Daisey's fictional account had been a hit on stage as a one man play (called The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs) for about a year and a half -- even though it purported to be nonfiction. The current problem arose when This American Life (TAL) dedicated an entire hour to the monologue without any basic fact checking. Some of the most poignant and damning details from Daisey's story -- underage workers, a man with a withered hand, exposure to toxic nerve gas, armed guards, etc. -- turn out to exist only in the storyteller's imagination. He grossly exaggerated some details and imported other details from other news stories in order make his story more compelling. Sadly, Daisey's piece now casts a shadow of doubt on the real stories of abuse documented by journalists.
TAL's critical mistake was taking Daisey at his word with no corroboration of his "findings". This is the first time in 15 years of broadcasting that TAL has had to retract a story. And while it is not really a news show, TAL ran a follow-up interview with Daisey as part of an hour long "Retraction" episode. Daisey somehow maintains he did not lie even though he readily admits -- now that contradictory evidence has surfaced! -- that he knowingly exaggerated many of the claims he made about Apple and the treatment of its workers at the FoxConn plant. What's the difference, you might wonder? Daisey -- like an earlier liar, James Frey -- tries to distinguish between theatrical or emotional truth and verifiable, empirical truth. (Remember our Truth vs. truth distinction from first semester?).
While fiction certainly can lay claim to truth (there are, for example, truths about human nature to be found within the fiction world of White Noise), nonfiction announces itself as interested in verifiable truths, to the best ability of the writer. You can't have it both ways.
A fascinating moment in the "Retraction" episode occurs when Daisey says he deliberately tried to avoid corroborative fact-checking because it would "unpack the complexities of how the story gets told." In other words, he cared more about storytelling than truth.
Daisey says he was "terrified that if [he] untied these [complexities], that the work that [he] know[s] is really good and tells a story, that does these really great things for making people care, that it would come apart in a way where it would ruin everything."
Is "making people care" ever justification enough for lying? At what point does "oversimplification" become a lie? What connections can you make between this episode and White Noise? Between this episode and our class this year?