If American Truism is supposed to be about the truth, then it cannot always simply criticize.
Something I heard on the radio yesterday, is worthy of spreading to the far corners of the earth, for multiple reasons.
If you're a fan of National Public Radio (aka NPR), you're likely familiar with "This American Life (TAL)" hosted by Ira Glass. TAL is a weekly public radio show broadcast on more than 500 stations to about 1.8 million listeners and holds itself to journalistic standards.
The show typically relates the true stories of everyday people, though not always.
This week Glass and his producers announced that they had discovered a story TAL broadcast in January "contained significant fabrications."
In a statement on TAL's website, Glass said, "We're retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.
Daisey has performed his Apple-bashing monologue in theaters around the country and, in the process, became a recognized "voice of criticism"
The short version is that Mike Daisey was looking to criticize working conditions in the factories of Apple's Chinese vendors, specifically Foxconn which manufactures iPhones and iPads in Shenzhen China. Nothing wrong there, in fact the "intent" is to be applauded.
However, as is often the case, Daisey fell short on the execution. Waaay short. In no uncertain terms, he lied. He fabricated stories, people and conditions to fit his "Apple as the Bad Guy" world view.
And Glass called him on it.
As Glass described in a statement on TAL's website, "The China correspondent for the public radio show Marketplace tracked down the interpreter that Daisey hired when he visited Shenzhen China. The interpreter disputed much of what Daisey has been saying on stage and on our show.
And, then, something amazing, something quite rare happened. Glass and company RETRACTED their program. Not only did they retract it, they spent an ENTIRE HOUR of airtime explaining what happened and falling on a sword, admitting they had not lived up to their own journalistic standards.
"Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That doesn't excuse the fact that we never should've put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake," Glass said in a statement.
"We're horrified to have let something like this onto public radio.
Glass could have taken the route we see so often, issuing a brief statement saying, "Mistakes were made," and moved on, but he didn't.
The episode of THIS AMERICAN LIFE that I heard on the radio Saturday was riveting. I joined the show about halfway through, and because I was driving a couple of hours, was able to catch it again, in its entirety a couple of hours later on a different NPR station.
This episode of TAL is not to be missed. Read more about the entire situation here on TAL's website AND (not or) listen to the RETRACTION broadcast. It is almost PAINFUL to hear the questions Glass asks of Daisey about the veracity of his story and why he lied to TAL staff.
Long, long pauses in Daisey's responses punctuate Glass' cross examination. It is obvious he is trying to come up with explanations for the lies without characterizing them as what they most obviously are, lies.
My descriptions don't do it justice. You REALLY need to listen to THE RETRACTION in its entirety.
I cannot commend Ira Glass and the staff of TAL enough for having the courage to admit a mistake and do everything they can to make it right. That has to be tough for the TAL staff because the original episode was one of the show's most popular ever, with 888,000 downloads and 206,000 streams.
Glass recalls that Daisey gave him the runaround when TAL staff were going through their usual fact checking process. "At that point, we should've killed the story," he said. "But other things Daisey told us about Apple's operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him. We didn't think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story. That was a mistake."
It's also instructive to read the news coverage of this story. A simple Google News story for "Mike Daisey" is a good place to start.
Daisey, shame on you. TAL, bravo.
Now, I'm going to sit back and wait for the DOZENS of other media outlets that have hailed Daisey as a hero and voice of the oppressed to do the same thing that TAL did.
As reported by Mark Kennedy in THE HUFFINGTON POST:
"Daisey portrayed his work as fact during a media blitz to promote his critically acclaimed show, and he misled dozens of news and entertainment outlets, including the popular public radio show 'This American Life,' The Associated Press, The New York Times, MSNBC and HBO's 'Real Time with Bill Maher.'
Fess up, eat your crow and dedicate as much airtime or space to exposing Daisey's lies as you did to giving this fraud a forum to present his fantasy as truth.
Ira Glass and "This American Life" did. So can you.
American Truism #11.