I realize this is old news for many of you by now (a full 24 hours after the story broke) but I waited until I was home and — donning my writer’s hat — could compose my thoughts about the discovery that Mr Daisey and the Apple Factory is composed of lies, damn lies, and even more lies.
This isn’t about what is or isn’t journalism; it’s about the larger genre of nonfiction, so called because IT’S. NOT. FICTION. Daisey not only undermined what has been an important assessment of a major tech company’s practices, he sullied the creative nonfictioneers everywhere who work hard to stay within the bounds of truth.
Creative nonfiction is hard to pull off. Assuming you aren’t Mr. Daisey or James Frey, you’re challenged (I almost wrote “stuck”) with creating a smooth, compelling narrative from the messy details of real life.
I have workshopped with fiction writers who became impatient with CNF’s demands and suggested, repeatedly, that the work either be recast as fiction or that fictitious details be added to “improve” it. But a great piece of nonfiction cannot simply be labeled fiction and done with; quite often what is powerful about the piece is that it really happened. And making stuff up is lying pure and simple.
What grieves me most about this incident is that Daisey didn’t need to do it. He had many options for putting the truth on stage. He could have stayed within the boundaries of his own investigation, leaving out the wholesale lies and downsizing the exaggerations to their truthful contours. He could have reached out to an investigative reporter or researcher for assistance. But he chose the lazy path.
At noon today I’m going to listen to This American Life’s retraction (titled, very humbly and directly, Retraction). I could listen to it right now on one of my many devices. But I feel somehow that radio honors the occasion.