In response, Daisey issued the following statement:
“I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out.
What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic - not a theatrical - enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret. I am proud that my work seems to have sparked a growing storm of attention and concern over the often appalling conditions under which many of the high-tech products we love so much are assembled in China.”
I in no way want to diminish the enormous gaffe by Daisey and “This American Life” both. It raises some really important ethical questions. But I also think Daisey’s defense is interesting because it differentiates between the rules for storytellers and the rules for journalists. Journalists have a very clear obligation to tell the truth, all the time. For storytellers, memoirists and non-fiction writers, it’s a little different. They can take creative license, tweaking words and facts and anecdotes, in order to arrive at a better articulation of a true idea.
Journalism, done well, employs all the practices of good storytelling and the rigor required by fact checking. “This American Life” is an interesting venue for this to play out because it’s easy to forget that what they do is journalism. When I think of “This American Life,” I think of an outlet renowned for its great storytelling. The thing is–the stories are true.
Remember Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea? How about James Frey, who wrote A Million Little Pieces? Both authors published highly acclaimed and widely-read books, and both were heavily criticized when the public learned that they’d fabricated some of their material. My question to you, blog readers: how does this impact the quality of their works? Are they any any less good?
I took a literature class in college called “Truth and Other Fictions.” We read writers who blurred the line between memory and the present, between truth and lies, reality and constructions. The human mind is pretty complex, and sometimes, if you tell yourself something over and over again, it can become true. If you think this is interesting stuff, here are some further musings on the intersections and disparities between art and fact.
Mikey Daisey is scheduled to perform at the Flynn in Burlington on March 31st. I’ve been meaning to buy my ticket all week and will certainly do so this evening. Because, true or no, Mike Daisey tells a good story.