This American Life

Mike Daisey’s unravelling story is one of those tragic self-inflicted wounds. But I can’t help but wonder how many of the too-perfect stories you hear on TAL would stand up under similar scrutiny.

I am a longtime fan of “This American Life,” but I have never assumed that every story I heard was literally true. The writer and monologist David Sedaris frequently tells wonderful personal yarns on the show that may not be precisely true in every detail, but this was not a story about a family car trip gone bad.

Like David Carr, I have always assumed there is some amount of fictionalization in the stories on TAL. Unlike Carr, I’m somewhat more bothered by this, because a story presented as fact resonates differently than a story presented as fiction, and to present fiction as fact — even in the instance of a story about a family car trip — strikes me as cheating somehow. The story somehow becomes more absurd, more meaningful, because it is presented as something that actually happened. It gains currency it did not earn through the art of storytelling alone.

But I could be wrong. Perhaps this is the very first time anyone ever embellished a story on TAL.