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We’ve Been Had: A Detective Story and An Apology

"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." — Peter Steiner, cartoonist

Here at Blogcritics, we're a pretty trusting bunch of folks. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that trait serves us well. A lot of people write here, many of them under pseudonyms. By and large, we trust that people represent themselves truthfully, and by and large, that has proven to be the case. Nonetheless, we recently found ourselves caught in someone else's web of deceit. Here's what happened, along with the virtual paper trail I constructed on our way to finding out how.

We publish original content on almost every topic imaginable, from reviews to political opinion pieces to sports news and everything in between. Every now and then, people join us for the wrong reasons, which quickly becomes apparent to both them and us. We don't have dedicated fact-checkers — we are not The New York Times, nor The New Yorker — and so we trust writers to do their own homework and verify their own facts. Further, we trust that when writers submit an article, they are submitting a truthful accounting of events.

Recently, we got our fingers burnt by our trusting nature and should have paid more attention to the old adage that if a thing sounds too good to be true, it usually is. A new writer to the site, who signed up under the user name richardjames (I shall refer to him hereafter as Richard James), submitted an interview with Donald Trump — yes, that Donald Trump, The Donald, a man who likely doesn't grant interviews with unknown bloggers very often. This is what we call a good catch, and it certainly falls into the "too good to be true" category. Mr. James wrote that he "caught up with The Donald at a restaurant in Manhattan where he talked about his story, the triumph and the glory." Blogcritics' publisher Eric Olsen contacted Mr. James to verify that the interview actually happened (he claimed that it did indeed) and in addition to being published, we gave it some coveted front page real estate.

Nonetheless, some members of the editorial staff (myself included) and at least one astute reader continued to have their doubts. Donald Trump probably has a bodyguard — would it even be possible for a stranger to approach him while he was dining out? And didn't it perhaps seem odd that when asked about what he was currently reading, Mr. Trump mentioned not just the title of the book but also the publisher? At the very least, it seemed that someone involved with the book was using this interview as a way to promote it. At the very worst, it was likely that the interview was made up.

My sleuthing instincts aroused, I set to work. It used to be the case — I've seen enough black-and-white movies about hard-boiled detectives to know this — that detective work was done on foot, and through the mail (the old-fashioned paper kind!), and over the telephone, and sometimes involved meeting unsavory types in back alleys. Nowadays, all you need is a place to start, and Google. So I decided to find out what I could about our Richard James. The first place I looked was our own backyard; he had published one other article with us and that's where the story begins to unravel…

Mr. James' first article was a review of a book called Africa's Best Stories. While we are loathe to give the book any more publicity (for reasons which will become clear), what follows is pertinent to the rest of the story. It turns out that Africa's Best Stories was published at Amazon's CreateSpace service by a publishing company called StoryAfrica, under the auspices of one Mfonobong Nsehe. Mr. Nsehe, not coincidentally, is a former contributor to Blogcritics. As it happens, the book that Donald Trump claimed to be reading in the interview we published (Crazy Billionaires Speak) is also published by — you guessed it — Mfonobong Nsehe. So we now have two articles on the site, by Richard James, which are promoting Mr. Nsehe's interests. I believe that coincidence is never outside the realm of possibility, but I was still very suspicious and set out to learn more about Mr. James.

About Lisa McKay

  • http://hubpages.com/profile/Bob+Etier Miss Bob Etier

    Lisa, did you grow up reading Nancy Drew? I love the article–you even made it suspenseful! As for the guy…I guess we’re always going to run into scammers in sheep’s clothing (do sheep really wear clothing?). It’s like my dear sainted mother always said, “Never trust a man named Mfonobong.”

  • http://blogcritics.org Lisa McKay

    Thanks, Miss Bob! As it happens, I did indeed grow up reading Nancy Drew (although I was imagining myself as more of a female version of Sam Spade).

    It bothers me when someone tries to pull a fast one — it’s unfair to our readers and to the other 99.999 % of our writers.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Well, Lisa, the best thing is that you caught the deception. It has happened to many publications over the years, but let’s credit you and BC for digging deep and uncovering Mr. Phoney Baloney-bong for what he is.

