Person of the Year: Ben Trovato

As the year winds to a close, it is traditional to pick a “man of the year,” or in our more enlightened age, a “person of the year.” I’ve never done that before, but this year there is one candidate who has left his mark so indelibly on 2014 that I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge his vast influence.

Thus, my pick for 2014’s Person of the Year: Ben Trovato.

He has been everywhere and had a hand in just about every big story, from Ferguson to the University of Virginia. He has been most active in his usual fields, journalism and politics, but we can see his impact as far afield as espionage and even retail.

You’ve never heard of him? Maybe so, but you already know him very well.

For those who suspect that Ben Trovato is not a real, literal person, you’re right. But the whole point of old Ben’s influence is that it doesn’t matter whether he’s literally real. Or whether anything is literally real, for that matter.

I first heard of Ben Trovato while reading a curious little volume of unusual word origins. A number of these supposed etymologies, most of the really colorful ones, were attributed to “Ben Trovato.” The name is taken from an old Italian saying: se non è vero, è ben trovato. Roughly translated: if it’s not true, it’s a good story. These were the kind of word origins that you really wanted to be true, but for which there was no real evidence. In contemporary parlance, they are “too good to check.”

I think you can begin to see why 2014 has been the year of Ben Trovato. It has been a year full of things that were non vero, but which had really good narratives. Or at least really convenient narratives.

It may not actually be true that Michael Brown had his hands up and was saying “don’t shoot” when a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer shot him—the bulk of the eyewitness testimony and physical evidence indicates otherwise—but “hands up, don’t shoot” is still a great slogan because it’s such a good “metaphor” and captures a “larger truth.” Ben Trovato at work.

Like Al Sharpton, Ben Trovato has frequently been invited to the White House, where he spent some time hanging out with the son Barack Obama might have had, before swinging over to the First Lady’s office, where he prompted Michelle Obama to describe how an incident at a Target store shows that she still needs to fear being mistaken for the help because she’s black. Proof of America’s persistent racism. Sure, she told the same story a few years ago with a totally opposite meaning. But you’re missing the point. The point is that the new version of the story is well constructed to convey an important narrative. It has Ben Trovato’s fingerprints all over it.

Of course, Ben doesn’t get much in the way of official credit or acknowledgement, much like Jonathan Gruber, the ObamaCare architect no one has ever heard of before. Gruber didn’t get in trouble for stretching the truth, he got in trouble for being just a little too truthful about the dishonest way ObamaCare was drafted and shoved through Congress. In doing so, he revealed that ObamaCare has been a giant Ben Trovato operation all along.

Ben was, of course, up to his neck in the upheaval at the University of Virginia, where everybody forgot about Charlottesville’s real-life rapist and serial killer and spent weeks in a frenzy over a rape accusation that was not only false but had its corroborating details plagiarized from “Dawson’s Creek.”

Crime journalism is one of Ben’s favorite fields and he continued his illustrious career with his role in Serial, a popular true-crime radio series in which an NPR journalist set out to exonerate a convicted murderer by publicly re-examining every little detail of his case, eventually coming up with, um, nothing that actually exonerates him. Oh well, at least it was a good story, or so I’m told.

Ben Trovato was ambitious this year and even branched into financial journalism—he’s hardly a stranger to the field—where he inspired an unbelievable tale about a high-school whiz kid who made $72 million trading stocks during his lunch hour. That’s “unbelievable” is in literally “not believable,” and the kid later confessed to a prank that got out of hand, all the way into the pages of a prominent mainstream magazine.

It’s hard to parody (though I did my best), but it just goes to show you that with a little help from Ben Trovato, any American kid can accomplish anything he sets out to do.

Ben even traveled “down under” this year, playing a role on the sidelines of the Sydney siege. While a jihadist held hostages at a downtown Sydney coffee house, leftist activist Rachael Jacobs saw a “presumably Muslim woman” on the subway take off her headscarf, which Jacobs further presumed was out of fear of being targeted by “Islamophobes” as news of the siege broke. Jacobs then recounts approaching the woman, urging her to put her headscarf back on, and offering to walk with her to her destination to make her feel more comfortable. The story inspired the Twitter hashtag #illridewithyou (as in “I’ll ride with you”), which was dreadfully popular among those who thought the real victims of the siege were Muslims who might get dirty looks on the subway.

Except that the original story wasn’t true. It was “editorialized,” and it’s unclear from Jacobs’s current version of the story whether she even spoke to the woman at all, for fear of seeming “tokenistic and patronizing.” But who says this incident didn’t happen as described, just in some larger sense? Maybe it was Ben Trovato who did it. That guy really gets around.

Ben has always dabbled in international espionage, which has a natural need for his particular set of skills. This year, he made an appearance in the Edward Snowden saga, helping the defector release a trove of secret NSA documents that included evidence the US was wiretapping allies like Germany’s Angela Merkel. Except that a Berlin prosecutor examined the evidence and concluded, “the document presented in public as proof of an actual tapping of the mobile phone is not an authentic surveillance order by the NSA. It does not come from the NSA database. There is no proof at the moment which could lead to charges that Chancellor Merkel’s phone connection data was collected or her calls tapped.”

Of course, the whole thing makes sense if you regard the Snowden affair as an FSB operation from the beginning, which would explain fake documents planted to drive a wedge between the US and its European allies. It’s a classic Ben Trovato maneuver.

Ben Trovato is already a legend in the field of climate science, and his latest work was the production of “pHraud,” in which climatologists were caught omitting 80 years of data in order to support a bogus claim that global warming is causing deadly acidification of the oceans. This was another Ben Trovato original. But his contributions to climate science are so vast that everyone takes them for granted now and they don’t get much attention any more.

What got a little more attention was when Neil deGrasse Tyson, the prominent televangelist of science, came out as a died-in-the-wool disciple of Ben Trovato—a Trovatist or “Trovatore,” as they call themselves.

What surprised me was that old Ben even had time to branch out into retail. The New York Times recently carried a profile of an online retailer run by two attractive young women who focus on telling the “stories” of the manufacturers behind their products: “Stories are important to Zady’s owners…. The narratives also connect consumers to other people and places, adding a personal and experiential component to a tangible good and giving it an aura of authenticity.” This is the new age of retail, in which the actual product is way less important than the narrative it stands for. This has long been Ben Trovato’s passion, pioneered under his well-known pseudonym, “J. Peterman.”

We live in the age of Ben Trovato now, and this year announced that fact loud and clear. Any time there were people with a cause in need of a narrative—and not too particular about whether it was supported by the facts—he was there. Which means that he was everywhere.

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