Lying to Tell the Truth?


In works of nonfiction, is it ever okay to fudge the facts to get at a so-called larger truth? Are there different rules for reporting memoir or personal essay than there are for journalism?

I mulled those questions a few weeks back, before the fracas over Mike Daisey’s retracted episode of This American Life, before the viral KONY 2012 video inspired skeptics to dig for and correct muddled facts. It’s been interesting to watch the events unfold, to see how writers and journalists and memoirists are grappling with the fundamental rules of storytelling. (Rule number one? If you’re presenting something as fact, you don’t make shit up.)

I’ve been a bit of a making-stuff-up/l’affaire Daisey junkie these past few days. Here are some good pieces on the subject:

Can I Make Stuff Up? A Visual Guide (Slate)

There is No Such Thing as a Larger Truth (Gawker)

Why Mike Daisey Had to Lie to Tell the Truth (Washington Post)

Mike Daisey, KONY 2012 and the Viral Allure of the Almost True (Forbes)

Invisible Children, All-Too-Visible Entertainers (Blog post by author and photojournalist Michael Kodas)


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