EXCLUSIVE! The Video That Her Publisher Hoped You Would Never See, Introducing Margaret “B. Jones” Seltzer’s Final Act of Impersonation

Margaret “B. Jones” Seltzer Tells All…
Keepin’ it real unreal: Margaret “B. Jones” Seltzer gets into character

Love and Consequences coverWho, exactly, is Margaret Seltzer? Empathic writer? Gangster wannabee? Estranged daughter? One-time aspiring eco-terrorist?

MEDIA ASSASSIN has obtained what appears to be the only known copy of a damning video that Margaret “B. Jones” Seltzer’s publisher, Riverhead/Penguin, buried last month, once the book documenting the author’s foster home-living, gangbanging, drug-running past—Love and Consequences: A Memoir of Hope and Survival, right—was revealed to be completely and totally fabricated.

The 10:10 video, shot and edited before she was exposed as a liar, may be the only existing footage of Seltzer in her full-on “hood” persona.

It seems to have been shot as part of a companion “electronic press kit,” or EPK, for the disgraced author’s quickly-canceled book tour and publicity campaign. (In the wake of the outrageous controversy, Riverhead recalled all of the 19,000 copies of Love and Consequences it had previously shipped, from a 24,000 total copies printed, the sum of which were then certainly pulped.)

Seltzer, 33, who’d written her tome under the name “Margaret B. Jones,” was exposed March 4th on the basis of events initiated by her real-life older sister, Cyndi Hoffman, 47.

Hoffman, reading The New York Times the previous week, had come across a meditative and thoughtful February 28 profile of and photo essay on her apparently estranged sister by Mimi Read. (These had followed an approving book review by Michiko Kakutani, two days earlier.)

Senior class photo 1992According to The New York Times‘s Tuesday, March 4 edition, Hoffman, outraged by what she’d read, called and told her sister’s Riverhead editors that everything “Jones”/Seltzer had said in both the pieces and her book about her upbringing and teenage life—that she’d lived in foster homes, ran drugs for South-Central gangbangers, and was half-Native American—were lies.

Instead, Hoffman said, and as Seltzer’s 1992 senior class photo, right—most likely taken about the time of the L.A. riots—seems to suggest, Seltzer had grown up comfortably with both parents. She’d lived in the San Fernando Valley’s tony Sherman Oaks neighborhood, attending a private Episcopal day school, Campbell Hall, in North Hollywood. There, her mother, Gay, taught third grade, Seltzer studied humanities (especially, tellingly, theater), and friends called her “Peggy.”

That reality, however, is not the one that Seltzer, as “Jones,” outlines in this video. Indeed, her tape describes a wildly different life than the pampered one Seltzer actually lived. While, as soon became obvious, Seltzer’s actual memories are cozy ones of a fatted, safe existence, in contrast, her literary fantasies were hardscrabble tales of apathy, violence, and death.

Just as startling, though, perhaps, is one answer to the question the tape doesn’t address: What did Seltzer do before writing her book, and what did relentless bloggers uncover in the controversy’s early moments that The New York Times didn’t…but perhaps the FBI did?

Up next is a detailed outline and analysis of this exclusive video’s contents, followed by thoughts on these questions.

If I’m lyin, I’m dyin’ in South Central…

THE VIDEO

As the reel begins to play, white-on-black text somberly explains that “Margaret B. Jones grew up in a foster home in South Central Los Angeles and by the age of 13 had followed her foster brothers into the local sect of the Blood [sic] gang.” The tape fades to black, much as it will, poignantly, throughout the piece.

Then, suddenly, twenty-five seconds in, we see something we’ve never seen before, given the controversy and the “memoirist”‘s subsequent reclusiveness: Seltzer, animated, perhaps a tad somber, but generally upbeat and talkative.

In the video, the compact and buxom writer is simply dressed, wearing jeans, a white T, and large silver hoop earrings. Her brown hair comes down gently to her shoulders. Shot mostly in medium close-up, she appears to be sitting high across the street from tan-colored tract housing, somewhere in South Central Los Angeles; tall palm trees dot the background, clearly not the flora of Eugene OR, where Seltzer now lives with her eight-year-old daughter.

