Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Oops, I take it back

So, the story of Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory has been getting a lot of attention in the press over the weekend, but since I contributed to this in a eentsy weensy teeny tiny way, I wanted to come back to it for a few seconds. A couple of weeks ago I posted a link to a podcast by the good people at This American Life, which was a. the only podcast I've ever posted on this site and b. so affecting that I felt moved, nay, compelled to introduce it to all the people with whom I came in contact over that period. If you didn't listen to it, it was the story of this guy, Mike Daisey, and the trip he took to a factory in China that makes iPhones and iPads and the people he met there. As a Mac user, listening to his story was an overwhelming experience. And then it turns out that a whole bunch of it was totally made up. Fiction, not fact. So last Friday, the team at This American Life published a retraction of the story, and apologized for not fact-checking it, for not abiding by the rigorous journalistic code of standards set by National Public Radio, for making a mistake.

Today I listened to the "Retraction" episode on This American Life's podcast, and I must say, I have some ultra-mixed feelings about the line between fact and fiction when it comes to a really good story. While most of the facts of the story did check out, many of the most emotionally moving parts were fictional: episodes cobbled together from actual experiences but not experiences that happened to the storyteller (as he made us believe) or within the circumstances or timeframes stated by him as fact. Here's my problem: as a storyteller, I wonder if we can actually call what he did "lying"? He did exaggerate some pieces, move other pieces around, and underplay still more pieces for dramatic effect all in service of a story--a good one--which made me, others, all of us, care about what is going on in a big factory in China. But is it, strictly speaking, a lie if you are a storyteller telling someone a tale, and using the tools in your bag (namely, that you are good at making stuff up) to spin the web? I don't know. I'm really tied up in knots about this one; I can see where TAL is coming from and why they retracted the story, but Daisey can we really call Daisey a liar, when he never called his work journalism? We knew right away that the story was excerpted from a stage play, so shouldn't we take it as a little stretchy with the truth, and high on drama? I don't know.

But I'm interested to hear what you think.

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