PHONY 2012: Fiction Trumps Fact in Many Media Reports

"We have different languages for what the truth means." ---Mike Daisey, fantasy monologist.

KONY 2012.

This American Life.

These are just the lastest incarnations of fiction trumping fact in both the mainstream media as well as in alternate news outlets. In the latest outbreaks of this condition, we found out that the emperor, or rather KONY 2012 producer, wears no clothes in more ways than one. However, prior to this "documentary," which went viral on the web, being exposed as being short on facts, it was widely hailed by a coterie of liberal celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, and many others.

While the KONY 2012 video was being hyped on many media outlets in the USA fact checkers, notably Polly Curtis of the the UK Guardian, were noticing discrepancies between the video and the real facts of the Charles Kony situation in Uganda. And one of the big problems is that the video is outdated and Kony with his Lord's Resistance Army are no longer even in Uganda.:

1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn't been for six years;

2) The LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.

Now that more facts have become known, widespread skepticism about the KONY 2012 video has set in which perhaps led to the public meltdown of the documentary's producer, Jason Russell. Another example of fiction trumping fact was also laid bare last week when monologist Mike Daisey was discovered to have taken extreme dramatic license with the truth when he flat out lied in his "This American Life" segment about working conditions in an Apple Factory in China. Despite the fact that producer Ira Glass was skeptical about the veracity of Daisey's monologue, he went ahead with the broadcast to public radio stations. You can hear the subsequent mea culpa broadcast as well as read the transcript:

I can say now in retrospect that when Mike Daisey wouldn't give us contact information for his interpreter we should've killed the story rather than run it. We never should've broadcast this story without talking to that woman.

Instead, we trusted his word. Although he's not a journalist, we made clear to him that anything he was going to say on our show would have to live up to journalistic standards. He had to be truthful. And he lied to us.

Also interesting was the self-righteous justification by Mike Daisey for his lies in this segment of the interview with Ira Glass:

Mike Daisey: All I can tell you is that I stand by what I told you before – that I stand by those things.

Ira Glass: That those things happened – those specific things.

Mike Daisey: Yes. And I stand by it as a theatrical work. I stand by how it makes people see and care about the situation that’s happening there. I stand by it in the theater. And I regret, deeply, that it was put into this context on your show.

Ira Glass: Are you going to change the way that you label this in the theater, so that the audience in the theater knows that this isn’t strictly speaking a work of truth but in fact what they’re seeing really is a work of fiction that has some true elements in it.

Mike Daisey: Well, I don’t know that I would say in a theatrical context that it isn’t true. I believe that when I perform it in a theatrical context in the theater that when people hear the story in those terms that we have different languages for what the truth means.

Ira Glass: I understand that you believe that but I think you’re kidding yourself in the way that normal people who go to see a person talk – people take it as a literal truth. I thought that the story was literally true seeing it in the theater. Brian, who’s seen other shows of yours, thought all of them were true. I saw your nuclear show, I thought that was completely true. I thought it was true because you were on stage saying ‘this happened to me.’ I took you at your word.

Mike Daisey: I think you can trust my word in the context of the theater. And how people see it -

Ira Glass: I find this to be a really hedgy answer. I think it’s OK for somebody in your position to say it isn’t all literally true, know what I mean, feel like actually it seems like it’s honest labeling, and I feel like that’s what’s actually called for at this point, is just honest labeling. Like, you make a nice show, people are moved by it, I was moved by it and if it were labeled honestly, I think everybody would react differently to it.

Mike Daisey: I don’t think that label covers the totality of what it is.

Ira Glass: That label – fiction?

So in the space of a week we get two prominent examples of exaggeration and fiction being passed off as fact. PHONY 2012. And will there be other examples of PHONY 2012 this year? Of course, since in the past we have seen that phenomenon over and over again the the media.

Remember PHONY 1992? That was when  NBC's Dateline rigged the fuel tank of a GM truck with remote controlled rockets to ensure it would explode upon impact.

Or how about PHONY 2004 when Dan Rather used "fake but accurate" documents to smear George W. Bush's service in the Air National Guard.

Two years later we had PHONY 2006 when Jason Leopold with the aid of DU fraudster William  Rivers Pitt of TruthOut declared that Karl Rove had already been indicted on May 12. One humorous outcome of that "news" was that Hillary Clinton along with her fellow Democrats at a Michigan meeting applauded the "news" when it went out over the Web to their Blackberries.

If the past is prologue, we can definitely expect many more PHONY 2012 stories this year as well as PHONY 2013, 2014, etc. stories in the future.

Note: PHONY 2012 graphic created by baddog 219 of the Free Republic.

Journalistic Issues Mike Daisey Jason Russell
P.J. Gladnick's picture