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As the piece progresses, Seltzer, speaking in an affected, urban drawl most genuinely associated with West Coast rappers, talks about a wide range of subjects, almost every one accompanied by a pithy quote. We’ve included time markers, in parentheses, for convenience:

• Becoming aware of gangs. (0:59) “I grew up looking up to the money, looking up to the power…. That’s what I wanted.”

• Gang recruitment and organization. (1:33) “It’s like the army: You have generals, you have lieutenants…it’s a definite class system within the gangs, and you have to work your way up.”

• The normality of brutal street violence. (1:43) “Violence in L.A. is like the smog: You just learn not to see it.”

• Why people join gangs. (2:58) “It’s like being a Palestinian suicide bomber. When you’re born into it…it makes perfect, perfect sense.”

• L.A. as an “urban Third World.” (3:11) “We used to say, growing up, ‘I’m not from America, I’m from South Central L.A.’”

Captivating as this part of the video is, however, it’s the next section that’s the proverbial gold mine. There, Seltzer talks at length about:

Lookin’ for gang members….• “A couple” of her best friends and her brother being killed, with her brother leaving behind a son. (4:23) “You’re watching that kid grow up, it’s got his name, it’s got his face. Looks just like him. But he’s not there.”

It’s in moments like these, before Seltzer’s ruse was even exposed, that her linguistic two-mindedness might have given her away, and careful observers, watching her at a near distance, would have felt a strong PHONY alarm going off.

Let’s walk through this:

You’re a woman with a foster brother, to whom you’re as close as a blood sister. He is violently killed by sudden gunfire, and leaves behind a small child, whose face you see every day. As that child grows up, he reminds you not only of your loss, but of the debt you now owe this young boy.

Perhaps, as you’re reading this, you’re thinking of a young, fatherless relative whose experienced a tragedy of this sort, and you with him. Reflect on that. Hold the feeling of that thought.

Now, a question:

Lying with my hands…

Would you, as the foster step-aunt of such a child, ever, even accidentally, refer to him as “it”? (Think about your own relatives, then try it, to see how natural it feels.)

Foster does. She says, “You’re watching that kid grow up, it’s got his name, it’s got his face.” Not, “He’s got his name, he’s got his face,” but “it’s.”

Then, immediately after this (4:47), Seltzer says, “And that’s all you’ve got left is this little thing….”

She actually says thing. She stops, as though choked up, but actually she’s catching herself.

Call it the visceral tongue of disingenuousness. In TV dramas, this is what smart detectives look for when someone, making up an alibi, says, for example, “I was with a friend,” and the cop quickly asks, “What’s his name?, and the suspect stumbles. When there’s really no person there, the nobody you make up is merely “a friend.” Here, they are an “it” or “this little thing.”

Seltzer then goes into:

• Her indecision about going to college and leaving South Central. (5:05) “Big homie’s telling me, ‘Represent your hood with a book in your hand. You could come back.’ He said, ‘There’s nothing in L.A. changes but the date and the time.” She then adds, “I think that’s what gave me the permission to leave: Knowing nothing would change and I could come back.” She follows this with a reflective nod.

• Finding herself unable to compete in college, because (6:09) “I come from the inner-city. I comer from a home situation that wasn’t ideal,” but not giving up.

Seltzer, in her “Jones” persona, speaks only extremely briefly about her time at the University of Oregon, but more, and poignantly, about her graduation from the school.

But then she lets loose with this whopper (6:32):

“I graduated. I got a ethnic studies degree. My teacher, when I graduated, cried when she handed me my diploma. Like, it was a amazing moment. And I think one of my most prized possessions that I own is, one of the big homies whose been on death row, he sent me a graduation card for graduation. And he told me they passed it around and they all toasted my graduation.”

Seltzer, here, seems neither familiar with the physical layout of death row in U.S. prisons and their emphasis on “client” isolation—can such inmates really pass around greeting cards and propose toasts to each other?—nor with the diminutive roles that professors, vs. trustees and deans, typically play on-podium at college graduations.

That may be because she’s never been to the joint—yet—and, according to the Eugene OR Register-Guard, while confirming that Seltzer did attend the University of Oregon as an ethnic studies major, the school says she did not receive her diploma, “because of a dispute over credits for an independent study project and another class.” There was no graduation, teary or otherwise.

