Pushing Daisey

BROOKE HATFIELD/Washington City Paper

More than 3,000 words later, I’m still sorting through my thoughts about what Mike Daisey has done. While I think it’s unfair to compare him to Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass, as many have, I’m still puzzled by my inclination to defend a guy who endangered the reputation of This American Life by lying to Ira Glass and Brian Reed to prevent them from fact-checking his story as thoroughly as they should have.

And yeah, as someone who has been a part of Daisey’s theater audience for years, I guess I could say he lied to me, too. I know a lot of people who paid to see (full disclosure: I didn’t pay for my ticket) The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs feel indignant on those grounds.

I don’t.

I don’t go to the theater for news, any more than I go to a dentist when I need my car serviced. Even when something is billed as “a work of nonfiction,” as this show was, I approach it skeptically. And I don’t consider myself an unusually cynical person. I consider myself to be the kind of person who, after seeing a show or a film or reading something that moves me and deepens my interest in an issue, then consults other sources.

Yes, I know that Daisey makes it sound like no one ever did any substantial reporting on Apple’s supply chain until he shamed them into doing it, and that’s not right. He’s a natural born self-aggrandizer. Is that trait uncommon, do you think, among people who earn their living performing solo shows in theaters?

In any case, after hearing last Friday’s heartbreaking episode of This American Life (No. 460, “Retraction”) I wrote this.

After attending Mike Daisey’s talk at Georgetown University Monday night — the day after his fictionalized (he now tells us) monologue closed in New York — I wrote this.

FURTHER READING: In January 2010, when Daisey performed The Last Cargo Cult at Woolly Mammoth Theater Company here in DC, I interviewed him at length for this piece and put the leftover material from the interview here. I also interviewed Ira Glass — one of my heroes, I’ll come right out and tell you — by phone in April 2008.

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