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"To create fictions that reveal truth" — yes, that is what artists do. That is what I do when I write music, even "absolute music" with no denotative meaning whatsoever.

The problem with Mr. Daisey's show is not that it contains fiction. The problem is that he represented fiction as fact. That is called lying. It is called lying in any context, artistic or otherwise.

The really sad thing about this is that Mr. Daisey didn't need to lie to make his story compelling. The true parts were sufficient to cause concern and alarm, enough to justify outrage, and enough to apply pressure to Apple.

The only one who comes out looking good in this whole fiasco is This American Life. They expressed what I think was an appropriate degree of skepticism in the first episode ("Mr. Daisey's claims are hard to verify…"), and published a humiliating public retraction in the interest of integrity. It was not even their reporter who lied; they devoted an entire episode to reporting that they quoted a source who lied. How many alleged news organizations would do that?

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/460/retraction
http://mikedaisey.blogspot.com/2012/03/statement-on-tal.html
http://www.publictheater.org/images/Adam/FY12/publictheater_statement.pdf
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Marisa Brandt's profile photoSarah Heller's profile photoAntonia Malchik's profile photoPaul Cantrell's profile photo
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Yes, yes, and yes - especially the bit about how he didn't need to lie to get his point across (or even to get it across powerfully).

I don't think their fact-checkers did a very good job - kudos to TAL for airing the Marketplace reporter's description of how he found Daisey's translator, as that bit makes it clear they could have found her, too, with only a little digging.

Also - the retraction episode was so amazingly painful to listen to. All those silences in Daisey's interview with Ira Glass - excruciating.
 
I'm brewing my own reaction this at this moment. You're right that Daisey didn't need to claim that he was first-hand at every instance for his story to have impact. So why did he lie? I think that's a fascinating question, and I think I know the answer. It's just...a hard...thingy to describe. About pride and art and success and validation. And I think it's the same chemistry that let a precision machine like TAL take his word when they should not. They didn't want to accept the possibility that he made it up. He doesn't either, you can hear it in his self-convinced (but in no way convincing) defense of art-as-truth. Which no one buys.
 
TAL did some basic homework on the original story, and asked a few experts the obvious question, "Is all this plausible?" The people they asked did express some skepticism, which turned out to be right on — in particular questioning whether Foxconn really hires 13 year olds.

It sounds like the Marketplace guy just knew the turf in a way that TAL didn't. He noticed some minor details that didn't pass the smell test — things you wouldn't even think to fact-check — and knew his way around the language and culture enough to actually find the translator and get her to answer questions.

TAL probably should have found such a person before airing the story (and you can be certain they will next time!). But to their credit, they were quite clear about how little they were able to verify, and didn't misrepresent the story's provenance or its certainty. In short, Daisey didnt make liars of them — just fools.

Compare all of this to, say, the breathless reporting about Iraq's supposed WMDs — the ambiguous sourcing, the careless mixing of fact with speculation, and the stunning lack of retractions afterwards.

Imagine for a moment that the cable news networks issued a one-hour retraction every time one of their "experts" spouted off a big pile of horse crap….

No, despite the fact that they could have done better, I still give TAL a lot of credit for how they handled this.
 
When I listened to this episode, I was wondering how much of the lying going on in journalism (especially by a self-described theater person crossing over to journalism) is influenced by people like D'Agata, who says he changes facts in his nonfiction books because it makes better art. Combine that with the memoirists claim to "emotional truth" (which I personally think is valid, but needs to be handled very carefully), and you can see how writers of all sorts start to fudge things in order to serve what they see as a greater truth.
 
Yes, I think there's a lot of validity in the idea of "emotional truth," and certainly changing facts can make for better art. The problem is not doing that per se; it is the misrepresentation of what you are doing. Memoirs sit in as especially uncomfortable place in this regard, teetering between representing fact and working as narrative art. Daisey's piece would best be described as "documentary fiction," and not making that clear constituted lying — certainly when TAL asked him specific questions about its factuality, and I'd say even in the way he presented his monologue in the theater.
 
Oh, yes, I agree. I was more wondering about the influence on someone like him coming from the other end. When a memoirist talks about "emotional truth," we accept that. Move a bit further along the nonfiction line, and you have D'Agata, who was writing a nonfiction essay about a teen suicide, and who battled the fact-checker every step of the way, and who still made up or changed facts. Now, he calls himself a 'lyrical essayist,' but about 1 person in 100 (if that) is going to have any idea what he means, and almost everyone will assume he is writing factually. If he is allowed to do that in the name of 'art,' when his nonfiction piece has real consequences for real people, then it becomes our old friend the slippery slope for people aren't necessarily intimate with the idea of journalistic integrity. I agree with your assessment -- I just wonder how much of Daisey's situation can be attributed to the increasing acceptance of fact-fudging in other areas.
 
What I find so incredibly frustrating is that the piece sounds like it's fictionalized (I would probably call it a fictionalized account of a trip to China). Even while I was thinking "it doesn't seem possible that he did all this, met all these people, had all these experiences in a six-day-long trip," I was moved by the piece.

To me, the whole point of emotional truth is that we react to it as though it's true even when we know it might not have strictly happened that way. There are all kinds of "non-fiction" that function on that level (many popular histories, for instance, weave documented history with imagined conversations). What makes them acceptable (to me, at least) is that they admit to having been "touched up," one way or another - either through saying "we don't know exactly what happened, but here's something that's plausible given what else we know" or by using a label that indicates something other than strict reporting.

I don't know why TAL chose to adhere to the highest journalistic standards for this piece - they certainly have aired episodes that sounded "true" but were either dramatized or were straight-up fiction - but it was a mistake for them, and incredibly dishonest of Daisey to have allowed it to run as such (not to mention the numerous direct lies he apparently told during fact-checking). What I imagine happened is that his monologue left it a little bit open - he said these things had actually happened, but within that context, the audience could have come away wondering how much was truth without it being a major problem (as Ira Glass apparently did). And then Glass contacted Daisey to ask him to be on the show, and Daisey made a quick decision not to muddy the waters by admitting that some bits were fabricated. And then he kept lying to support his original story.

All along the way, he could have stopped and admitted what was going on, but he kept digging himself in deeper. His "apology" on TAL seems like more of that, rather than an actual admission that he lied. If his biggest regret was truly having the piece on TAL, then all he's saying is that he's sorry he got caught.

[sorry, Paul - I should probably just make my own posts about these things... you seem to write about topics on which I want to rant!]
 
Your assessment of of Daisey's thought process rings true to me, Marisa. It has a certain — dare I say it? — emotional truth.

It is the fact that we experience even pure fiction as if it were true that makes art so powerful: "the willing suspension of disbelief."

Factuality matters because of what happens after the artistic experience. The other deep psychological factor at play here beside the emotional power of art is the tremendous privilege we give to eyewitness testimony. Daisey constructed his piece so that its effectiveness relied on that. He didn't need to, but he did.

I wonder if the crux of it was that fictional scene where the man with the ruined hand touches an iPad for the first time. It may have just been too good for him to give up. Other details he could hav qualified, said "there are people who…" instead of "I me people who…", but that moment forced him to choose between art and testimony — and he chickened out and didn't choose.

Now what happens "after the artistic experience" is that TAL is embarrassed, Daisey looks like a con artist, and the cause of third-world workers suffers a hideously messy distraction. It's a distraction this complex and charged issue really doesnt need. 
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