The issue of This American Life's retraction of their broadcast of Mike Daisey's show The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs reminds me of an exchange I had with a playwright who wrote a play using prominent atheist Madelyn Murray O'Hair as the main character. I blogged about that in February 2006.
What David Foley, the author of The Last Days of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, In Exile and Mike Daisey have in common is that they want to have it both ways. They want to be able to use the notoriety of their subjects to get attention for their theatre production but they want the freedom to invent details as they see fit.
There are differences though. In Daisey's case, the main thrust of the story is true - Foxconn does mistreat its workers. But Daisey made it seem much worse by claiming that its workers were being forced to use n-hexane; that he met under-aged workers at Foxconn; that he showed an iPhone to a worker who had never seen an iPhone and the worker said it was like magic; that the factory guards had guns.
In the case of David Foley, something that might have been true - O'Hair absconding with money - turned out to be completely false and not only that, but the truth itself was much more dramatic, sensational, even, than the speculation.
I am at a loss to say which is worse.
But in both cases, the misrepresentations were excused on the basis that it was theatre.
Well the theatre world is full of bullshit artists who have no concept of personal integrity, so none of this is really shocking. It's all about selling tickets, even if it means presenting fiction as fact.