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Arts

Theater as flawed journalism

Earlier this year the radio show This American Life had a story about working conditions inside Chinese factories that make Apple products. It became the most downloaded podcast in the show’s history. But then there were questions about the accuracy of the reporting.

Stelter: David, in today’s newspaper you wrote about a remarkable retraction that happened over the weekend on This American Life, the radio show. They say essentially an entire episode in January was fabricated.

Glass: And I’m coming to you today to say something that I’ve never had to say on our program. Two months ago we broadcasted a story that we’ve come to believe is not true.

Carr: Yeah, it was a remarkable piece of radio. Mike Daisey is a playwright and a performer had done a show, “The Rise And Fall Of Steve Jobs” had run in Washington and come up to public theater in New York and was very well received. It’s all about what calls in truth what are the working conditions that create these lovely devices that we use, powerful bit of theater.

So far so good, but when they framed it as journalism on This American Life it fell apart, apart partly because another reporter went online and tried to fact check, a guy from market place had tried to fact check what he had done. The story came up bad.

Stelter: When it crosses from theater to being journalistic its where it gets muddled.

Carr: We found out he hadn’t been where he said he had been. He hadn’t seen what he had said he saw. Mr.Daisy said, it was compressions and alighting characters in search of a larger truth but of course that’s not what we do in journalism.

Stelter: But he’s not a journalist and yet he’s being given this journalistic microphone. Maybe that’s where he got into trouble.

Carr: Well that raises a larger question because you know, we’re in an age where the news can come from a cell phone video, news can come from a play, a radio show and what are the standards. I  mean,  right away when Daisey got confronted he said “well I’m not a journalist”. That isn’t going to work very well because it certainly landed with journalistic impact. I didn’t like the inference, I guess that you have to cut corners to tell a real true and vivid story.

Stelter: Is the lesson that it should be left to the professionals to be investigating topics like worker conditions in China?

Carr: I’d like to make a big speech about that of course. But big organizations like ours have had our own trouble. I think one of the takeaways from this is that when people have a certain point of view, which Mr. Daisy clearly did, the maker of the Kony 2012 video about he warlord, all have a point of view, and you know what? What they did was compelling radio, compelling video but there’s another word for information and news that gathered in service of a message. Stelter: And that is? Carr: Propaganda

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