Like Damian McBride, Ryan Holiday is a repentant spinner. Whilst McBride’s beat was British politics, Holiday’s is American culture, including time as Director of Marketing for the controversial clothing firm American Apparel.
As with Damian McBride’s book Power Trip, you certainly shouldn’t take as an instruction manual Holiday’s accounts of how he regularly manipulated, bamboozled and fooled bloggers and the media into running false, exaggerated and self-serving stories. But as with McBride too, along the way there is also a canny account of how the media works, its strengths and weaknesses.
Trust Me, I’m Lying contains much valuable insight into how what we hear, see and read is chosen and composed, especially the way stories can be planted on small blogs with low editorial standards which then bubble up through the ranks, gaining an audience and apparent credibility along the way. Holiday is good too on how the underlying economics of American blogging works against good quality coverage and on the weaknesses of Wikipedia.
Some of Holiday’s tactics have unsurprisingly attracted much controversy since he has confessed his sins – such as the faking of documents to “leak” under false names to bloggers in order to get them speculating about a product or company.
But don’t let your eye slip uncritically over his wider comments about the structure of the media. Although his views on topics such as the default tone of snark in much blogging have some merit, he often greatly exaggerates how awful things are. Nothing is occasionally bad in his book – it’s permanently awful.
Finally, this is a book about the US and in some respects Britain is very different, especially given the influence of the BBC and more widely TV channels with their own active social media presences still driven by a requirement of impartiality. For British readers, Holiday is more like one volume in a trilogy, with McBride and Nick Davies’s Flat Earth News the other two.