‘This American Life’ and the David Sedaris ‘problem’

Ira Glass was asked in his Reddit AMA (ask me anything) if there was a policy change at “This American Life” after Mike Daisey’s piece was retracted. He said the radio show “used to fact check the way they do on the daily NPR news shows,” which is having “editors and reporters consult about questionable facts, run down stuff in an ad hoc way.”

Now we have professional fact checkers for everything, including the personal essays.

Still a question is what to do about David Sedaris. He doesn’t pretend the stories are true. He says to everyone they’re “true enough for you.” I assume the audience can tell, he’s a funny writer, there may be exaggerations for comic effect.

David Sedaris (left) and Ira Glass

We have three choices:

1) assume the audience is smart enough to tell;
2) label his stuff on the air as possibly non-factual (hard to figure out a way to do that which doesn’t kill the fun but there probably is one);
3) fact check him the way the New Yorker does.

I honestly don’t know where I stand on this one. When I pose the Q to public radio audiences, at speeches and events, they overwhelmingly vote #1, with a vociferous tiny minority who feel strongly in favor of #2.

Glass was asked if there’s “any awkwardness or standoff” when he comes across NPR “Science Friday” host Ira Flatow in the hallway? “Holy Christ yes,” Glass replied. He and I each believe – fiercely, heatedly and to our dying breaths – that there is only room in public radio for one Ira.”

More good quotes from his AMA:

“At any given point, we have three or four shows we’re actively preparing, and another two or three kind of burbling up slowly in the background. (There are nine of us on staff. It’s a lot of people. For years, it was just four.)”

“Sometimes the person just refuses to talk. Just a couple weeks ago there was a story about a kid who stole a Lamborghini that we could not get the kid or anyone who knew him. There was a guy who keeps a blog about amusement park accidents who had an amazing story and we couldn’t get him to talk to us. That was disappointing. Lots of people have the good sense not to talk on the radio.”

Carl Kasell

“I think it’s actually a little cheesy that [Carl Kasell’s voice on your answering machine is] the prize on Wait Wait. I think they should give out a copy of the Encyclopedia Brittanica or something if you win.”

“It’s 2012 and I’m in journalism school. Am I an idiot?”
“Short answer: no. There’ll be journalism somewhere. There’ll be jobs. Longer answer: depends on which school.”

“If you weren’t doing This American Life, what do you think you would be doing as a career?”
“Either teacher or doctor. When I was a reporter in the public schools, I thought a lot about switching. Worried I wouldn’t be able to handle the discipline issues. But that seems like a great, interesting, hard hard hard job, which is what I like.”

* IAm Ira Glass, creator of This American Life (reddit.com)