The Wall Street Journal’s Jeff Yang comments on Mike Daisey’s use of embellishment to make a point, and whether This American Life’s Ira Glass (and the rest of the media) did their homework before running with Daisey’s version of the facts:
You see, if Glass (and the rest of the media) had looked a little more closely at Daisey’s recent history, they’d have encountered one of his lesser-known pieces, a monologue called “Truth.” In that piece, Daisey explored the strange and, from the vantage point of today, ironic stories of JT LeRoy and James Frey — both of which are milestone cases of literary fabrication. He also briefly discusses his own history of exaggeration, sharing how an anecdote about butchering a deer evolved, onstage, into a full story about working in a slaughterhouse.
I listened to this week’s episode of This American Life, entitled “Retraction,” where Ira Glass explains what was discovered since the original episode aired. Daisey’s credibility takes the biggest hit when he is questioned by Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz and Glass himself. You can almost hear the sound of shifting sand beneath Daisey’s answers about what was true and what he just came up with on his own to make a compelling point.
Perhaps the biggest casualties of Mike Daisey’s performance/journalism are the factory workers themselves. Daisey’s show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” raises valid concerns about the working conditions in some of these Foxconn factories. It appears that in some cases Daisey read about actual events that occurred, but then exaggerated them and placed himself in the center of the drama by claiming that he spoke directly with the injured Foxconn employees. By destroying his own credibility, Daisey manages to trivialize the potential injustices that deserve the most attention.