True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Date: May 2005
Duration: 6 hours 20 minutes
In 2001, Mike Finkel was on top of the world: young, talented, and recently promoted to a plum job at the New York Times Magazine. A few months later, he made an irremediable slip: Under extraordinary pressure to keep producing blockbuster stories, he fabricated parts of an article about slavery on cocoa plantations in West Africa. Caught and excommunicated from the Times, he retreated to his home in Montana, swearing off any contact with the media.
When the phone rang, though, he couldn't resist. At the other end was a reporter from the Portland Oregonian, whom Finkel congratulated on being the first in what was sure to be a long and bloodthirsty line of media watchdogs. The reporter was puzzled. Finkel asked him if he wasn't calling about the Times' editor's note about his firing, due to run that same night.
"No," he said. "I'm calling about the murders."
While Finkel had been concocting his fiction, another man was perpetrating a far darker one of his own. In Waldport, Oregon, Christian Longo had killed his young wife and three children and dumped their bodies into the bay. With a stolen credit card, he fled south, making his way to Cancun, where he lived for several weeks under an assumed identity. The name and career he chose for himself was that of Michael Finkel, journalist for the New York Times.
True Story is the tale of a bizarre and convoluted collision between fact and fiction, and a meditation on the slippery nature of truth. When Finkel contacts Longo in jail, the two men begin a close and complex relationship, acting by turns as confessors, buddies, and adversaries, each maneuvering to get something from the other. Over the course of a year, they exchange long letters and weekly phone calls, playing out a cat-and-mouse game in which it's never quite clear if the pursuer is Finkel or Longo - or both. Finkel's dogged pursuit of the true story pays off only at the end, in the gripping trial scenes in which Longo, after a lifetime of deception, finally tells the whole truth. Or so he says.