Journalist Gay Talese has never ever shied away from controversial topics. He took on the mafia in Honor Thy Father and dove deep into America’s sex life in Thy Neighbor’s Wife. But even Talese paused when he very first heard about the Manor House Motel in Aurora Colo., back in 1980. Innkeeper Gerald Foos had outfitted his motel with a particular platform which permitted him to spy on his guests — and he invited Talese to take a peek as nicely. Talese, a man of seemigly insatiable curiosity, did just that. But Foos demanded anonymity, so Talese decided not to write about the experience. Till now.
His new book The Voyeur’s Motel is based on Foos’ journals, and Talese is already on the defensive about it. Last week, after the Washington Post unearthed some discrepancies in Foos’s story, Talese disavowed the book — then swiftly changed his thoughts and now says the Post was wrong, and he stands by his story. He tells NPR’s Lynn Neary that he was extremely upset when the Post initially confronted him, since “for 60-some years, I’d been a reporter who took pride in acquiring the facts proper, and I was now told I got the information wrong.”
On whether he thinks Foos created up his account of witnessing a murder
Talese: No I don’t. … He admitted that he saw this woman getting strangled. And Foos is a former football player, hefty guy, big guy, muscle. He did not do something to help her, he stayed in a cowardly way up in the attic. I thought, “This is the worst thing I can create about this guy … No 1 who ever reads this book is going to ever, ever have any sympathy for him simply because he’s showing himself a coward.”
Lynn Neary: But you did not report it either.
I keep secrets. I respect when folks inform me it’s off the record, it’s off the record. And I was off the record for 32 years with this voyeur, Gerald Foos. I kept my word to the voyeur, who was a despicable guy.
Talese: That’s true. That is true. And I am vulnerable to what ever you or any person else desires to say. I did not do it. How do I justify this to you or to anyone? Properly, as a reporter, I protect sources. I once dealt with the mafia for six, seven years. I safeguard sources. I was dealing with killers and I wasn’t calling the cops. My complete life, though — not to justify it, but let me tell you — has always been, I’m significantly less a particular person than a reporter. I keep secrets. I respect when people inform me it is off the record, it is off the record. And I was off the record for 32 years with this voyeur, Gerald Foos. I kept my word to the voyeur, who was a despicable guy. But I’ve dealt with despicable individuals, like killers and the mafia prior to. I’ve been by means of this. That’s no excuse, but that is the way I am.
On how the book turn its readers into voyeurs themselves
You really feel like a voyeur, but I tell you, I was a voyeur ahead of I met Gerald Foos. Reporters are voyeurs. I also felt as a boy so curious about men and women — I was born in a very strict Catholic background. My Catholicism is not today what it was in the postwar 1940s. [It was] filled with guilt and censorship, since the church — my church, my boyhood church — fostered censorship. You shouldn’t study this, you can not read that dirty book, you cannot consider this … that is my planet. It really is not a excellent globe, but it is what formed me as a curious individual. And perhaps also some appreciation for a damaging light simply because we all aspired to be living in a heavenly light when I was a boy, an altar boy. And so the devil type of attracted me due to the fact it was part of nature that was being censored or I was being advised to stay away. And I did not keep away due to the fact I am a tiny bit drawn to what is forbidden. That is not a great defense, but that is me.
On regardless of whether, having dealt with Foos, he developed a dark view of humanity
That is accurate, but … that’s been true of me long before I met the voyeur. Thy Neighbor’s Wife, I was worse off than I am now. I was a reporter of the darkness of our democracy and I was vilified, OK? I am not the initial. … But this is the voice of free America. Very first Amendment. You can create about awful folks and I create about awful people on a lot of occasions. I want to report the dark side, since, I imply, I just pick the incorrect individuals — to most people’s opinion, but to me they are the appropriate individuals. So I have a issue: It really is communicating to a polite audience and justifying what it is that I want to write and how I go about it. And I do get close to my men and women. I imply it really is accurate, I get close, but that’s all I can tell you.