"I desperately want to appear in The Washington Post," Bruce Stockler wrote last week in National Review Online.
Now he has -- although not in the way he intended.
The public relations man produced a funny column on all the opinion pieces he has submitted to The Post without success -- or, as the headline put it, "one writer's suffering at the hands of a major newspaper." But Stockler said yesterday he is "quite embarrassed to admit" that he didn't submit any of them.
What about those impersonal "thank you for your submission" letters he said the paper kept sending him? After first saying he had to check, Stockler acknowledged: "I guess I lied about the fact that I got a cursory rejection letter when in fact I got nothing. Humorists are liars."
"This piece seems to me to be pretty obvious satire," said National Review Editor Rich Lowry. "It seems to me he's obviously making stuff up to be funny . . . not necessarily right at the top, but by the end." The second paragraph of the piece says "here are the facts"; only in the last half-dozen paragraphs does Stockler openly fantasize about disruptions to his phone and television service and an ice cream truck with Texas plates circling his block. "If a couple of things are deliberately outrageous, that signals the reader it's not serious journalism," Lowry said.
Stockler did not contend that he had produced a transparent satire. He said he merely bent some facts to suit his narrative, and that he really has tried repeatedly to get published on The Post's op-ed page -- just not in the way he wrote.
Fred Hiatt, The Post's editorial page editor, said: "It's a little strange. I guess anybody who would make stuff up, it's just as well we didn't run his op-eds."
Stockler, who doubles as a freelance writer, maintains he has tried to crack The Post's op-ed page at least 20 times over the past four years -- but not with the articles he claims in National Review to have submitted. The Scarsdale, N.Y., publicist provided copies of two pieces he says he sent to The Post in September. But Hiatt said the editorial page, which keeps records for four months, found no submissions from Stockler.
In National Review, Stockler pokes fun at himself with a detailed chronology of op-ed humiliation. He tells of sending in a piece about Howard Dean in January. About Rush Limbaugh in March. About "The Passion of the Christ" in April. About the Middle East in May. About Jim McGreevey in August. About Osama bin Laden in November. All supposedly turned down.
"WashPo has turned on me, viciously, like a pet ferret that ate a bowl of bad calamari," he writes. "These sarcastic words repudiate my entire life's work. To respond with such furious, efficient contempt requires a team of hackers working 24/7. . . . Large, entrenched institutions cannot tolerate the challenge of satirical thinking."
Hiatt says the op-ed page receives 60 to 100 submissions a day and is unable to send out routine rejection letters. Asked about this, Stockler at first said he "may have added that to make it seem more ominous," then admitted it was a product of his imagination.
Stockler, a former film magazine editor and author of a book about being a stay-at-home dad with triplets, is not unfamiliar with the conventions of journalism. He has had articles published in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and Times of London as well as National Review Online -- some of them pieces he contends he submitted first to The Post. Why, then, make up the submissions he said went to The Post -- some of which, he now admits, were never written at all?
"The pieces themselves became less important than the fact that I'm just desperately trying to make a connection that I cannot make," he said. "It's about handling rejection." Besides, Stockler said, he had turned in the National Review column a year ago and needed "to create a sense of urgency" with more recent examples, adding: "Most people who read humor pieces realize the piece is bent to make the larger message work."
Surely it must have occurred to Stockler that someone at a large, entrenched institution like The Post would challenge his work of fiction? No, he said, "I would have thought it would be like a flea on the skin of a great warrior."