“Killing the Story”

This is a little off-topic from the usual EMUTalk.org fare, but I thought it was quite interesting myself and thought others out there– especially those of us who are interested in things like research, observations, “truth” versus “truthiness” versus “fiction” in our academic lives.  From the IHE blog Library Babel Fish comes “Killing the Story.”  Here are the first couple paragraphs:

When I listened to Mike Daisy’s monologue on This American Life about the Foxconn factory where Apple iPads are made, I thought about assigning the podcast to students in a research class I’m teaching. It struck me that it would be a good way to consider the environmental and social issues that we tend to ignore when we think about the technology tools we use every day, tools that are essential for research. I also thought it would be valuable to discuss how we might evaluate the validity of information that comes infused with emotion and art by contrasting Daisy’s monologue with the material that followed, in which other thoughtful people complicated the issue: those factory jobs, with their long hours and unsafe conditions, are nevertheless raising many people’s standard of living significantly. How do we make ethical decisions about such complex issues?

As it turned out, I didn’t assign it – and was relieved I hadn’t when Twitter lit up with the news that This American Life was retracting the story, having found many of the things Daisy claimed to have heard or witnessed to be false. Listening to the most recent episode of This American Life, in which reporter Rob Schmitz uncovered the falsehoods in Daisy’s story and Ira Glass grilled the storyteller about his behavior, was pretty excruciating and reminded me of Oprah’s public shaming of James Frey after his “memoir” was debunked as exaggerations and lies.

By the way, that excerpt contains the links to the This American Life episodes.  I listened to the most recent one where they “retracted” the original story, and it was one of the most compelling and gripping things I’ve heard on the radio (well, in my case, in the form of a podcast) in a long long time.



2 thoughts on ““Killing the Story”

  1. As an NPR supporter and avid listener, I’ve been an Ira Glass follower for years and this is certainly a first and a really remarkable story by This American Life. I commend the staff for doing great investigative journalism and uncovering this complete fabrication. It makes me wonder if this guy just wanted his 15 min. of fame or if he was used to discredit Apple’s reputation and drive the stock prices down? But, I’m a bit of a conspiracy theorist, so sometimes my imagine gets the best of me…

    However, to get back to the point, this certainly raises the old adage of lies spreading faster than the truth. I remember hearing the first broadcast and, of course, didn’t doubt the validity of it because it was an NPR broadcast and because of my own perceptions of China’s lax labor laws, so of course everything made sense, right? Wrong. As I reflect on this, this is not just a moral lesson for the man who falsely spread information about Apple factories, but also for those of us who believed and were duped because of preconceived notions and misperceptions about China’s labor laws. Moreover, as a society, we always want to blame and denounce large corporations of being corrupt through labor exploitation for profit, so this story encompassed all of the ingredients of breaking news. So, I think the questions that this whole situation raises are not just about truth or fiction, but about the broader implications of stereotyping and a need to re-evaluate ourselves when it comes to how we understand and process the information that bombards us on a daily basis.

    Love that you brought this up. It raises some very pertinent and interesting ethical questions for those who are interested in communications.


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