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Apple Factory Storyteller Mike Daisey Claims He Lied In Service of "Higher Truth", But Instead He Hurt His Cause

I know journalism is a narrative art and some say mere facts should serve a 'higher truth'. Another name for that is lying.

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Nonetheless, the argument for what Stephen Colbert mocks as "truthiness" is hollow. Weschler's position requires we trust his goodwill, that we trust Kapuściński and Mitchell and Capote and Steinbeck – and Mike Daisey – to embellish and invent responsibly. We should process the quotation marks on their stories in a different way – not as verbatim, but as something  purer.

But, for God's sake, how? Me, I can't even read David Sedaris anymore, because the hilarious stuff he remembers from his idiosyncratic youth may turn out never to have, you know, happened. How do you earn such trust if not by disguising the underlying deceit? Whereupon, trading on that trust, falsely won, you venture beyond pretense into the realm of abject betrayal.

Betrayed is certainly how I feel right this minute. In the case of Mike Daisey, I myself had been his John the Baptist, telling most everyone I know about his extraordinary achievement. I had more than once uttered the words, "How could a performance artist have so scooped the whole world of journalism?"

Here's how: by making stuff up. By reporting the presence of non-existent child laborers. By cutting a poison-chemical incident that occurred in one Chinese factory city and pasting it into another. By crafting a narrative not from the significantly impressive facts but from the glittery geegaws of the plausible.

Which is precisely how Big Lies work, as well. Like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or Saddam's supposed weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration's fictions about Iraq frightened America because they seemed to confirm the nation's worst fears and suspicions. Mike Daisey may be no Dick Cheney, but how do I know?

I trust nobody to seek a greater good with trivial lies, because I cannot trust myself to know the difference.

Bob Garfield is the co-host of On the Media onthemedia.org, produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. He is the author of The Chaos Scenario.

 
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