I have a little trivia question for everybody in light of all the columns and blog posts being written about the Mike Daisey controversy.
Who said the following:
"It seemed best for the story if this were kept a little vague, I thought it would be lousy and undermining and killjoyish if—at the end of a story—a radio host came on and said 'that wasn't true.' Seemed nicer and more artful to simply raise the possibility that it might or might not be true. I figured: the audience is smart. A little goes a long way."
If you guessed Mike Daisey, you would be...wrong!
It was Ira Glass.
In 2008 Jack Shafer wrote a piece for Slate about a This American Life episode that aired a story originally told at the popular storytelling event The Moth. The storyteller in this case was none other than Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers and other bestsellers.
The story Gladwell told was funny and witty, but also contained parts that were at best unverifiable, and at worst completely made-up.
Shafer's reporting is interesting as it is almost a miniature version of the controversy that has arisen over excerpts from Mike Daisey's theatrical performance of The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs that were also broadcast on This American Life.
However, unlike the tenor of the "Retraction" episode of This American Life, in which Ira Glass grills Daisey over fabrications and constantly assures listeners that TAL is journalism with the highest standards, the moods of Gladwell and Glass in the Shafer article seem to be the opposite of the positions of Glass and Daisey.
In the Shafer piece, Gladwell seemed hesitant to the idea of the story running on This American Life and says that he was assured it would be aired with a disclaimer clearly stating parts of it were made-up. Whereas, when contacted by Shafer, Glass offers the quote with which I started this post.
Yes, back then, Ira Glass chose being "artful" over being factual. This is almost precisely the ground that Mike Daisey is retreating to in this current controversy.
And if you want a double irony, the Moth story Gladwell told and Glass chose to broadcast, (apparently knowing there were fabrications in it,) is about playing loose with journalistic standards.
Of course, Daisey's case is different in that his piece is alleging a corporation's unethical activity and he is specifically using it as a piece of advocacy.
I just wanted to point out that Ira Glass and This American Life do not appear to have a consistent policy or even a consistent attitude towards vetting and disclosure on their program.