You can’t handle the truth.

This is a bit of an unusual post.  Usually I reference an ad, but today, I’m going off book.  Don’t know if you have been following what happened with “This American Life” and Mike Daisey.  Essentially “This American Life” ran an episode on working conditions in Apple’s Chinese factories based on Mike Daisey’s monologue.  Mike Daisey’s monologue is a first hand account of his experiences meeting and talking with workers at Foxcomm. I didn’t hear the original story, but it was the most downloaded episode of “This American Life” and sounded like a powerful piece of storytelling.

Only problem, turns out after some digging by other NPR reporters, many of the stories Mike Daisey tells didn’t happen.

This probably breaks some blog protocol, but take a listen to “This American Life” show “Retraction.” It’s a powerful episode and instructive lesson in truth telling, accountability and transparency.

Ok, you back (hopefully)?  Truth is such a funny thing.  Are the ads we produce truthful?  Are the facts true? These are questions political advertisers face every day. What the best attack? How far can we push it? Is it true? Personally, I take the truthfulness of the ads I create very seriously.

This story is a great example of why we owe it not just to the public, but to our clients to be careful with the truth.  Mike Daisey wanted to tell a story that resonated with his audience.  But if he claims the story is true and it’s not, then the audience feels betrayed. My biggest worry about stretching the truth, especially when it comes to ads about our opponents, is that the pubic throws the baby out with the bath water. Meaning, they dismiss the entire story for one or two small lies that might make for a cleaner narrative or make something a little worse than it was or more meaningful.

That’s what Mike Daisey did here, and now he’s done a disservice to his cause.  Where is the truth in his story? Is any of it true?  I sat here trying to figure out what was true and what wasn’t, and even I wasn’t sure at the end of it all.  It makes you doubt the entire narrative he paints.  And what about the next story on China factory workers, will people take that with a grain of salt because of this one?  Probably.

What Mike Daisey did was confuse truth with verisimilitude.  Truth is pretty hard and fast, but verisimilitude is not quite in that realm, its something softer,is the essence of truth, it feels real.  Something can feel real without being true and conversely something can cling to true facts and be a lie.

There’s probably a lot of verisimilitude in Mike Daisey’s worthy story, but by not being honest about the truth, he has compromised trust with his audience.  So, they believe nothing he has to say.  It’s a cautionary tale for all of us.

P.S. “This American Life” is to be commended on how they handled the situation. If you’re gonna make a mistake, this is the way to clean it up. Basically, come clean, be transparent, accept responsibility. A good example to remember when things go bad.

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