Outside Magazine editor to speak locally on how the media portrays cultural heroes
MIDDLEBURY — Abe Streep, senior editor at Outside Magazine, will give a talk, titled “Building and Busting Legends: Reporting on Icons from Lance Armstrong to Greg Mortenson,” on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 4:30 p.m. at Middlebury College’s Bicentennial Hall, Room 220. The talk is free and open to the public.
Both Lance Armstrong and Greg Mortenson sold amazing, inspirational stories to the world. Armstrong’s was this: A cyclist beats testicular cancer, goes on to win the Tour de France a record seven times, and founds a charity organization that helps millions of cancer victims. Mortenson’s — made famous in the runaway bestseller “Three Cups of Tea” — was that he’d vowed to build a school in a remote Pakistani village while being nursed back to health there after failing to climb the world’s second highest peak, K2. He went on to form a nonprofit to build schools for girls, inspired millions, and became an adviser to the highest ranks of the U.S. Army.
Outside Magazine helped both men sell their creation myths. The magazine published a laudatory profile of Mortenson in 2008 and Armstrong appeared on the cover numerous times, including on the bestselling issue in the magazine’s history. Both stories eventually proved too good to be true. After “Into Thin Air”author Jon Krakauer uncovered evidence that Mortenson had fabricated at least part of his story and mishandled donor funds, Outside spearheaded a reporting effort that included the first and only interview Mortenson gave on the matter.
Krakauer misunderstood the circumstances of how that interview was obtained, and assumed, wrongly, that the magazine had promised Mortenson an easy platform. This led to a public rift between the magazine and Krakauer, a longtime contributor.
And as evidence mounted that Armstrong had used illegal drugs to win his Tour de France titles, Outside published a series of reports that shed light on Armstrong’s immense power, including an investigation into his nonprofit, Livestrong. Armstrong’s lawyers tried to intimidate the magazine into withdrawing the story.
Streep will discuss the magazine’s reporting efforts in the wake of both scandals, the role that the media plays in creating icons, and the importance of balanced reporting when covering subjects who think of themselves in absolute terms.