Mike Daisey wasn’t the first person to make up a false personal story as a way of raising the kind of “awareness” that will necessitate change, nor was #StopKony the first hyper-successful campaign to take a massively complicated political-economic-military problem and reduce it to the narrative of a great white savior. See, for example, Greg Mortensen, who is similar to both, in the way that both are similar to each, or to a Tom MacMaster, the hoaxter behind“Gay Girl in Damascus.”….
This is not a defense, of course, but it is worth saying: if we only emphasize the lies in these accounts, we thereby overlook the extent to which they were saying true things. And it is also worth remembering that truth is not an either/or. One can easily deceive by telling nothing but the truth – telling it selectively, misframed, etc – and one can also tell a kind of truth by using statements which are, on their own, untrue. This is why fiction matters, and why journalism never rests on quite the firm bedrock of objectivity that it needs to pretend it does. But again, this is not a defense, just an attempt to describe a problem that we often have vested interests in failing to acknowledge, the blurriness of the line that separates fact from fiction.
I say this to clear away the temptation of easy moralism, of making “true” seem like it would be the easy way to be right. For if truth and fiction are not black and white – and they are not – then it is simply not enough to condemn Mike Daisey for lying. Moralizing about that, after all, allows us to imagine a simplistic world in which telling the truth would have been the right choice. If you tell the truth the rightway, we imagine – if you tell the version of Mike Daisey’s story that didn’t narcissistically mythologize – then the real problems that really do exist could be dealt with. But this isn’t the case, is it? If you tell the truth with scrupulous accuracy and breadth, people are as likely to doze off as be scandalized.