    We must also applaud your stand-up way of handling the matter. That is why 99.999% of your writers are proud (and feel privileged) to be published here.

  • whatamess

    I use to read Trump University’s website quite some time ago before it changed its name. So many people popped onto this website to advertise their business and you wouldn’t see them blog again.

    I made a few comments regarding the comings and goings of wannabe salesmen, and potential gimmicks, asking if these were students or collegues. Not much was done in that regard although I wrote extensively concerned about this issue.

    It just doesn’t happen that way at a University people don’t come to class to advertise they go to class to learn. More over what bad taste to advertise any other brand on Trump’s website without permission unless it is in the context of a learning discussion.

    Long and the short of it is people continued to advertise their brands on Mr Trump’s website for quite sometime. I don’t know what the website does now I don’t read his column anymore and I am very happy that his University has been exposed as an Entrepreneur website instead and not that of a University. I imagine he allowed people to do what ever they wanted to protect any assessment of his own intellectual value, blame it on the bloggers and of course don’t forget he doesn’t own the website he just endorses it, and features articles to promote it.

    My old comments are misrepresented when they come up on google because as usual they capture the first and last snips on a page, one snip belonging to an entirely different author than the other. I ignore it but it is wrong its again deception by accident ?

    Perhaps, what goes around comes around including those seeking attention from the damages of that University because had they really wanted a University education they would have read all those comments that challenged the claim, merit and status of this website having had any University merit what so ever.

    To me that website was a dumping ground for cheap suits to advertise their wares and indeed there was one such person who continued to state she would write a book one day something about the crucifix and women which to me was offensive discrimination not unlike that of Ann Coulter’s type and style of angst.

    So who is this author who claims to have interviewed Trump ? The first person that came to mind was that girl who wrote extensively in the forum, and for all intense purposes could argue that she had in fact interviewed Mr Trump had he featured anyone of her merid of questions in those years that Trump Entrepreneurial Intiative was then known as Trump University.

    As for publishing books online that are not authentic by nature, these are the growing pains of security online and I never trusted the Trump’s brand name too many questions and or answers flagged my very soul and gut instincts and I always listen to my guardian angel first.

    With so many bloggers online plagerism is in a ripe era and many are going to be targets especially in the states where they toss around law suits like fluffy pink slippers, the only difference suits need to be dry cleaned slippers just smell nasty.

    I would have to say to Lisa McKay that the one element missing in her article is the veracity to question authority, but in the states it is dangerous to do so lest you be sued.

  • doug m

    Good to see you caught the charlatan, but I must say I find one part odd. If there was some doubt as to authenticity of the piece, why would you trust assurance from author?

  • whatamess

    Had anyone attended Trump University’s forum one can see how there was a heirchy and for all intense purposes one could say they were the Board of Directors at Trump University based on the number of comments submitted to the forum the rank and file of your comments rose the more you wrote.

    Would it not be fun to walk the face of the earth using Trump’s Brand stating you were a member of its Board of Directors, I should think it would be an embarassment by now because it isn’t a true reflection of one’s intellectual status.

    But as you can see Lisa McKay there is a lot of rope left behind to hang one and all including Trump’s Brand itself.

    To be sure those who questioned authority would have been Mr Trump’s smartest candidates.

  • whatamess

    doug m my understanding is the author remains at large

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    yeah. the interview DID have that certain smell…and i ain’t talkin’ about sauerkraut!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    Excellent article, Lisa, and commendable detective work. However, since you’ve determined that Richard James’s interview with Donald Trump is a fraud, why does it remain on Blogcritics? And without a single comment or link directing readers to today’s mea culpa?

    Moreover, since you’ve determined that Richard James and Mfonobong Nsehe are one and the same person and that Mr. James’s BC review of Africa’s Best Stories “is simply a vehicle for him to promote the book,” in which he presumably has a financial interest, why does that review also remain on Blogcritics, likewise without a single comment or link directing readers to today’s mea culpa?

  • http://eclecticlibrarian.net/ Anna Creech

    Alan, I can’t speak for Lisa, but my understanding is that we are waiting for the technical gurus to do their magic on the server so that the URLs for those two articles redirect to this one.

