You need not take a journalist’s oath to tell the truth. You need only be born to a mother such as mine, who told me and my sister often–very often–that “there’s nothing worse than a liar.” It worked on us. My sister became a minister and I became a journalist.
Mike Daisey became a storyteller, a performer, a bald-faced liar whose lies only betrayed the cause he cares about. I just listened to the devastating — devastatingly honest — retraction This American Life issued for Daisey’s stories — his jumbled fiction, his trumped-up tales — about Apple’s factories in China. The most humiliating moments were those filled with silence — which public radio editors usually snip out, to make people sound surer, smarter — when Daisey couldn’t fabricate his next lie.
The worst of this episode to me is Daisey’s insistance — and he’s hardly the first — that he need not be held to a standard of truth and he need not be expected to deliver facts because he is not a journalist. Now journalists might enjoy the notion that they hold a monopoly on truth. But, of course, this idea is just a bullshit layer cake.
Isn’t telling the truth the norm in our society? Don’t you expect anyone you know — friend, family member, coworker — to tell you the truth? If they don’t, aren’t you at least disappointed? If caught in a lie don’t you expect your credibility to be diminished? Isn’t there a cost to lying in society?
So how could that norm be canceled for public figures, for politicians who insist we’ll have death panels or for performers on stage who think the spotlight forgives lies?
I hope not and I don’t think so. But perhaps we haven’t made the price of lying for them high enough. So they think they can get away with it to accomplish what they want to accomplish. I’m given hope that This American Life and a Marketplace reporter, Rob Schmitz, held Daisey to their standard of truth, and that fact-checking of politicians and pundits has become a fad online. I’d say that’s a possible good use of crowdsourcing energy: Wikipedia editors who are now bored because they have written about everything possible would do well to turn their attention to our public figures.
When anyone — performer, politician, blogger — says he has a license to lie because he’s not a journalist, he’s lying.