Ira Glass says ‘This American Life’ should fact-check David Sedaris stories

Mike Daisey | The Washington Post
“This American Life” is considering fact-checking David Sedaris’ work for the program, Paul Farhi reports:

In an interview, [host Ira] Glass said no one at his program was concerned about Sedaris before the [Mike] Daisey episode. “We just assumed the audience was sophisticated enough to tell that this guy is making jokes and that there was a different level of journalistic scrutiny that we and they should apply,” he said.

But the Daisey debacle has brought about a reassessment. Glass said three responses are under discussion: fact-checking each of Sedaris’s stories to ensure their accuracy, labeling them to alert the audience that the stories contain “exaggerations” or doing nothing.

At the moment, Glass said, he thinks the best course is to check Sedaris’s facts to the extent that stories involving memories and long-ago conversations can be checked. The New Yorker magazine subjects Sedaris’s work to its rigorous fact-checking regime before it publishes his stories.

Labeling Sedaris’ stories appeals to some at NPR, Farhi reports:

“When you have so much questioning of what’s real, fair, subjective and accurate in the news media, it doesn’t help to have [a segment] on a news program that gives no indication that some liberties have been taken,” said Edward Schumacher-Matos, NPR’s ombudsman, its independent in-house critic. “I do think some kind of flag or label or introduction would be appropriate.”

In a fiery blog post, Mike Daisey says the discussion is ridiculous:

First, no-one is upset with Mr. Sedaris’ work. NO ONE. No one is listening to SANTALAND DIARIES and then saying to themselves, “I am now informed about the true nature of Macy’s elf policies from the early nineties, which is good as I am writing a PhD thesis on that very subject.” No one is calling NPR complaining that they were terribly tricked by Mr. Sedaris’ feelings about the pleasures of smoking, or cutlery, or whatever the fuck it is that David is talking about. No one cares what is factually accurate in the details of what his aunt said to him in his childhood, except maybe his family members, and they should be fucking used to it by now.

“This American Life” retracted a Daisey story about Apple’s manufacturing practices after it learned he had fabricated parts of the story. In the post, Daisey calls Farhi “Eric Farhi.” Daisey says his deeds are “not an excuse for media watchdogs to clamp down as though they are protecting the public from stories as though they need their food chewed for them. … Just because you can’t find any more meat on my bones in this matter doesn’t allow you the right to hunt someone else.”

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  • Anonymous

    Label, don’t fact-check. Has anyone out there ever really mistaken what Sedaris does for journalism?

  • peter herford

    Mr. Daisey does not appear to have learned much from his own experience. Mr. Glass is doing what one expects and hopes for him and the TAM staff: extending the implications of their experience with Mr. Daisey and questioning assumptions they make. When Truman Capote wrote IN COLD BLOOD he opened the first flood-gate in the never ending debate of where journalism ends and “story-telling” begins. The TAM challenge is that they have the courage to walk that line weekly and test themselves in their ability to maintain the standards they have taught us to expect. That brings Mr. Glass and Co. to the reasonable and logical conclusion: looking at one of their discoveries, a person whose career was born and raised in the “Glass house”, and asking questions. No conclusions have been drawn, and the results may be benign. It is the quest that should comfort us and would that other organizations might follow suit.

  • Anonymous

    Sedaris is a story teller.  He embellishes as any good story teller would.  He’s an entertainer, not a biographer.  Fact checking a Sedaris story would ruin it.  Relax.  Enjoy.

  • Bill Buchanan

    Sedaris has slandered the French and the French language. All lies!

  • Anonymous

    Ask yourself: Would Sedaris’ stories be as effective if you knew they were fiction? Most of his Santaland comedy derives from thinking such a place exists. Anyone can make up jokes.

  • Anonymous

    Apparently being Important some of the time requires being Accurate all of the time.

  • Anonymous

    This is nutz!

  • Bethany Horne

    Just add more of a disclaimer: “Sedaris dramatizes events from his own life for humour and effect. But he really is as much of a grumpy snob as he comes off as.”