June 16, 2003
Hey, look! It's Greg Packer!

Greg Beato has some fun with the Greg Packer story and the unholy troika of Coulter, Kaus, and Reynolds, who are bound and determined to find a Liberal Media Conspiracy in there somewhere.

In case you haven't heard of this, Greg Packer is a guy who's been incredibly successful at getting quoted by reporters as a "man on the street", most recently at Hillary Clinton's book signing. The Wall Street Journal has a good overview of who he is and how he's achieved his ubiquitousness.

What I haven't seen mentioned anywhere is the fact that there's nothing original about what Packer has done. One could say that Packer is this decade's Rollen Stewart, though I sincerely hope that the parallels go no farther than multiple media appearances. And let's face it, no matter how many times Greg Packer can get quoted by the Associated Press, he's no Joey Skaggs. Really, the most amazing thing about the whole Packer story is how often and easily guys like him are able to get away with it. This story shows how easy it's been for Skaggs:

Skaggs has pulled off quite a few capers on his media mission. Using the alias "Dr. Joe Bones," he invented the "Fat Squad" to razz the media for the endless attention it pays to diet fads. Skaggs promoted the Fat Squad as a group of commandos that dieters could hire to keep them away from food. Skaggs said, "It is a joke about how everyone is hyping this weight loss thing. All these books, you know, and the diets and all this stuff. So I said, 'I will have commandos assigned to you 24 hours a day, and they'll beat the crap out of you if you go for that chocolate cake, if it's not on your diet.' "

To promote his Fat Squad, Skaggs simply sent a press release to wire services, which then sent the story to newsrooms across the country. "The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Enquirer both fell for this," Skaggs said. "Another journalist wanting to do their own personal spin on it will call you up, verify that they spoke to you, and then repackage, re-can and put out the same story in essence," he said.

And what newspapers print, television regularly copies. Skaggs, posing as Joe Bones, appeared on ABC's Good Morning America, promoting his Fat Squad. The show's former co-host David Hartman introduced the story by announcing that "six Fat Squad commandos are here now, this morning, live, to maintain tight security around our Good Morning America refrigerator." Hartman displayed a bit of skepticism, asking "Bones" if the Fat Squad was legitimate, but that was the extent of the challenge.

There is, of course, a big difference between Joey Skaggs, a self-styled "satirist" who's looking to fool the media, and Greg Packer, an apparently honest schlub who just wants to see his name in print, but in the end they've been able to do what they do for the same reason: not enough people have paid enough attention to recognize them when they've popped up. I suspect it will be harder for Packer to get in the paper now that he's been outed, but I can just about guarantee we haven't seen the last of him.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 16, 2003 to Society and cultcha | TrackBack

What I find most interesting about Greg Packer is not that it demonstrates bias. There is no doubt in my mind that the NYT is biased (side note: Dick Murray even conceded that), but let's be honest: If the Times is going to be biased (and we obviously disagree on that point), it will do so with or without Packer. Are they going to talk to a staunch Republican at a Hillary fundraiser? Do Packer's views on the religion behind Star Wars demonstrate any form of bias? Of course not.

On the other hand, it demonstrates, yet again, the Times's overbearing laziness. Even if you strip Jayson Blair of the affirmative action question, there is still a plethora of administrative negligence that lead to it. As for Greg Packer, you would think at some point someone (in the Times) would have noticed that they had a amateur-professional quotee on their hands and that they perhaps need to find some other people in a city with over seven million people.

These are things that ought to be noticed by people within the organization. If the New York Times is supposed to be the standard newssource for the country, they need to start acting like it. It's one thing for the Houston Comical to do this sort of thing, but it's another for the Times.

I can't speak for anyone but myself, but it's not an example of liberal bias as much as it is an example of poor management by a newspaper that I'm told to consider the newspaper of record.

Posted by: R. Alex on June 16, 2003 8:01 PM

Now hang on a sec, Alex. According to the WSJ article, the Times has quoted Packer three times since 1996. (Beato counted six in an archive search of the NYT.) The New York Daily News "counts about a dozen Packer references", while Beato found 14 for the New York Post. I don't see how this is the NYT's problem and not the News or Post's.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on June 16, 2003 9:13 PM

My language was perhaps a bit strong due to my hostility towards the paper in general (and perhaps overbearing laziness on my part for mentioning it with Blair in the same tract without expressing the strong difference in severity between the two).

In any case, when the New York Post and New York Daily News are regarded as the pace-setters for American journalism or when I see them at a Starbucks in Houston, I'll be as hard on them. But the NYT ostensibly draws the best talent in journalism (along with WSJ and WaPo) and yet there is a bit of a quality control problem that has no reason for existing that I don't see (and maybe I'm not looking hard enough) in the WSJ and WaPo.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's analogous to our (and most of Houston's) frustration with the Chronicle. We wouldn't really care if it wasn't the city's primary paper.

Posted by: R. Alex on June 16, 2003 11:12 PM

I guess I'm way behind the curve on this guy only have heard about him today; basically I view the whole Greg Packer thing as a classic case of the media "dumbing down" news. I read a pretty good piece a while back reflecting on the fact that Rona Barrett was once the only "journalist" that covered celebrity gossip (people in the biz called her Rona Rooter); now we have Barbara Walters interviewing Hugh Grant after he got caught having sex with a prostitute and it's the #1 watched show of the week...Talk about appleaing to our lesser angels...

Posted by: J. Baker on July 8, 2003 6:30 PM

Greg Packer is the sexiest man on Long Island. He is well known by local women for his tantric sex techniques!!

Posted by: MWA on May 19, 2004 3:14 PM

"Fudge" Packer better not be first on line for my book signing. I'll make him feel my pain.

Posted by: Bill Clinton on June 21, 2004 7:25 AM