Seltzer finishes the video by talking about the much-ballyhooed “International Brother/SisterHood” a non-profit organization Seltzer claims she founded—a “gang truce foundation” is how she describes it.

She describes her work with the organization as writing, mentoring kids, getting universities and bookstores to donate books to prison, teaching kids history classes through the mail and through the internet, talking to parents, publishing her own writing on gang truce web sites, talking to kids, talking would be gang members out of forming new gang chapters, etc. In other words, a fantastically busy life.

However, no one was ever able to find an address, or tax records of any kind, for the foundation, nor, for the most part, has anyone been able to even make sense of how such a group would function.

For example, the week after the scandal, Jacket Copy, the L.A. Times book blog, noted that, in a Penguin author’s interview, Seltzer had said

The idea for the organization came from two homies who have been on death row for twenty years and who felt something needed to be done. … We go out and talk to these little kids because they look up to us.

Then the paper asks the obvious question:

But who talks to the little kids? The author lives in Oregon. The homies live on death row. What “we” goes into the community?

Margaret Seltzer author photoSo far, according to the New York Times, it appears that the organization only existed as a web site that Seltzer’s agent, Faye Bender lent her money to create and host:

Ms. Bender said she helped set up Ms. Seltzer’s foundation Web site because the author said she lacked money to buy Internet server space. “She explained several times that it was a budding organization,” Ms. Bender said. “She said that the people involved were gang members and they were working to help other gang members and help other kids not get into gangs.” Ms. Bender said she asked no further questions, but added that Ms. Seltzer did not solicit funds on the site.

Most of all, however, no one working in L.A. gang reform work—the area in which Seltzer, even after being exposed, admitted she had actually been laboring, and from which she’d lifted her narrative foils and ideas—seems to have heard of or met the zaftig Zelig. Wrote the New York Times:

Leaders of several other groups combating gang violence in Los Angeles who were listed on Ms. Seltzer’s Web site said they did not know of the International Brother/SisterHood or of Ms. Seltzer or Margaret B. Jones.

“I’ve never heard of her before in my life,” said Malik Spellman, an intervention prevention specialist at Unity T.W.O., which works to provide social services and stop gang activity in many South-Central Los Angeles neighborhoods and was listed on Ms. Seltzer’s site. “I believe if she was active, I would probably know her by name or the organization.”

And:

Khalid Shah, executive director of Stop the Violence, Increase the Peace Foundation, another organization listed by Ms. Seltzer, said he had not heard of Ms. Seltzer or her foundation. “She’s been doing her homework if she has all those organizations listed,” he said. “She must know something about something, or has done a lot of reading. It’s easy to get a lot of stuff off the Internet.”

Then, finally:

Constance L. Rice, a co-director of the Los Angeles office of Advancement Project, a civil rights advocacy group, who wrote a report last year about reducing gang violence for the Los Angeles City Council, said that there were 50,000 to 80,000 gang members in Los Angeles County, and it was always possible that Ms. Seltzer worked with some of them. But Ms. Rice said that she did not know Ms. Seltzer or her foundation and noted that, as a white woman, Ms. Seltzer would have likely stood out in most neighborhoods of South-Central Los Angeles.

Eco-saboteur?Who is Margaret Seltzer, then?

One more surprising detail pops out when one asks this question purposefully, an aspect completely unmentioned, even at the controversy’s peak, by the mainstream media, but uncovered by tireless bloggers like Kevin Allman and Steve Ruff. It may be, after the fiasco itself, the most curious fact of Seltzer’s history: What Allman calls “the eco-saboteur connection”

Logging onto the web under the name “blastedagronaut”—that’s her picture profile, right (an argonaut, says the dictionary, is “someone engaged in a dangerous but potentially rewarding adventure”)—Seltzer, reports Allman,

was involved in the effort to free the eco-saboteur Jeffrey “Free” Luers, who was convicted in 2000 of torching three SUVs in Jones/Seltzer’s adopted hometown of Eugene, Ore. [NOTE: Earlier this year, Luers was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the crime.—H.A.]

