This American Life has retracted the Mike Daisey show it did a few months ago because it turns out several details — not trivial ones — were wrong. Daisey knew this, and kept the TAL producers from finding out by concealing the cellphone number of his translator. He told them it no longer worked. TAL producers didn’t ask for her email address, apparently. It is a lot like Gleickgate — Daisey/Gleick believing it was okay to stretch the truth in pursuit of some greater good (better Foxconn working conditions/less global warming). At least, I would like to think that is why Daisey did it. I hate to think he needed the money.
The position of This American Life is more complicated than their press release reveals. A few years ago Alex Heard revealed that parts of David Sedaris stories were made up. Sedaris is one of TAL’s biggest contributors. He is also their most famous. He probably owes his success to TAL. Did TAL retract his stories? Did it even mention the new information? Uh, no. But TAL remains a great show. These are missteps.
A few weeks ago I complained about Sedaris in a comment on the New Yorker website: Why does The New Yorker publish his stuff as memoir rather than fiction? What exactly is funny about making up derogatory stuff about living people (e.g., Sedaris’s guitar teacher) and spreading the false info far and wide?