronique is very pleased to present, for the very first time in public, the original anonymous source that detected her plagiarism and blew the whistle. We will not be revealing their identity but we had a chance to ask some questions and build out the backstory behind the bombshell that rocked the horror journalism world to its core.
LPP: To begin, why did you choose to approach this anonymously? Readers will no doubt be curious.
SOURCE: Mostly because in those early days I didn’t want to make myself a target for Lianne and her army of supporters. I knew that Lianne would be grasping for anything she could use to turn this around, and I didn’t want to be a convenient scapegoat. We saw that later with Lianne and friends lashing out at Mike White and others leading the charge, and I was glad to be left out. Though I never personally met Lianne, I did run in the same circles and I have friends who write or have written for Fangoria, Video Watchdog and Famous Monsters of Filmland.
I’m remaining anonymous today because I still don’t want to strain those relationships. Plus there’s no reason to come forward–there’s zero glory that came out of what unfolded, just a
Pandora’s box of ugly comments and shameful attitudes which I knew would happen but couldn’t avoid. And I’d rather people focus on the issues of editorial integrity in horror media that have emerged from this debacle. That’s important stuff, who I am is not.
LPP: Tell us about your knowledge of Spiderbaby prior to your discovery. Were you a fan of her work?
SOURCE: I obviously knew of Lianne but only read her work on a few occasions. I admit that I thought she was an insecure and unpolished writer, but I didn’t particularly dislike her, envy her “bicoastal lifestyle” or athleticism, or any of those other things. I just figured she was doing what she was doing as a horror writer, working on a book. Good for her–even if I didn’t personally care to read her stuff, lots of other people did.
Years ago I read her infamous “I Spit on Your Grave” review on Fangoria’s site, which I thought was a badly argued case for film censorship on a site with a horror audience who usually want films as uncut as possible. Later I noticed a multi-page interview in Fangoria where she was asking questions to her (ex?) boyfriend filmmaker without disclosing their relationship (Not Tarantino, a previous boyfriend).
Oh, and I watched a FrightBytes once.
And then of course, there was her “Suspiria” interview for Fearnet.
LPP: How did you discover that first lifted passage?
I was not looking for what I found. Somebody posted a link on Facebook and I guess I was bored and wanted to see if her writing had improved. This is on July 9, 2013, four days before the article appeared on Mike’s site. So the intro to the interview was kind of a mess and seemed to contradict itself in a few places. Some phrases were weird, including saying Argento was “at the top of his proverbial game”.
Do people really say that instead of just “at the top of his game”? I wasn’t sure so I did what I always do–I googled it to see how many hits came back, to see how common the phrase was. But one of the first hits was a 2005 review of Suspiria, and I clicked through to find a whole chunk of that review was taken verbatim. Then I realized other bits were plagiarized from other sources.
LPP: What went through your mind as you realized you’d uncovered this huge smoking
SOURCE: I was a bit surprised, mostly that she got this far without anyone noticing. But it was like, suddenly all the problems in with her writing made sense. The parts that contradicted each other? Taken from two separate reviews. It wasn’t that she was a bad writer, she wasn’t writing anything!
LPP: Who did you attempt to notify about this and when?
SOURCE: I sent an email to a few close friends while I thought about what to do, then I started screencapping everything (still have ’em). A few more people got the email the next day and on July 11, one of those recipients asked if they could mass-forward it. I agreed, as long as my name was removed for the reasons I stated.
I’m told it was circulated far and wide that evening, reaching most of her editors and possibly even Lianne herself. The Fearnet articles started to disappear that evening.
Then I heard Lianne was trying to blame her intern for doing it, so I went back to my Fearnet screengrabs the next day (July 12) and found an article from before her intern was hired and showed it was pasted from various sources too, the same way it was ultimately presented on Impossible Funky.
I knew there were more of her articles with stolen material, but I didn’t have time to do it all and I knew the internet would run with it once this was made public. At this point Lianne was putting her plagiarized Fearnet articles up on her own site for some bizarre reason, which just put more blood in the water.
LPP: Why is it, do you think, that it took an independent online journalist like Mike White to spill the story when the editors of many established genre publications had the same facts in front of them? Do you think those outlets ever would have acted on this information or would they have buried it?
Fearnet, Fangoria, Video Watchdog and Famous Monsters aren’t going to (and didn’t) run articles highlighting how they hired a plagiarist that made them look stupid.
If Bloody Disgusting, Rue Morgue or Dread Central write about it, it looks like they’re attacking the competition’s most visible personality. The horror journalism world is small and there are big egos in play and nobody wants to burn bridges or look like they’re rubbing their competitors faces in the mud.
Mike was outside that circle and it didn’t matter to him. But that original email went through a chain of whistleblowers before it landed in Mike’s hands and he published it July 13 (almost simultaneously with FlickFilosopher.com).
SOURCE: I was amazed at how far things went. Someone said to me this is the biggest story you’ll ever be involved with and your name’s not on it! But like I said, I’m OK with that.
When it hit Gawker I actually started to feel bad for Lianne until I heard rumours that she didn’t really care, that this would make her book even more popular. But what’s even
more amazing is that months later, people I know are still talking about. It just won’t stay dead!
