Sunday, September 07, 2003

The newest Esquire (just on newsstands, not yet on line) has an interview with the mysterious Isabella V.. Supposedly in meatspace.

Isabella, you may or may not recall, describes herself as an heiress from an ancient, wealthy and very powerful family, on the run from an arranged marriage, a phenomenally jealous and "ethically flexible" father, and the squadrons of high-priced detectives which he has hired to try to retrieve her, or at least, the millions of dollars which she's using to finance her escape. Some of her readers have been politely skeptical. Some of them haven't been polite.

Myself, I've blown hot and cold; on the one hand, the story is, at the very least, well enough researched to withstand any attempt I've seen to poke holes in it. On the other hand, well... there are a lot more high quality pranksters in the world than heiresses on the lam. As to other sources, the best independant witness to her existance to date was a facsimile of a letter purportedly received by The Agonist from her family lawyers, or people purporting to be her family lawyers.

Until now, when John Richardson reports in Esquire on his own meeting with Isabella -- and in the process adds some new, fanciful elements to an already weird tale (did I mention the field trip she took to visit the drug smugglers?), including a cantankerous Panamanian lawyer and a buff, dapper, machine-gun-toting bodyguard who seems to have wandered in from a high-concept fashion spread elsewhere in the magazine.

Does this prove anything? Even Richardson winds up saying he can't prove the people he met weren't actors. But as to the "more pranksters in the world..." argument, this would, at this point, be a very, very good prank. Someone has either enlisted Richardson in perpetuating the gag, at the risk of his professional career (after the recent cautionary examples of Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass), or faked the whole complicated set of logistics of the meeting as described in the article. And faking that, would make Isabella's various activities (including a fair amount of net-related skulduggery to hide her actual location), to my admittedly nonprofessional reckoning, comparable to anything that Joey "cathouse for dogs" Skaggs ever did. And after putting in this kind of effort, Skaggs would have national press coming out of his ears. Even for a committed hoaxster, it's questionable whether the payoff would be worth it. Though on the third hand, Skaggs did sometimes enlist compliant media. And around we go.

And for what little it's worth, the notion of a blogger in Baghdad initially seemed almost as far out.

Should you believe it? I dunno. I'm not sure what to think myself; for one thing, if the bare outlines of her story are true, Isabella has every reason to be lying through her teeth about the rest of it. Which means she's either lying, or she's lying, or she's... reckless, at the very least. But you certainly shouldn't believe everything you read on the web. Take this blog, for instance. The author claims to be 3500 years old. (Well, at least that old; that's about when she woke up after getting badly conked on the head, and she's got no memories of anything before that). But a real 3500 year old would certainly be enlightened enough to agree with me about politics far more often than this person actually does. Gotta be a fake.


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