Tell me your truth and I’ll tell you my narrative. The idea of one person’s truth trumping another’s is surely passé – a little presumptuous. But, the difficulties that ensue when objective standards of truth are abandoned, was brought home to me yet again as I listened to the radio this past Saturday evening.
I was listening to “This American Life” the popular National Public Radio show that retells strange but true stories that highlight the extraordinary things that happen to ordinary people – proving that fact is indeed often stranger than fiction.
Ira Glass, the host, began the show with an apology:
This American Life are not happy to have done anything to hurt the reputation of the journalism that happens on this radio station every day. So we want to be completely transparent about what we got wrong, and what we now believe is the truth. (1)
In one of the most popular episodes ever of This American Life, contained a report by Mike Daisy, a writer and actor, on the practices of Apple suppliers. Mr. Daisy has been performing a stage monologue supposedly based on his visit to various Chinese manufacturing plants that supply Apple. The NPR show used excerpts from his monologue, taking them to be true factual accounts, which they later found out to be fabrications.
This American Life found the Chinese translator who had accompanied Mr. Daisy on his trips to the Chinese factories, and on most points her account contradicted Mr. Daisy’s. Veteran journalists also found many of the details in Mr. Daisy’s account hard to believe.
You can listen to the show or read a transcript here. But, what interests me most is Mr. Daisy’s responses when pressed by Ira Glass about the glaring inconsistencies in his story. Here is a short extract from the transcript where Glass is taking Daisy to task for not disclosing that some elements of his stage monologue used by "This American Life" were not factual: