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Heartsick

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.

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7 Comments

  1. Jenny Reiswig wrote:

    Argh, I agree with you 100% and I think it’s a straight line from Daisey and Kony2012 back to Michael Moore. The truth in their stories is plenty appalling – it’s not necessary to lie. These days it’s all but inevitable that someone will catch you out. You’ll end up being the story, giving ammunition to your opponents and completely distracting from the very real problems you set out to expose. I say again, argh!

    Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink
  2. Argh is right!

    Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink
  3. Cary Gordon wrote:

    Argh++

    I found it disconcerting that he seemed to believe that this was an okay way to do business. Even more disconcerting is that he seems to be following the rules for politicians… Say whatever suits your purpose, then blow it off as rhetoric later.

    Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink
  4. Sarah wrote:

    I’m listening as I write this comment, and I am just cringing. It’s painful and infuriating. The moments of silence in this audio are *killing* me. Daisey is lying to himself, too.

    Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  5. Someone pointed out that TAL deliberately left in the silences, which they normally edit out. I agree those moments are powerful–a good editorial choice.

    Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  6. Jonathan Rochkind wrote:

    The worst(?) part is that all of the things he ‘reported’, there’s plenty of evidence they happened, they did happen — he just didn’t see them himself.

    It could have been great journalism, if he had worked harder at it.

    Actually, Daisey’s excuses are the worst part.

    Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink
  7. Patty wrote:

    I think you and so many others are over reacting. Am I really the only one who doesn’t consider TAL as “journalism” any more than any news program on TV? I listened to the original story on TAL and understood it was a portion of the theatrical production “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” by the way it was introduced. TAL has yet to respond to the real question: Are listeners to understand that all of the stories on “This American Life” should be viewed as literal truth-telling, up to the standards of journalism? Will they now retract all the incredible stories contributed by one Stephen Glass?

    Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

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