Famed author Malcolm Gladwell is under fire for using quotes in his new book from parents whose daughters survived Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse, allegedly making it seem as if family members allowed the crimes by the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor occur in plain sight.
The Detroit Free Press reported on Monday that a section of the print and audio versions of “Talking to Strangers” repurposed statements from interviews given by Lisa Lorincz and other parents of survivors to Michigan Radio’s “Believe” podcast. Gladwell took the material with permission from the outlet, but did not receive permission from the outlet’s reporters or their sources.
Now, the parents contend that their words have been misconstrued in Gladwell’s book, portraying them as having been complicit in the assaults on their children.
Mick Grewal, a lawyer representing more than 100 survivors of Nassar’s abuse, told HuffPost that three of his clients have reached out to him with concerns about the book. One is a parent, two are survivors, and at least two of the three were quoted by Gladwell.
Gladwell’s book, Grewal argued, misconstrued the parents’ statements to imply that they were aware of the abuse and did nothing to stop it.
“It makes an appearance as if the parents went along with Nassar, [and that] they knew” when in actuality they were deceived, Grewal said. Any other representation is “so far from the truth,” he said.
Nassar, 56, is serving three concurrent life sentences for sexual abuse. He’s accused of serially sexually abusing over 500 athletes under the guise of medical treatment while working for USA Gymnastics, as well as Michigan State University and Twistars, a gym in East Lansing, Michigan.
While Gladwell did not use the names of those interviewed for the “Believe” podcast, their voices were identifiable in the initial audiobook version of “Talking to Strangers.” In October, a month after its release, Gladwell substituted his own voice and read the quotes himself, the Free Press reported. But Grewal noted that the audiobook had already been downloaded multiple times.
Grewal has not yet reached out to Gladwell or his lawyer, but said he hopes the author will correct or amend the print copy of his book. He also said he is unsure if there is any legal recourse for the parents and survivors.
Gladwell’s publisher did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
His attorney told the Free Press there would be no further alterations to the book, and Gladwell told the paper that he assumed the interviewees were contacted about his use of their quotes.
Gladwell’s book has a broad focus, examining why interactions with strangers often result in misunderstandings. A review by NPR characterized as “a sweeping survey tour of miscommunication, through stories ripped from the headlines and history books.”
The alleged mischaracterization of the interviews has not only damaged survivors wanting to speak out, Grewal said, it’s undercut trust in the media.
“What’s going to happen the next time a survivor wants to speak to a reporter? They’re going to be hesitant,” he said. “In this day and age, when we’re trying to help survivors, when we’re trying to change the culture, why would you want to take everything back 10 steps?”
Michigan Radio Marketing Director Steve Chrypinski said in a statement to HuffPost that the podcast audio was shared “appropriately and in good faith after Mr. Gladwell made a compelling case that his use of the material would continue to shed light on the important issues brought forth” in the episode.
But Chrypinski said that wasn’t the case.
“We feel that the clips presented in Mr. Gladwell’s audiobook were presented out of context and created an impression of the parents that do not match the tone of how they were presented in ‘Believed,’” he said. “We have reached out to Mr. Gladwell and expressed our disappointment with the way our material was used.”
Chrypinski noted that Michigan Radio was not paid for Gladwell’s use of the quotes, “and has no financial interest in” his audiobook.
“We have also developed a tighter policy on what material we will share going forward and with whom we will share it,” he said.
Chrypinski said the outlet is still proud of its podcast, which was created in part by reporters Kate Wells and Lindsey Smith, and apologized for any “anxiety or frustration” from those impacted by the spread of its contents.
In a tweet following the Free Press’ report, Lorincz’s daughter, Kaylee Lorincz, said she was “so proud of my momma.”
“Fight together until the end, always,” she said.