The Despicable Ryan Holiday

Sub-title: “Buy This Book—You’re An Idiot”

You know those science fiction movies where a scientist can’t get anyone to listen to him about the threat of a man-made virus getting out of control and destroying the world decides to prove his point by creating a virus that then gets out of control and destroys the world? Or the ones about the government computer geek who drives people crazy complaining that the nation’s systems are vulnerable to cyber-attack, so he creates a bug to prove his point and it sends the country back to the stone age?

Ryan Holiday is like those guys. Fortunately, he isn’t a scientist or tech whiz, just an unscrupulous writer and a liar, so his unconscionable stunts to “prove a point” don’t risk ending civilization. Ethically, however, he is no better than those fictional characters, and arguably he is worse. At least those brilliant boobs were trying to prevent a catastrophe. Holiday is just trying to sell his book.

The book is about the news media’s vulnerability to bad information, so Holiday, a 25-year-old marketing director for American Apparel, decided to prove his thesis with an “experiment.” He got himself listed as an “expert” on an online resource for reporters, and when they contacted him, he lied to them. One of the media sources that fell for his deception was the New York Times, which subsequently published this after a story using Holiday’s lies made it into the News That’s Fit to Print, when it wasn’t:

An earlier version of this article included quotations from Ryan Holiday of New Orleans discussing why he preferred vinyl records. The reporter reached Mr. Holiday through a Web site that connects reporters to sources on various topics. Mr. Holiday, who has written a book about media manipulation, subsequently acknowledged that he lied to the Times reporter and to other journalists on a variety of subjects, fabricating responses to their online queries. (He says he does not own a turntable.)”

ABC, NBC, CBS, and Reuters were also among the news outlets that got stung by Holiday through the site. Predictably, Holiday feels no remorse: it’s all those news media sources and blogs that don’t check their sources that are at fault. And they are at fault, but that does not entitle him to 1) deceive their readers, who are not at fault and 2) harm the reputation of the online resource for reporters, which now will not be trusted, thanks to him.

We know the news media is sloppy, unethical and unprofessional. We don’t need smug liars like Holiday to “prove” it further, and to put even more bad information into the news so he can sell more books. Forbes, used him as a contributor, has reportedly cut ties with him, and anyone who buys Holiday’s book, which is approximately as trustworthy as a genetically spliced monster made up of equal parts of Al Sharpton, Newt Gingrich and Elizabeth Warren, deserves to be lied to.

Facts: Forbes

Source, Graphic: Yahoo!

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

4 thoughts on “The Despicable Ryan Holiday

  1. When I saw this, it made me mad at Ryan Holiday first for planning on doing such a foolish thing. When I found out the information he “lied” about, I just laughed. It is saying something when anyone believes there are ‘experts’ on vinyl vs CD’s. These things are opinions. I bet I could get listed as such an ‘expert’ on any number of things. The only thing he revealed is that there are a lot of ‘experts’ on garbage subjects and newspapers interview them. Not much of a book if you ask me. I think he made more of a fool out of himself by portraying someone who thinks it actually matters if any one person prefers analog over digital. What’s next, will he lie about his favorite color? These things only cause problems in Monty Python movies.

  2. OMG!!! Someone is trusting someone else!!! We can’t have that!!!

    So, the obvious reaction anyone would have upon learning about this is to find a way to obtain and subsequently betray that trust to prove . . . um . . . that trust can be betrayed.

    Gee, thanks Ryan. I never would have known that if you hadn’t written your book about it.

    Perhaps in his next book, he’ll chronicle how hungry he got when he went two whole days without eating anything….



  3. Speaking of sloppy, “We know the news media IS sloppy, etc.” (my emphasis). Jack, shouldn’t that be “…the news media are sloppy, etc.”? It’s been over three score years since high school Latin, but I believe “media” is the plural of “medium”.

    • Media is funny that way, just like “ethics”, which is also singular and plural at the same time. “The news media” is commonly used as a monolith term. The news media is biased and the news media are biased are both legit, in my book. Then again, my Latin teacher told me I was the worst 4 year Latin student in her 38 years of teaching….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.