The Laughable Return of Ben Mezrich (Another Boston Globe Op-Ed Whiff)
America’s favorite literary liar, Ben Mezrich, returned to poker-related discussions this week with a brief op-ed every bit as false and self-promoting as… well… all of Mezrich’s other work.
Mezrich conned the Boston Globe into running, on Wednesday, a piece purportedly supporting the eventual expansion of Massachusetts gambling to eventually include online poker. Except that wasn’t the real reason Mezrich wanted a podium; he’s all about self-promotion, and by a strange coincidence, his horrendous Straight Flush has also just debuted as a paperback.
In “Legalize online poker, so Mass. can reap millions,” Mezrich barely even talked about the issue at hand, which was to back that supposed expansion of Massachusetts gambling into the online sphere. Instead he served up a commercial for his horrible book, starting with his getting off a plane in Antigua two years ago to interview Absolute Poker CEO Scott Tom, who remains a fugutive from US justice.
Holding up Scott Tom as an example of why online poker should be legalized is the epitome shameless farce, but the surprise here is that the Globe debased itself into running it. Tom was also the primary force behind the infamous cheating at that now-failed site. Mezrich’s Straight Flush has been debunked here at FlushDraw on numerous occasions as an incredible pack of lies, so false that this expert believes Mezrich and the book’s publisher, William Morrow, likely committed consumer fraud by labeling it nonfiction.
But that’s all part of history, Mezrich’s weak point at a writer. What was so comical about this latest effort is that Mezrich couldn’t even bother to get the basic facts right by way of setting the stage for his self-promotion. The original version of the op-ed — quickly corrected — claimed to be in support of a Massachusetts state budget amendment to add online gambling in the state.
Except for this problem: the referenced amendment was in last year’s bill, for the 2013-14 fiscal year. As of right now, there isn’t even any online-gambling proposal before the state. You’d think a Boston native who’s supposedly in tune with Massachusetts gambling matters might know that much. For its part, the Globe first issued a correction semi-sorta blaming itself (which wasn’t quite true, despite their lack of editorial oversight), then modified the op-ed so that the 2013-14 online-gambling amendment could be referred to in the past tense.
You wouldn’t expect Mezrich to worry about things like facts, since he’s never done so before. Instead, this is about a desperate attempt to sell movie rights to a book that’s a gilded piece of crap. That’s why he refers to Tom as “megawatt smile and matinee idol good looks.” Scott Tom looks like a thuggish punk in a silk suit in every photo I’ve ever seen, and not a particularly handsome punk at that.
As for trying to remake his leading man as a misunderstood hero, Mezrich writes, “Tom isn’t technically a fugitive — he isn’t on the run, and the FBI and the US Department of Justice know exactly where he is. But for the time being, he’s trapped on the island of Antigua….”
Ummm, technically, Scott Tom is exactly a fugitive. Mezrich lies again. Scott Tom is in a “gilded cage” on Antigua because the US generally doesn’t kidnap white-collar criminals from foreign jurisdictions, even those without extradition treaties. Don’t forget that Tom fled Costa Rica under dead of night, dodging arrest and extradition there as well.
Further, the majority of the charges against Tom have to do with bank fraud and money laundering in addition to gambling-business charges — and Mezrich never once has mentioned that AP served up blackjack to American players. It was actually Scott Tom and the frat boys themselves who pushed for blackjack to be added to AP’s offerings, one of the few areas where he disagreed with his father, AP “Chairman of the Board” Phil Tom.
The poker world has already seen that Ben Mezrich is absolutely shameless in his willingness to lie for profit, but the Globe’s odd publication of this piece continues a recent trend of mainstream pieces delving into the poker world in highly misinformed ways.
Just a couple of weeks ago, multiple mainstream outlets treated us to the saga of anti-online-gambling activist James Thackston, who turned out to be secretly in cahoots with several Florida-based poker veterans who funded, for most of a decade, Thackston’s gambling-software development firm. (In that matter, Dewey Tomko has refused to publicly respond to Thackston’s claims that Tomko was another of the secret investors in the project.)
Charlatans such as Mezrich and Thackston are everywhere; that’s a part of life. The real failing here is on the part of outlets such as the Boston Globe for providing such liars and self-promoters these prominent outlets for profiteering.
“Due diligence” might be a legal term, but it has editorial and publishing relevance as well. In running this Mezrich editorial, the Globe failed its readership. The Globe should correct itself and acknowledge that Ben Mezrich does not speak for the poker world and he is no one’s expert on online poker and its recent history, his personal Scott Tom fantasy nothwithstanding.