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Guest column

Krakauer's 'Missoula' misses the truth

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Jon Krakauer has written controversial books in the past. Now he has descended on our town and has produced yet another work that is selectively researched and masterfully deceptive. In the shadow of Sabrina Erdely and the "Rolling Stone" fiasco, Krakauer consciously set out to write one side of a complex issue.

Several years ago, he was heard to say his next book was going to be based on, or taken from, an existing written record, a transcript, because he didn’t want to do fresh research. Krakauer’s new book accomplishes both of his goals: he cherry-picks various written documents and reports and a trial transcript with which I am very familiar, and his research is scant. He interviewed and quoted only a handful of individuals who supported his myopic view of a serious issue that has many complex sides to it.

The individuals he did not bother to contact, much less interview, represent the strongest condemnation of his tactics. No defense attorneys, no prosecutors, no police, nobody who may provide conflicting facts to what he was cooking up. While he offers a few sentences at the end of the book to acknowledge the ramifications of false accusations on the accused, he comfortably promotes such accusations in the bulk of his stories.

He spends over 100 pages attempting to retry the case with which I am familiar, that of Jordan Johnson. Jordan was found innocent by a unanimous jury on March 1, 2013. Now, over two years later he wants to take it on again. Krakauer is ill-equipped to do so. Despite being told by the only juror on the case that he interviewed that she felt "the jury arrived at the correct verdict,” Krakauer condemns the judicial system. From that trial transcript he obtained, he only includes in his book selective ellipse-laden excerpts that push his single-minded view of this issue. Remember, he wanted a case with a transcript so he didn't have to do research. He doesn’t want to tell the whole story because the whole story is not the story he set out to tell.

There are many vivid examples of the trial evidence Krakauer selectively avoided. There are many other instances where he conflates portions of the trial or is flatly incorrect about the clear record before him. He also misrepresents to the reader that he must have attended the bulk of the trial, when he was only there for several days.

Perhaps the publishing business has devolved to these type of practices to “get the story that sells, facts be damned.” Now, on the heels of the Rolling Stone debacle and journalistic ethical uproar, Doubleday brands Krakauer’s book “nonfiction” and allows it to go to print knowing that the author did not fully research his story.

Sure, it’s his book. He gets to write it the way he wants, I guess. But not when he claims to care about this serious issue. His past works have been roundly criticized for the factual inaccuracies and serious deficiencies in them. The pattern includes steady criticism, written corrections, counter-point books and Krakauer’s amendments. So, too, will it be with this book. But, the damage he inflicts will be done.

Unfortunately, because of the gravity of this traumatic issue, Krakauer’s business model doesn’t help anybody work to protect the most vulnerable. Contrary to his claim that he cares about the issue, just like the author of the "Rolling Stone" piece, Krakauer will, sadly, discourage victims to come forward. And that, in the end, is the greatest tragedy of his story. 

David Paoli lives and works in Missoula. He was the lead defense attorney for Jordan Johnson, who was acquitted of rape in Missoula County District Court. 

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Related to this story

Tuesday's release of best-selling author Jon Krakauer's latest project, "Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town," had many locals anxious if not uneasy. Not among them was University of Montana athletic director Kent Haslam, who called the latest account of several highly publicized sexual assault allegations against UM football players in 2012 and 2013 an "opportunity" not to be shied away from.

Jon Krakauer has "no doubt" rape victims in Missoula will be served poorly with Kirsten Pabst as the Missoula County attorney. On Tuesday, Doubleday will release the bestselling author's book called "Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town." In the book, women tell stories of being raped by acquaintances and failed by the justice system in cases from 2010 to 2012.

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