  • http://blogcritics.org Lisa McKay

    Anna is correct, but your point is well taken, Alan. While we wait for the redirects to happen, I’ll add an editorial note to each article.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/alan-kurtz Alan Kurtz

    In a surfeit of irony, this telling confession “We’ve Been Had” appears a day after BC published my article “Troll, Baby, Troll,” wherein I recalled Eric Olsen’s confident claim eight years ago, “I know a troll when I see one.” Now comes evidence that the Blogcritics publisher has lost his vaunted powers of clairvoyance.

    Even before Lisa McKay turned gumshoe, two Blogcritics regulars were skeptical of Richard James’s purported interview with Donald Trump. “You mean this is real?” doubted El Bicho. “I thought it was a gag.” Mark Saleski was likewise suspicious: “Somethin’ smells funny here.”

    Eric Olsen, however, fell for this fish story hook, line and sinker. In his online comment #1 Olsen remarked, “Amazing stuff Richard, how did you line this up?” James replied, “Twas a piece of cake.” To which Olsen enthused, “Great job, thanks!”

    If only Eric had posed the question he raised in a 2003 BC music article: “Who Is Richard James?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Indeed, a great job of detective work.

    If only our MSM was half as conscientious and motivated by truth.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Mainstream reporters will always have enough time to expose anyone that tries to cross their paths. They’re just like us.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/christine-lakatos-/ Christine

    Wow, great detective work Lisa! And doesn’t Mr. James know that Chess is a full-time job? lol

  • Jordan Richardson

    Is this the same Mfonobong Nsehe who put together The Adolf Hitler Book seen here?

    From the description:

    “The Adolf Hitler book is a collection of the most famous speeches, essays and quotations of Hitler. He was easily one of the greatest orators and thinkers of the 21st century. When you read this book, you will agree.”

    Awesome.

  • http://blogcritics.org Lisa McKay

    Oh, nice catch, Jordan. Yeah, that looks like his handiwork.

  • A Geek Girl

    I have to read those. It sounds like our ‘Fake Bob’.

    Honestly, I feel like an idiot, but there are interviews with some pretty awesome folks rolling through here. Some who rarely even do interviews talk to BC writers.

    It wouldn’t have surprised me to see The Donald interviewed here, I’m just sorry that it wasn’t so.

    Thanks for your candor in addressing this. Much appreciated.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Our “Fake Bob”?

    You may as well cross-reference, GG.

    There’s never too much humor on BC.

  • A Geek Girl

    You’re right Rog, unfortunately my research skills run more towards how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. Now I’m hungry.

    It’s an unfortunate sign of the paranoid times on BC, but Rog… you kinda sound like “Fake Bob”… Just sayin ;)

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I don’t mind wearing the title.

  • http://www.lynnvoedisch.com Lynn Voedisch

    Reading this for the first time in Stockholm, where I landed several hours ago. I had no idea this happened. Yes,
    “fake Bob” definitely has left his/her tracks here along with fellow travelers. Still trying to track down the possible GLBT connection going on with my own saga, which I don’t know if GG has posted over at the sad Tea review that went so utterly over the rainbow. Let’s just say that “he” and “she” were very relative pronouns and I’m still trying to get to the bottom of it all. Doesn’t help when certain unclued-in people pile on when they don’t know the full story or the people involved. (And least they identify themselves with a link!) Thanks GG for having my back when I was so obviously out of connection, either in the air or at airports without wi fi. Some people will take advantage of you mercilessly in those situations.
    Good job, Lisa!!
    Gotta get these trolls and fakers!
    Lynn

  • Jordan Richardson

    Why is that particular poster considered a “Fake Bob” when it was clearly just a real “Bob” making a pretty simple point for which he/she/Bob got resoundingly pounced on?

    There’s nothing even remotely comparable going on in that particular thread with this story of a fake Trump interview and such.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Jordan, it’s because when you can’t attack the message you attack the messenger. Like being called “unclued-in” when you disagree

  • Jordan Richardson

    Thanks, Pretend El Bicho. ;)

  • Mat Brewster

    Nice sleuthing Lisa. Couldn’t we just post the fake articles under satire ;)

    Makes me wonder how much trickery went on in the early care free days of BC.