Last week, I wrote that Mike Daisey was sucking up to an industryâjournalismâthat has pilloried him
Tuesday night, in a monologue presented by PICA, Daisey didnât really suck up to journalists. Rather, the monologuistâwho weathered controversy after it was revealed that he'd fabricated details of a talk about Apple's Chinese factories that aired on This American Lifeâpresented two hours of wooly and long-winded ramblings. Some of it was about journalism: how he self-produced a newspaper in eighth grade called The Night Writer, how the rise of broadcast journalism helped lead to the modern myth of journalistic objectivity, how he audited a journalism class with NYU grad students, how thereâs not enough money to pay journalists to do their work, how journalists are simultaneously go-getters and resigned fatalists. Some of his comments could, perhaps, be construed as sucking up, or at least as acknowledging the cruddy situation in which journalists find themselves. Taking on the collective voice of journalists, Daisey said, âWe didnât sign up for this much fucking.â He went on to detail the âendless mountains of bullshitâ with which journalists deal.
And he went on, and on:
âJournalism is the nature of recording how the world is going into a shithole and we are powerless to stop it.â
âJournalism is clearly a calling. Journalists are called to do something that our culture doesnât care about and fucks over.â
âNo form is more admirable at dissolving anything than journalism.â
âWe have never expected to pay less for news.â
âItâs no better world where there are less journalists. You canât say that about most industries.â
I agree with Daiseyâs assessments about journalismâs messy business model and his characterization of journalists as plucky but world-weary. I agree that journalists are squeezed to do too many tasks and cover too many beats. I agree that journalism is of vital importance in our democracy, and that the gutting of papers across this country is sad and scary. But for a monologue entitled Journalism, Daisey offered little depth or insight beyond a few soundbites. And his tangentsâabout Dungeons & Dragons, neuroscience and memory, a middle-school teacher who died, even fluoride (âIâm with science,â he noted)âproved largely uninteresting.
Daisey instead spent much of the monologue rehashing his TAL scandal and its aftermath. âThis is not an apology,â he said. âThis is a performance. An apology is not dramatically compelling.â Yet what Daisey offered Tuesday night was an apology in everything but name. And no, it was not dramatically compelling. âI should have been stronger,â he said. âI should have believed that the story itself would work.â
I didnât need Daisey to say sorry. As he reminded us Tuesday, he issued a public apology on his blog more than a year ago. But I had hoped for meatier material and a more focused perspectiveâand wittier anecdotes, given that he can be a very funny performer. (I also could have done without his gloating about the role he played in expanding the public consciousness about the electronics industry.)
And I would be remiss, of course, to overlook the fact that Daisey devoted 10 minutes of his monologue to our hourlong interview. Daisey mentioned all three interviews he did with local journalists. He described his âvery niceâ conversation with The Oregonian and the âvery niceâ article Marty Hughley wrote. Referencing the long and largely unedited Portland Monthly Q&A that ran online, he noted, âI donât know who would read that thing.â And me? Daisey said he knew from the beginning that it was going to be a âterribleâ interview for two reasons: One, because I am not a theater critic. (Not sure where he got this idea. As WWâs lead theater critic, Iâm one of those arts journalists living on the âisland of delusionsâ Daisey so nicely described.) Two, Daisey said, I have never seen him live. This fact he got rightâbut why it would predict a dreadful interview, Iâm unsure. Still, his account of our exchange was mostly accurate: I was insistent, he dodged, I persisted. I made cuts to our interview with which he disagreed. We swapped emails afterwards. I wouldnât give him the audio recording. I characterized him as weaselly. He said heâs more of a plump otter. Big whoop.
Yet Daisey clearly felt a sense of ownership over the interview, and maybe even some sense of gratitude for the material it had provided him.
Exasperated, wiping his brow, he called it a "fantastically shitty conversation."
That's not unfair.