One Thought re: Mike Daisey

I'm sure by now most of you know about Mike Daisey's amazing monologue about working conditions in Apple's factory's in China. It was adapted for This American Life, which sparked a huge new level of concern and awareness of such issues.

Then it came out that many of his facts (about his trip to China meeting the workers) were exaggerated or just plain fabricated.

Yesterday Ira Glass devoted his whole show to retracting the story. He interviews Mike Daisey in part to find out exactly WHY he did what he did. Glass says in the introduction that he hates to have to do this retraction, which I of course understand. But even so, the retraction episode is even more riveting and fascinating than the original story. It also demonstrates the high level of integrity at This American Life. And the fact that when necessary, Ira Glass can be such a ballsy interviewer, not letting his subject off easy even though he (in part) feels terrible for him.

I feel terrible for Daisey too. He is clearly conflicted and freaked out and (correctly) worried that his unmasking weakens the overall case for higher scrutiny of this issue. And that all of this discounts the quality, poetry and larger truth of his theatrical piece.

I highly recommend listening to the episode.

To me the most interesting section was a debate between Daisey and Glass about the issue of theater vs journalism and context.

Mike Daisey: I don’t think that label covers the totality of what it is.

Ira Glass: That label – fiction?

Mike Daisey: Yeah. We have different world views on some of these things. I agree with you truth is really important.

Ira Glass: I know but I feel like I have the normal worldview. The normal worldview is somebody stands on stage and says ‘this happened to me,’ I think it happened to them, unless it’s clearly labeled as ‘here’s a work of fiction.’

I don't agree that those are the only choices. The tradition of memoirs that are "100 percent true, except for the parts that aren't" is well established.

Mike Daisey repeatedly stands by his work but says his big regret was to put it on This American Life. I disagree. His mistake was to repeatedly lie, both overtly and by omission, about the fact that he was embracing that tradition of memoir. I suspect if he had put one line, like "parts of this story really happened, parts are dramatic constructions" in the program, Ira Glass might still have been interested to present it, as he has often presented other pieces that are not straight journalism (short stories, humorous memoirs, etc.) Glass then might have supplemented that episode with a segment like the excellent one in the retraction with Charles Duhigg about what the known facts are from a journalistic point of view.

Anyway, I am diehard fan of both Apple and of This American Life. And I am a storyteller by trade. So this whole drama is of great interest to me.

UPDATE 3/18/12: Now he's made changes to his show, including a new introduction, and is challenging his translator's version of events.