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Disclose the truth

BY BENJAMIN EVANS | MARCH 22, 2012 6:30 AM

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With the plague of tabloid journalism and the era of biased media outlets, there has never been a better time to be good at what I do.

Publications you see at the grocery store claiming 'Obama is God' are obviously false; others like The Onion disclose they put a fictional, humorous spin on current events.

But with the apparent uprise in the cavalier treatment of facts, a call to order in the nonfiction realm is a necessity.

Mike Daisey, the New York theater performer turned nonfiction nightmare, is the poster boy for this call to action. Recently, Daisey has been in the news for his infamous theory on what he calls"counterfeit truth."

"This American Life," a source for good, old-fashioned journalism, featured Daisey's solo stage show "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," in a story the program ran two months ago called "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory."

The show, a monologue about the exploitation of workers by Apple, contained some pretty incriminating accusations aimed at the computer giant concerning its treatment of factory conditions.  

When the producers realized that a hefty amount of Daisey's story had been fabricated, not only did "This American Life"retract the story, it also accused Daisey of lying and misleading its staff.

"He pretends that he just stumbled upon an array of workers who typify all kinds of harsh things somebody might face in a factory that makes iPhones and iPads," producer Ira Glass said on "This American Life" 's most recent episode, aptly titled Retraction.  

In this episode, Daisey admitted to fudging the facts and exaggerating. Certain things he claimed to have seen and things he claimed he had done were, actually, not seen or done at all, but merely things he had heard about, sometimes pertaining to other countries.  

Ridiculous may be a word for it. Fraud would be another.

The implications of these acts discredit the journalistic society. People become skeptical of everything they read, and don't trust publications worthy of the honor to be trusted.

But the Society of Professional Journalism makes makes it extremely clear in its Code of Ethics:

"Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible."

Distortion is never permissible. This is what being a journalist means.

"This American Life" may have made a mistake, but it was swindled by a con.

It's understandable if you don't claim to represent actual facts, but to distort truth to satisfy ego or fill space is deplorable.

Proponents of Daisey's "counterfeit truth" like to think they are distorting the facts to tell the "real" truth.

But that's when facts become subjective and nothing in print or claiming to be true can be trusted. News needs to be trusted and counted on. There may be slants and biases, but there is a definite different between facts and fallacies.

And maybe people such as Daisey get an exception from the journalistic code of ethics. I have no problem with someone flying a flag of fiction to shed light on situations normally in the darkness. It's what people like to call art.

My problem lies in the disclosure. If you don't disclose that what you are about to tell an audience is an exaggeration, then people tend to take it as true. If you write about, talk about, or photograph real events, then you have an obligation to your audience to disclose whether you have exaggerated something.

If you don't, it's called a lie of omission.

You can't swindle an audience who takes your word as honest. You can illustrate a point without lies. There are things in this world that are certain — they are called verifiable facts.

When people fly the flag of nonfiction, they are bound to the facts — what the facts are and what the facts say. And if a person doesn't stick to the facts, then he is nothing more than a fraud.


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