This is what’s pissing me off today (June 2nd, 2008)

The dwindling elbow room on my shit list got a lot tighter last week when about a dozen members of Romania’s so-called “news media” pissed me off so much that I didn’t even need Novocain when they drilled out my cavity later that day.

I had no idea what a bunch of hacks these people are. Pitiable, bandwagon, lazy hacks. I mean, I’ve seen people hack before, but these are the hackiest bunch of hacks that ever hacked.

Why am I resorting to cheap name-calling and a thinly-veiled theft of a great Simpsons quote? Well, because a bunch of these hacks hacked me last week during a very, very slow news day with a hack story that displayed the astounding hacky breadth of their hack journalism practices. Now I know how Britney feels. Needless to say I’ll be watching how I exit a car on those days when I choose to go without knickers from now on.

From what I can piece together, my victimization at the hands of these hacks goes like this: some desperate, reading comprehension-challenged hack found the Warnings page on my independent Romania and Moldova Travel Guide web site. They apparently read it quickly, glanced around the rest of the page for a split second, saw that I am a LP author, then made a world record setting, triple-jump hacky leap to conclusion and wrote a story attributing some of my clearly tongue-in-cheek comments to the “Lonely Planet 2008 Guide”.

mediahacks.gifBased on online posting dates and times, the “story” “broke” over at Mediafax, where some hack, we’ll call him Alpha Hack, went so far as to date the alleged LP comments to last Tuesday, suggesting that LP had released some kind of new, earth-shattering Romania travel guide that day, rather than admitting that this was simply the day he stumbled on my 18 month old web site during idle Googling while his Nescafe was still brewing.

The story was then re-printed by Beta Hack over at HotNews.ro, who very clearly did not bother to verify the source or even attempt to re-arrange the words from the original story in an interesting way. Nice one Beta.

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Let’s start by dissecting Alpha’s and Beta’s simple tell-it-like-it-is pieces, devoid of an actual point other than to sound vaguely hurt and offended that I stated well-known facts about their country’s problems with taxis, “community dogs,” and pick pockets. First, and most importantly, there is no goddamn “Lonely Planet 2008 Guide”. The most recent guide to Romania is a luminary works entitled “Lonely Planet Romania and Moldova,” written by me and Robert Reid, that was released in May of 2007. Assuming one isn’t a hopeless hack, one can independently verify this fact with about 20 seconds of online research. Or better yet, they could have emailed me (since they were trolling my site, where my email address is readily available) or even contact LP if they wanted some kind of eye-catching executive quote.

Also, Alpha Hack committed the cardinal sin of pulling sentence fragments out of context and then rearranging them to suggest that comments I made about the Bucharest menu scam applied to the entire country. And as for the tip I give about keeping close tabs on your backpacks and purses, this is common sense for any country in Europe, not just Romania, but this rudimentary logic was not applied, because Romanian media hacks love nothing more than to hack out stories about how badly foreigners misunderstand their country.

So, primary blame goes to Alpha Hack for bending the facts and not bothering to verify anything before publication. Beta Hack is merely guilty of shameless, pseudo-plagiarizing of Alpha Hack, again without spending even a minute checking any facts.

Then all hell broke loose. Irresponsible, parrot-like hacks in both Iaşi and Suceava – heretofore referred to as the Hacksie Twins – “fleshed out” the story into consternated opinion pieces, written in a tone suggesting that I made everything up and none of this stuff ever happens in their idyllic cities. Again, the Hacksie Twins attributed all the quotes to the LP guide rather than my personal web site and of course neither bothered to contact me.

Then, I was informed that the local radio talk show hacks (The Hackensack Sister’s Breakfast Time Hack Show), who have even worse hack reporting instincts than their print media counterparts, spent the morning droning and bemoaning how foreigners are so ignorant of Romania.

Since not a single person in this motley crew of feeble, hack-happy ‘journalists’ bothered to check a source, they simply succeeded in exacerbating Alpha Hack’s criminally inaccurate article, drawing newer, wildly less accurate conclusions of their own, and writing off my gentle warnings as complete fiction.

Despite the firm conclusions drawn without a minute of research, in reality every single warning on that page has either happened directly to me or was reported by several first and second hand sources, either directly to me or through reader’s emails sent to LP. Hey, I appreciate national pride just as much as the next guy, and I’m painfully aware of how easily the Romanian national conscious gets bruised (I’ve had to start storing my Romanian hate mail on an 80 gig external drive to free up that space on my laptop), but to sit there and suggest that actual events that happened to me are fantasy just because you don’t agree with them is just flat out arrogant and irresponsible. Is this kind of denial of reality in place of prudent investigation really the course of Romanian journalism?

Furthermore, these are not conclusions that I arrived at while sitting alone in an office in America. I f*cking lived in Romania for a cumulative 16 months and have traveled here for several months more. During that time I visited nearly 60 Romanian cities (see the full list here), repeatedly in several cases. There’s a very good chance that I’ve traveled the country more thoroughly and written about its tourism offerings more repetitively than any other modern journalist, local or foreign. My conclusions we drawn from these travels/experiences in addition to lengthy frank discussions with locals who unanimously agreed that the roads are shit, taxis are a problem in Bucharest, “community dogs” exist, emergency medical care could be better and restaurants in Bucharest sometimes try to cheat tourists. Anyone who wants to deny any of this is more than welcome to do so, but since I have voluminous evidence to back-up my comments, you’ll have to present voluminous evidence to back-up yours. That’s how non-hacky journalism works. Even travel writers that have punched their ticket to hell know that.

Finally, none of this uproar would have occurred if the first author had simply included this quote from the introduction of my Warnings page:

I’ve bobbed and weaved through my fair share of scams and bribe solicitors and I’ve heard loads of anecdotal tales from others, so I’d be remiss in not sharing these experiences with you, even though you’ll probably never encounter them yourself. So, let’s get on with the stories.

I added the bold text just now for emphasis. Perhaps I should bold it on the web site too to assist reading comprehension-challenged hacks.

As a result of this cheap smear campaign, I’ve gone back and edited the Warnings page. It needed some updates anyway (i.e. the number of “community dogs” in Buch seems to have dropped after the city-wide clean-up for the NATO summit this spring), but mostly I had to take out a lot of the humor and clarify the text so that future visiting members of the Romanian Association of Media Hacks and Hearsay Artists won’t jump to conclusions when they find my web site during a smoke break.

Ya bunch of hacks.

Apart from that unnecessary drama, this Romania tour was absolutely perfect. Traveling the country in May is a real pleasure. Perfect weather and not too hot, though it did hit 90°F one day, which has me nervous about the kind of heat I’ll be facing when I return here for three weeks in July.

I’ll follow-up in a few days with a list of sights and experiences that made this trip so great so as to cleanse the palate from this unpleasant post.

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