Sacred Trust


I found the “Retraction” podcast very interesting for a few reasons. First, I found it strange that This American Life would spend an entire hour framing Mike Daisey as a liar. To me, it was somewhat unprofessional to use him as a scapegoat in this way, rather than to use the work they had paid for and broadcasted in a positive way. By this I mean that instead of bashing his claims, simply clarify that what was said was an act of fiction BASED on true events than an act of journalism. While in some parts they did just that, I think the overall tone of their podcast was meant to shame Mike Daisey, rather than clarify a confusing situation.

That said, I feel that there was absolutely fault on both sides. On one hand, Mike Daisey should never have positioned his story as journalism due to his lack of proof and frequent use of exaggeration. He should have more fully considered his audience, the nature of his work, and the potential impacts of its release. If he had understood the context in which his story was being told, as a professional entertainer certainly should, I think his work would have more successfully accomplished its goal of “spreading awareness.” On the other hand, TAL should NEVER have aired the story without checking and approving it first. In much the same way that Daisey should not have lied about his experiences, TAL should not have assumed the work was accurate if they expect audiences to trust the stories told on their program.  By ignoring their own standards of quality, they tarnished their reputation as a journalistic radio show.

To me, the reason they spent an hour absolutely grilling Mike Daisey is to regain this sacred trust with their listeners. By blaming him, however, I think they made themselves ultimately look worse. Had I been a TAL executive, I think I would have gone with a more professional and respectful apology that explicitly classifies his work as something that did not belong on the show in the first place, while also highlighting its positive qualities as a work of art.

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5 thoughts on “Sacred Trust”

  1. Luke, I was impressed with the level of insight your blog provided. I think TAL spent an hour grilling Mike Daisey to restore some of their journalistic integrity. They should have done a better job fact-checking the story and were complacent in taking Mike Daisey at his word. Both Mike Daisey and TAL wound up having their reputations tarnished here.

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  2. I agree that grilling him was completely out of line. The interview with Daisey was painful to listen to. It was almost unnecessary for them to interview him again because they found the true facts of the story. It’s almost like they just wanted him to suffer so they could restore credibility.

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  3. I like how this piece doesn’t let me off the hook (which it should not) but actually sees what the strategy at play was.

    Wouldn’t it have been interesting if Ira had allowed someone to grill him about his choices in the matter?

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    1. Absolutely. I thought that line of questioning was pretty aggressive, especially coming from a radio station who describes themselves as the following on their “About Us” page:

      There’s a theme to each episode of This American Life, and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always.

      …while I still hold that it was wrong for you to deceive TAL, they made their fair share of poor choices as well.

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  4. I think we need to look back at the motive for this story. Yes, it had some exaggerations and made up facts; however, I believe that Mike Daisey was trying to raise awareness and let people know about the issue at hand. Should he have fabricated some of the story? Probably not. Did he and TAL lose some credibility with the public? Absolutely. However, as the general public, we shouldn’t disregard the issue that is really at hand. We shouldn’t be grilling Mike Daisy or TAL over a few fabrications, but rather we should be grilling Apple and Foxconn.

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