It turns out that journalists have thought a lot about this whole question of whether it is or isn’t cool to lie to make your story more compelling. Weighing in on the Mike Daisey story are a bunch of journalists:
- Daisey Chain – Michael Schulman writing in the New Yorker.
- Fabulous Journalism – Felix Salmon writing for Reuters.
- Worse Than Kony2012: The Tragedy of Mike Daisey’s Lies About China – Max Fisher in the Atlantic.
- Theater, Disguised as Real Journalism – David Carr writing in the New York Times.
- Mr. Daisey and the Fact Factory – Scott Rosenberg writing at Grist.
And a few climate-obsessed non-journalists:
- Mike Daisey and Higher Truths – Roger Pielke Jr. on his blog.
- The Seduction of Narrative – Keith Kloor on his Collide-a-scape blog.
Having now listened to This American Life’s Retraction episode, I’m with Ira: Daisey has moved on from fooling his audience to fooling himself, if he thinks his contortions about “it’s theater not journalism, and I stand by it” are anything but self-serving special pleading.
The difference between journalism and theater are important, if for no other reason than this: Audiences have bullshit detectors, and once you’ve activated them you’ve lost the ability to persuade. In a hyper-connected era, going before an audience the size of This American Life’s means that for someone in that audience, your lies will be transparent, and that someone will have access to the same communication tools you used.