In a bulletin dated Aug. 2001, A-Infos, a news website for self-described anarchists, lists Jones/Seltzer’s email address as a contact in the effort to reduce or commute Luers’ sentence:

Seltzer’s anarchist ad

I’d suggest that anyone trying to get to the truth of who Margaret Jones/Peggy Seltzer may really be might want to stop concentrating on South Central L.A. and the private schools of the San Fernando Valley…and start checking around the eco-communities of Eugene, Ore.

There is a fascinating moment in the Seltzer video where she says, “I can tell stories. … I can tell you stories, you would crack up. I could tell you stories where you would cry, too, and it would stick with you forever.”

She pauses for a second, thinking, perhaps, of all the things that she’s “done,” and the shame they might create were she exposed.

Then she adds perhaps the truest, most relevant words in the entire recording, given the spectacle of her charade: “You don’t want people to pity you. There’s some extent to which it’s funny, but it’s not fun to be laughed at.”

In the New York Times, Constance Rice of Advancement Project, says

it was just as likely that Ms. Seltzer had taken her inspiration from television and movies. “She’s been watching too much of ‘The Shield,’ ” said Ms. Rice, referring to the rough-edged police drama on FX set in Los Angeles. “All you have to do is go to a couple of movies or watch ‘The Wire,’ ” the Baltimore street drama on HBO. “You could riff off that forever,” she said.

Not any more. As you all know, The Wire aired its series finale March 9th, only five days after this controversy broke wide open. That TV drama is now over.

So is Margaret Seltzer.

Through the magic of video, though, we’ll be able to watch them both, over and over again, for a very long time.

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18 comments ↓

#1 Thembisa on 04.29.08 at 3:18 pm

Harry!

The media that peddles falsehood invites your crosshairs! Keep killin’ em, bruh!

These white people who go to these lengths to emulate the very lives that most of us in the urban hellholes of America would do anything to escape or avoid are just pathetic. This woman’s entitlement knows no bounds.

#2 dawn on 04.29.08 at 5:21 pm

This whole thing makes me nauseous. I wonder how many of her friends knew what she was doing? How did she think she could get away with it before being exposed? Why is it that her sister is the first person to speak up? What about her teachers in U of O?

#3 Blackspot on 04.29.08 at 6:17 pm

Something is wrong with this woman mentally. She’s got to have a few disconnected wires to actually take her b.s. to that level. White women are losing it. Her then Hillary Clinton dodging sniper fire, what’s really good?

#4 Undercover Black Man on 04.29.08 at 7:36 pm

Well done, Harry.

Glad to see you in the blogosphere.

#5 Steve Huff on 04.30.08 at 12:15 am

Harry, thank you for the link to my Radar story, and bravo on this entry — great catch, and a good cap to this misbegotten story in general.

Just think about it — her eco-warrior double-life would have been just as fertile ground for a fictional memoir. Too close to home, maybe?

#6 Musa on 04.30.08 at 8:45 am

Hahaha

#7 Musa on 04.30.08 at 8:46 am

Not so “clever” after all!LOL

#8 macon d on 04.30.08 at 9:52 am

Great catch, Harry! And your analysis is helpful. I wonder how she’ll parlay this into a different kind of success.

Sucks how when white folks mess up like this, it doesn’t reflect on white people in general (but of course, if she were black . . .

Wouldn’t that make a great satire? An urban black person going undercover in white suburbia, exposing all its hidden nastinesses.

#9 Kevin Allman on 04.30.08 at 10:49 am

Great work, Harry. (And nice to meet you.)

To answer Dawn’s question in the comments: Seltzer’s U of O professor, Gordon Sayre, wrote an essay defending her book and saying he didn’t care if it was fiction as long as it was a good story. You can Google it if you feel like banging your head against the wall today.

#10 Skeptical Bystander on 04.30.08 at 11:19 am

Thanks for uncovering this gem. As I watched it, and before reading your fine dissection, I actually started jotting down the comments that rankled. But there were too many; I stopped with the violence as smog metaphor.
You nailed her.
So maybe the proceeds of the book were to be used for the eco-cause?

#11 ExpatJane on 05.01.08 at 2:45 am

Nice…thanks for posting it and giving a play by play. I honestly just cannot bring myself to watch it.

