'This American Life' pulls too-good-to-be-true Stephen Glass stories (again)

This American Life | Poynter

In the wake of its retraction of Mike Daisey's exposé on Apple, "This American Life" has pulled three Stephen Glass stories done in the late 1990s. In a Friday blog post, the show says that staff recently learned that the stories were still available on its website. "We'd taken these down years ago and then they went back up without any of us noting it when we did a redesign of the website in 2010."

A few days earlier, in describing the unanswered questions about the show's editorial process, Craig Silverman and I pointed out that the shows were online. In one of them, Glass tells a (literally) unbelievable story about his job as a telephone psychic: that a female caller told him that her father used to beat her with a bicycle chain when his football team failed to score, and that her husband was having sex with another woman, in the next room, while she was on the phone with Glass.

"This American Life" explains that it's common for journalists to do radio shows retelling stories published elsewhere. "We trust that since we're talking to fellow journalists who already published their work in mainstream publications, the work had been edited and vetted as true."

The psychic story was done as an interview between Ira Glass and Stephen Glass (who, the show has said multiple times, are not related). Another, a FedEx disaster story, was done as an audio essay. For the third, about student interns who worked as slaves at Mount Vernon, Glass recorded some audio:

We transcribed and edited the tape he recorded ... and now believe that all the recorded quotes he brought back are real, while the ones he didn't manage to record are probably fabrications.

Related: Chicago Public Radio to examine what went wrong with ‘This American Life’ story on Apple (Poynter)

Confused: The Boston Globe writes of the Daisey episode: "NPR: Exposing Apple’s worm, and its own." Too bad "This American Life" isn't an NPR show. Dan Kennedy points it out and writes a post: "NPR is not a synonym for public radio."

This has come up before:

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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