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
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,
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.