#12 janflora on 05.01.08 at 9:01 am

Thanks for bringing this to light…i am looking forward to exploring your blog further and will pass the wordon mine
As annoying as it is to watch, these lies and CRIMES should be exposed! i am sure all parties involved would have liked to have let this video disappear along w/ the book [does wasting all that paper and trees count as eco-terrorism? i say yes!]
As a writer, i hate the fact that bs “authors” like seltzer and james frye even get so far as to have agents and publishers- leave them for the real writers! As a human,
I have been disgusted for years by the way suburbanites [of any race/creed or affiliation] try to embrace and glorify the lives of others for their own pleasure and profit [whether monetary or mental]. It happens in publishing, music and even business. It also happens in the welfare offices and other support services which are exploited and take away from the real needs of others. And we wonder why there is so much tension in our culture!
I wonder if she knows what kind of role model she is for her daughter?

#13 Manic Mommy on 05.01.08 at 4:23 pm

Oh my gosh, the poor woman is such an idiot. And clearly in need of desperate attention and therapy.

Just watching her speak in that idiotic accent makes me ill. I wonder how she wakes up in the morning each day. But people like this, well, they probably go along in their lives thinking they did nothing wrong, or just feeling like they almost didn’t get caught. Ugh. Sickening.

#14 scooter on 05.11.08 at 3:32 am

thembisa they have some inventions you must not have heard of for escaping urban hellholes. you could try a car, bus, subway, bicycle, hard work, your 2 feet any of those would probably serve you in that task. you know how an urban hellhole is created? voting Democrat every time its an option till you have the majority. waa laa hellhole follows. peggy jones whatever she calls herself is sad and pathetic no doubt. indefensible to affront gangs oh the horrors. but at least get rich or die trying isnt just a movie title to her she went for the money. and while i dont approve, if i’m not paying her rent and grocery bill i am tickled pink for her hard work. fiction such that it is.
blackspot yes her and hillary are definite proof white woman are losing it.
macon’d i’ll save you the undercover work, white suburbia’s nastiness is drugs,sex, booze, greed etc. same as da hood. we just don’t destroy our neighborhoods doing it. our elders aren’t barring the windows to keep out bad violent people. we don’t shoot up the burbs like it was the wild west. are nastiness knows no limits we even do whatever it takes to live well. you know like get up early and finish late its the same horrors only with republican voters. LOL. yep our dirty secret to safe streets and good living is voting different than failed places like new orleans, detroit, philly, LA. join the nastiness if you dare. yes macon’d us white folks are always covering up for people that write phony stories. and black folks cheered when OJ walked. which comment is true? ouch just saying…double homicide or phony bleeding heart liberal wanna be liar. which is it worst to cover for? cheered OJs acquittal, gloated laughed and thought it was a net gain. sucks when blacks cover for a double murderer it doesnt reflect on all blacks in general (but if he were white……life without parole.

#15 scooter on 05.11.08 at 3:50 am

janflora when the acts that are being glorified disgust you more than the glorification then you’ll want to move to the burbs. where we are disgusted by the act. and its hollyweird and mtv thats turning it into a business. hollyweird creates all stereotypes. if you took there portrayal of inner cities as reality and it wasnt….
you could blame them. you can find them in NY and LA not the burbs.
yes those horrible suburbanites with there safe streets and decent(not great anymore) schools are the real cause of tension in your culture. i think your onto something. i know lets fix them suburbanites lets all move there and create the paradise we are living in urban south central and detroit and new orleans. Janflora for president.

#16 Juliette on 05.12.08 at 3:39 am

She is just like Marlow Morgan, author of Mutant Message Down Under……..no shame….
http://www.dumbartung.org.au/freedom.html

#17 UrbanConfidant on 04.17.11 at 6:12 pm

She actually had all of those who loved her believe the lies were real. She lived her life as though they were real…
If asked if it were deceit to make a quick buck or a mental illness – I vote that it is the latter.

#18 Mimi on 09.14.11 at 5:30 pm

Thanks for the painstakingly accurate portrayal of how the Margaret Jones ruse fell apart, and for bringing to light this video.

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