Mike Daisey is sucking up to the industry that pilloried him. After it emerged that heâd lied in an episode of This American Life about Appleâs factories in China, journalists raked Daisey over the coals. But now he has a new monologue called Journalism, getting its world premiere in Portland on May 21, in which he argues journalistic objectivity is a myth. With that in mind, hereâs this journalistâs subjective opinion of Daiseyâs record and of the phone conversation she had with him: Heâs a skilled performer but a weaselly talker who spins like an iPod wheel.
WW: Give me a preview of your show.
Mike Daisey: Itâs about journalism, which I think is one of the most important things. Itâs something we donât engage with in the theater, even though journalism is the framework for which all stories are told in our culture. Particularly, Iâm interested in the myth of objective journalism, and how it weakens the structure of journalism because it doesnât recognize how hard journalism actually is. It sets things up too easily for the system to not tell the stories that need to get told.
Your press release describes this as a love letter to journalism. In the wake of the This American Life scandal, you were ripped apart by a lot of journalists. Why are you now writing them a love note?
I really like journalism and I really like journalists. I may be in a period when not all of them like me back, but thatâs fine. I donât need to be liked. I think journalism is about the most important thing that exists. Without people making the earnest attempt to try and tell stories that penetrate what is actually going on, the underpinnings of what we think about as Western civilization start to fray.
What do you see as the relationship between theater and journalism?
At their root, theater and journalism are connected by the fact that theyâre both storytelling. Theyâre both the construction of narrative. Theyâre both at the root of human consciousness. And where theyâre extremely different is, their rules and polarities are almost entirely inverted in terms of audience expectation. The default setting in the theater is that everything is a fiction. Journalism has the opposite orientation, where the assumption is that everything is true. Itâs a very charged and dangerous assumption, because all storytelling involves omission, crafting, shaping.
With TAL, youâve argued that you had a goal to effect change. What distinguishes your work from propaganda?
What distinguishes Wired magazine from propaganda? That [February 2011 Wired cover story about Foxconn] is a great example of framing and assumption. A writer went to China and never spoke to any workers. Omissions, as we know in the world of journalism, are not cardinal sins. Theyâre inevitable, right?
Omissions may be inevitable, but your fabrications were not.
Right, and it provides great cover that someone can simply omit something one doesnât want to see in their story. It covers your bases if you want to write a story that leaves out things that would be disruptive to your worldview.
Yes, omissions can be a problem. But fabrications are more destructive.
Iâm not debating which one is more destructive. I just know which one is more pernicious and present and which one is acceptable and therefore happens constantly.
Readers understand omissions are inevitable, but fabrications break trust in a different, more grievous way.
Another way of framing that is that readers donât think about the omissions. Like if they were actually given an accounting of whatâs been left out in certain stories, it might not be so easy. Like in the case of this Wired story.
Iâm asking about your work, not Wired. Was your story propaganda?
I donât know. It was definitely a monologue. It was definitely a piece of theater.
How did the scandal play out for you?
Iâm very happy with where I am now. It feels really good to have apologized fully and completely over a year ago. I didnât vanish, as people often do in these sorts of scandals when theyâre not theater practitioners and theyâre instead traditional journalists for whom this kind of a scandal would be a death sentence.
You weighed in on The Portland Mercuryâs recent blog post about you? Why?
Probably because I drank some NyQuil. It was a terrible idea. One should never respond to Internet comments. It was the Mercury! Of course I regret it. It was kind of hilarious because they talked themselves into a fascinating corner. They said, âThe very fact that youâre here shows how pathetic you are, because weâre pathetic,â which I just thought was the saddest fucking thing Iâd ever read, because on some level I thought they might actually want to have a conversation. I have that delusion every once in a while that people want to have a conversation on places like the Mercury blog.
SEE IT: Mike Daisey premieres Journalism at the Tiffany Center, 1401 SW Morrison St., pica.org, on Tuesday, May 21. 7 pm. $25-$45.