Lies, and Anecdotes

OK, Margaret and I listened to this week’s harrowing episode of This American Life, and listened while Mike Daisey doubled down on his lies and misrepresentations. It was a painful experience. But when Ira Glass emphasises that TaL expects journalistic honesty of all its features, we asked one another — does that apply to (for instance) David Sedaris’s stories about his family, too? Or Sarah Vowell’s?
 
It’s not that I suspect that they lie to us — it’s that I don’t care, and I don’t think Ira Glass should care either. Daisey made a miserable mistake in judgment that he was presenting more of a Sedaris/Vowel kind of story, when Glass was warning him that TaL expected him to be presenting a ‘The Giant Pool of Money‘ kind of story.
 
If Ira Glass subjects the amusing-family-narrative stories to scrutiny as close as those reporting on financial misdoings, then I’m intensely impressed. But I don’t think he should bother, and I think we should clarify that we don’t expect him to. When someone (such as Daisey) purports to be reporting, he should be held accountable for that — but we listen to TaL for other kinds of story, too, and that’s OK with me. Mike Daisey was still lying to us, and that’s very, very wrong. But Sarah Vowell can lie to me about being a goth any time.
 

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3 Responses to Lies, and Anecdotes

  1. Sarah Vowell would never lie

  2. AKMA says:

    Who could think it possible?
     
    I should nuance what I said. If Sedaris or Vowell tells us a story, we don’t expect that they are reporting on news facts; there’s a tacit genre distinction at work, which seems to have tripped Daisey up since he evidently treated his work (he used the phrase ‘the work’ several times, as something he was proud of) in the same general way someone might treat an on-the-road narrative or a reminiscence from family lore, only to the laudable end of exposing abusive treatment of workers. But he overlooked the difference in tenor-of-truthtelling that we expect when someone is narrating what his sister and mother were doing around the family home, or when someone is telling about the experience of adopting a goth persona, or when someone is invoking pitiable experiences of crushing danger and suffering to bestir consciences (and is doing so in the name of the truth).
     
    But Margaret has complicated my perspective on the matter since I first typed; there’s a lot going on in this story, and it’s worth out thinking carefully about how we evaluate its different dimensions.
     

  3. Read the story on Daisey today…his defense that he’s not a journalist, but a storyteller was quite interesting.

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