The New York Times’ Diana Nyad Problem

The New York Times corrected part of Diana Nyad’s 2017 abuse op-ed. In an article posted last week, Irv Muchnick investigates and expands on that correction. Now the Times should finish what it started.

Last week, Irv Muchnick posted an article about the muffled change that the New York Times made to Diana Nyad’s op-ed, “My Life After Sexual Assault” (original here). Notice of the change apparently appeared nowhere but at the bottom of the on-line article. That notice reads:

Correction: Aug. 10, 2018
An earlier version of this article incorrectly described an event associated with the initial assault on the author. It was a swim meet, not the state swimming championships.

In “My Diana Nyad Problem—and Ours,” Muchnick explains that the Times’ correction opens to scrutiny Nyad’s entire abuse tale:

It is simply not normal for a victim to misremember the setting of the core anecdote. If that testimony is unreliable, then the whole story becomes a house of cards.

This, Muchnick explains, taken along with the rest of Nyad’s actions and the “ethos of hype [that] seems fundamental to every angle of her public figure,” makes Nyad a poor torchbearer for our response to child sexual abuse in sports, flawed as it is.

Unfortunately, the Times left Nyad’s other fabrications intact: Her lie that she confronted her alleged abuser, coach Jack Nelson, in front of the school principal and “[t]he next day he was fired”? Still there. Her allegation that there were multiple other victims—although not a single person other than Nyad has ever come forward publicly? Still there.

And then there’s this:

That first savage episode signaled the beginning of years of covert molestation.

But that claim bears little resemblance to what she told the Atlanta Constitution in 1998. Back then, she related only two incidents—one when she was fourteen, a second two years later (“Some Male Coaches…”).

By 2007, the number of incidents had more-than-tripled:

The second incident occurred in either 1965 or 1966 in Nelson’s office at Pine Crest, Nyad says.

She recounted five additional incidents that occurred in the back seat of Nelson’s car, a motel room, and a bathroom. (“Jack and Diana,” 14 Jun 2007)

By 2014, Nyad’s story had changed so much it feels more like vengeance than truth. She shed all numerical limitations for Ariel Levy of the New Yorker:

Throughout high school, Nyad says, he persuaded her to meet him in hotel rooms, at his office, in his car, and molested her. (“Breaking the Waves,” 10 Feb 2014)

To the tale that Nyad manufactured for the Times op-ed, she adds:

These molestations were the cornerstone of my teenage life.

That may or may not be. However, the cornerstone of her adult life seems to be a solo version of the children’s game Telephone. Her stories constantly change, always in the direction of putting Nyad in a more admirable or pitiable light. Take, for instance, her telescopic recovery from a high school illness.  Her recuperation time begins at six weeks, balloons to three months, then to six months. It finally becomes fully inflated at one year.

Or take her academic achievements. In Nyad’s tales, she either “suspended her pursuit of a Master’s degree,” or she has “a master’s degree in comparative literature,” or she “holds a PhD in comparative literature,” or any number of variations thereof. The truth?  She earned a BA at Lake Forest University.

Or take her stories about the 1968 Olympic trials. She was either not fast enough to qualify for them, which was the truth; or she was fast enough but got sick so couldn’t qualify; or, as she dramatizes in a commencement address at Lake Forest, she swam in the Olympic trials but didn’t make the team.

In other words, Diana Nyad is a habitual liar. Therefore, she is not the ideal spokesperson for the #MeToo movement or for the Time’s Up campaign or for any other battle that matters.

And now it’s up to the Times. They can choose to believe that everything’s chill because they corrected Nyad’s one careless mistake, or they can take a moment to look into who Diana Nyad really is—a compulsive liar who shamelessly deceived them and their readers about sexual abuse in order to focus attention on herself.

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For more about Nyad and her abuse allegations, please see:

“I am an honest, straightforward person. Never been anything but.” (Facebook post copied here; image via NY Daily News)

Update, 29 May 2020: Edited for readability. Changed to “someone who lies about practically everything” to “a compulsive liar.”

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