There’s a simple solution to this dilemma: Let these artists announce at the start of their work that a little, or a lot, of artistic license lies ahead. Had either told us that their work were fictions rather than truths, we would have judged them as both claim they want to be judged—as artists, rather than as mere reporters bringing issues to the public square.
But D’Agata’s and Daisey’s work requires our belief. Deception is the keystone of their art. They need us to trust in facts, even as they manipulate them. That’s why their work feels so parasitic. As long as people are willing to deceive us in the name of truth, our only antidote is to embrace the old saw taught to every cub reporter: If you mother tells you she loves you, check it out.