Zora, the Mega-Bullshit Detective — OR — How Kelly McEvers Got Had, Bad

On Sunday afternoon, I was listening to KCRW, our local NPR channel, as I was driving to my Frenchman’s house. I was drawn into a story being told by journalist Kelly McEvers about an “international private investigator, a bounty hunter and bail bonds enforcer” named “Zora”, who had dreams since adolescence about being a super hero and made mega-lists of “things to master” by certain ages.

Zora claims that, by 21 years of age, she had finished her coursework for her Ph.D. in Geopolitics. She also claims that she had a list of skills to master by age 23:

martial arts
electronics
chemistry
metaphysics
hang gliding
helicopter and airplane flying
mountain climbing
survival
weaponry
rafting
scuba diving
herbology
CPR
first aid
mountain emergency medicine
throwing stars
compound bows
throwing knives

Kelly McEvers then says the following of Zora by age 23: “And the most incredible thing about all of this is that Zora accomplished nearly every item on the list.”

Huh?

Zora’s story doesn’t add up — not in minutes and years, and certainly not in finances. Zora claims her father is a professor at University of Minnesota. It’s possible if her father is a professor that she could have gotten her education for free, but U of M does not offer a Ph.D. in Geopolitics. How then could she afford, even with grants, her entire education in addition to helicopter lessons and archery equipment? Was her family rich? She doesn’t say, but it’s not likely if her father is a prof. These are very expensive sports. Also, my Frenchman is a Ph.D. from Princeton. He tells me stories of geniuses who finished their Ph.D. in three years. BUT…these geniuses are only good at maybe one other thing, not twenty.

Yet, McEvers never questions this. She lets Zora tell us a story — a fun story, one we wish were true — that is just flatly unbelievable, yet lets it lay as if it were God’s truth. It would be one thing if McEvers winked even briefly at the audience, letting us know that she knows it’s all a bit too much. But instead, she gives Zora wide berth to weave multiple unlikelihoods without anything but a gee-golly narration. (Zora missed her calling as a fiction writer, truth be told. But if she’s remotely as strong as McEvers claims she is, and she reads this, she might be inclined to hunt me down and kick my ass.)

To be fair, maybe McEvers took some liberties with how she pinned together a much-tamer story told by a somewhat adventurous person. Still, you’d think that she could, um, add.

I’m not sure why this bothered me so much this weekend. Maybe because this kind of “storytelling” in regular life causes too much heartache and hurt. Or maybe because journalism is already so problematic. The media is suffering so badly from credibility these days. Why exacerbate it, even for entertainment’s sake? Lord knows, we’ve got plenty of entertainment these days from other sources.

It turns out that McEvers story is dated February 23, 2001. Less than seven months before 9/11. She created a great many of these audio stories for NPR since then, and for subjects about the Middle East that I know far less about. As a diehard NPR listener, I wonder what I’ve really been hearing. And how much of it I can rely on…

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6 thoughts on “Zora, the Mega-Bullshit Detective — OR — How Kelly McEvers Got Had, Bad

  1. Pingback: A Weird Web Log Factlette | Maria Alexander

  2. This American life doesn’t claim to be all factual. On their website it says not everything is true. Good story though right? I was all over it. So much so that I found your article.

  3. Interesting. I have known and worked with Zora for about 15 years. She put herself through law school, while working full-time and recently passed the California State Bar, which can be verified online by her skeptics. BTW, the CA State Bar exam is the most difficult bar exam in the US. Zora is highly intelligent, yet very modest. It’s interesting that you write about the media suffering from a lack of credibility, yet you write this piece without citing any form of investigative journalism on your own, making this little more than a snarky waste of cyber space. I suggest maybe you meet with Zora and interview her yourself.

    • Hi Randall,

      Thanks for your comment. It gives me a chance to update my thoughts. I wrote this blog post over 11 years ago. In the years that have passed, do I regret being so acerbic? Perhaps. Had I written this post today, would I word it differently? Most definitely. (Although, today I might have simply posted a brief statement on Facebook and included the link, something you might not have ever found.) As for the rest, though, I stand by my initial skepticism and opinions of the story as reported by McEvers. It just leaves open too many questions, which I’ve already identified.

      I’m not an investigative journalist. Very few people are. Thanks to the First Amendment, Americans get to evaluate what the free press reports and express opinions about it without any journalistic training. And, lord knows, they certainly do. As evidenced by pretty much the entire Internet, one man’s waste of cyberspace is another’s thoughtful consideration of said reports. One thing I do know about investigative journalists is they don’t necessarily speak directly with the subject in question. Rather, they look for verifiable, objective evidence to back up or discredit claims. I can understand why: I’ve encountered plenty of people who are comfortable conveying contradictory statements — like the man our country elected president — without realizing that what they’re saying doesn’t add up.

      That said, I certainly do believe smart people can put themselves through law school, and I congratulate Zora if she’s done so. Since I’m married to an attorney and am friends with many others, I know what a feat that is.

      I’m sorry that you found my post upsetting. Since 1999, I’ve lived with people expressing opinions about me, my writing, and all else, which I may or may not have found kind. As an older, wiser author once told me, “The tallest trees get the most wind, but they also get the most sun.” I’m sure that, for every “windy” statement, the piece on Zora has also received lots of sun.

      Wishing you and yours all the best,

      Maria

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