My take on the Mike Daisey clusterf**k

Not that anybody has asked for my opinion on the matter, but here ya go…

I’m not going to rehash all the back story on this, because by now you’ve probably heard it all (including the recent This American Life “Retraction” episode).

As I see it, the main argument boils down to the notion of theatre vs. journalism, and the differences of each when presenting information.

It’s not unlike the age-old argument about opera vs. musical theatre and how you define each genre when talking about epic shows like Porgy and Bess and Sweeney Todd. I think Stephen Sondheim said it best in that the venue dictates the genre — if Sweeney is performed at the Lyric Opera, for example, it’s an opera. If it’s performed at the Marriott Theatre, it’s a musical.

When Daisey performed his “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” monologue in theatres across the country (note the key word, “performed”) he apparently did a good job convincing people his story was real. However, as audience members in a theatre, we should take that information with a grain of salt. Yes, the content of his message and the way it was presented as investigative journalism may have been misleading, and perhaps a disclaimer in the program should have been included, but theatres do not have any obligation to fact check his story. This is one person’s opinion — a one man show — and it should never be cited as primary source material for any sort of study or fact-based report without proper due diligence.

When Daisey was asked to present his monologue on an independent journalism program, the piece was then transformed into journalism. And based on This American Life‘s “Retraction” episode, TAL reps clearly outlined to Daisey their intentions to present his story as journalism and that they wanted to ensure that not only did he understand this, but that the information in his story was accurate. And not only did Daisey confirm that he understood this intention to present his story as journalism and what that meant, but also that all the elements of his story were, indeed, facts.

And that is where Daisey failed. Or, more clearly, where he lied. And he should be very, very much ashamed.

Of course, this is not the first time this has happened — and happened with professionals who understood the rules and ethics of journalism. Remember former Washington Post journalist Janet Cooke and her imaginary 8-year old heroin user? Or The new York TimesJayson Blaire? Sometimes people, in an effort to get their story heard (read: published), resort to the occasional embellishment, the odd imaginary, the avalanche of lying.

I don’t think Daisey is a bad person. I think he got caught up in the passion of his own story, and the news outlets abused this passion by not doing their due-diligence when asking him to speak on their news programs, and Daisey, in a way, took advantage of their sloppiness to promote a story he very much believed in. A vicious circle.

If anything, we’ve learned a few things, including the importance of not relying on one opinion as the gospel truth, the level of credibility we should give to entertainment pieces that claim to be true, and, in general, maintaining a healthy sense of skepticism with everything we hear.

2 thoughts on “My take on the Mike Daisey clusterf**k

  1. I definitely agree with you about the healthy degree of skepticism. The problem is that it stated in the program that this was a work of nonfiction. To me, that’s stacking the deck. It’s not leaving the audience to weigh everything they’ve heard and then decide for themselves what’s true.

    1. Very misleading to represent his monologue that way. But, it’s his perception. I’d wager he honestly felt he was telling bold truths — even if the truths were colored in with some dramatic moments of fiction. It’s still, overall, “nonfiction,” right?

      Well, wrong, but you know you what I’m saying.

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