LPP: What do you think the overall implications of this scandal are for
quality journalism in the genre press? Will things improve as a result or stay the
SOURCE: It was interesting how after Lianne was exposed suddenly people were looking critically at her writing ability, and realizing that her articles weren’t that good (even forgetting about the stolen bits). Thanks, but a little too late, guys.
There’s already lots of good genre writing out there today from more magazines and
websites than ever before. There’s also crap–I’d die happy if I never had to read another article about how somebody rented a VHS tape of some shit slasher when they were 8 and they love it to this day even though everybody else hates it.
The quality is already out there, but it’s not always easy to see–any hack with a big social media presence can get more attention than a talented writer whose not on Facebook;
that’s life. But those big personalities have to be backed up with something
interesting to say. If it’s all sizzle no steak, people will be left hungry.
That’s why, in theory anyway, there’s gatekeepers like Fangoria and Bloody Disgusting to weed out the material not worth your time and showcase the writers that are. Which points to one of the essential problems in this saga–what combination of editorial decisions and turning a blind eye allowed Lianne’s weak articles to garner space in such prominent publications?
I’m told she was heavily edited at Fangoria and I suspect the same at Video Watchdog. But why would Chris Alexander or Tim Lucas allow a substandard writer to appear in their pages in the first place? Did they honestly believe her work was on the same level as other writers in their publications?
I hope both have considered their undeniable roles in perpetuating this fraud on their
readers, those that trusted them to present quality work. Is there an appetite out there for better standards among readers? Among many writers I’ve talked to, yes, but probably less for readers.
They understandably don’t know what goes into the day to day publishing world, and it takes a Spiderbaby incident to make them step back and wonder if something is broken. But any big change has to come from pressure from the readers.
Unfortunately, the magic of the Internet turns rational discussion into hysterical, unconditional cheerleading. If we want better standards, we have to stop being Facebook sycophants and take a reasonable approach with horror journalists and editors we read instead of acting like everything they do is brilliant (possibly a hard thing to do when you want Fangoria to cover your CD or you want to write for Famous Monsters).
It’s nauseating and infuriating to see ill-informed readers blindly congratulating editors for ethical breaches, and I hope there’s a silent majority out there that’s more sensible about this stuff.
Of course, it doesn’t help that most of these editors didn’t actually go to any kind of journalism school. If they’re serious about putting out a national magazine they should probably take a class or two to learn, or re-learn, those standards.
LPP:Do you think the editors of some of the outlets that have spoken on this topic – I’m thinking Tim Lucas at Video Watchdog and Chris Alexander at Fangoria are the two big ones – have read the temperature of the public sentiment about this correctly?
SOURCE: The scandal is probably the biggest public challenge either of them will ever have to face as editors. Tim Lucas (and to a lesser extent Chris Alexander) putting his rep on the line to make Lianne out to be a victim was shockingly unprofessional and disheartening. Neither appears to have considered that most of the “internet mob” they railed against in their backhanded apologies were the same passionate horror fans who buy and read their magazines.
Customers who trusted Lianne to be who she said she was. Customers who trusted those
magazine to print original material worth reading. This trust was shattered, and people have a right to be pissed off about being deceived. The editor has to rebuild that trust, and the first step is to condemn all plagiarism in no uncertain terms. That didn’t happen from any publication involved. (Strangely, the one that came out the best in all this was Fearnet, who just pulled the articles and said nothing. Even Famous Monsters just hid in the closet until it blew over. Nobody’s talking about them today.) But Tim, who I used to admire before all this, is a curious case.
My understanding is that Lianne was doing damage control the night the email first circulated and perhaps she contacted Tim and somehow convinced him it was an unfounded smear campaign that he should immediately delete from his inbox. Or maybe he’s not tech savvy enough to know how to look at the cached versions of the pages where the reviews were., I don’t know, but I do know that if you are the editor of a magazine and receive word that one of your writers may be plagiarizing, you absolutely, without fail, must investigate. If it isn’t true, you can confidently deny it. But to take that writer’s word, a writer who may have already repeatedly lied, and not even look at the evidence? It’s just blatant violation of the trust of your readers, your customers who will still be there long after Lianne flamed out.
Tim Lucas ignored clear evidence and put his personal feelings for a person who
wrote for him twice(!) ahead of a responsibility to those who loyally read his magazine for 20 years–think about that. No matter what Lianne told him, he, like everyone else who got the email, had days to verify the information before making his initial post on the matter at Latarnia and yet either did not or could not do this. Only after being called out as a “Video Horndog” in Gawker and lambasted in the Guardian did Tim reconsider his position, claiming falsely he did not have enough information at the time.
And yet months later, there he is in the pages of his magazine, still taking potshots at a readers who happen to care about accountability. It is unbelievable and insulting.
The thing is, I get Chris and Tim’s point about internet mobs, they are almost always a bad thing. Some people inappropriately used this controversy to grind axes about Women in Horror month, air personal vendettas against certain magazines, and say untrue or misogynistic things about Lianne. But the bottom line is this: a person was taking the words of self-publishers and selling them as her own. This act is unacceptable and has nothing to do with gender, who she was dating, what films she watches, what kinds of magazines published her work, what people said about her online, how many days she didn’t eat to fit in an Oscar dress, or whether people liked her before it happened.
This is a lesson that must be learned by both horror magazine editors and internet
loudmouths. Luckily, most of us don’t fall into either category.