(in)Famous Mike Daisey: Dramatist vs. Journalist

What happens when a man who has a social and political ideology and rhetoric, who normally sits on stages and delivers monologues to theatre goers, and then crosses into the world of real journalism?  All hell breaks loose.  Forget The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs; he should do The Trials and Tribulations of Liar Mike Daisey.  The blame for this shoddy “reporting” rests on the shoulders of both Ira Glass (This American Life) and Daisey due to lack of fact-checking and outright lies.

Lets start with This American Life, a public radio journalism show featuring stories of mostly true content about everyday people, the key here is mostly true.  This American Life made the mistake of billing a dramatist as a journalist and not sufficiently fact-checking said dramatist’s work.  This should have been a massive red flag, like the ones they wave in front of bulls.  A dramatist is not a journalist; a dramatist makes stuff up, embellishes fact, and skews the story.  (Remember: forget the specifics of Daisey for the moment).  The staff of This American Life should have been vigilant in the scrutiny of the dramatist’s monologue, and should have fact checked it more fervently given the situation.  This is also not the first time This American Life has featured stories that later turned out to be fabrications – those reported by Stephen Glass in 1996 were later turned into a film Shattered Glass.

Ira Glass’s outrage at the dramatist is understandable, but to a certain extent unreasonable.  Glass is a journalist, now an embarrassed one; he did not do his due diligence in the vetting of the monologue.  So now the journalist must retract the dramatist’s story and bear the full brunt of responsibility for the false information.  The journalist has a right to be angry with himself and partially to the persecution of a mostly uncaring media, but not to dramatist.  If the journalist had done his job, he would have the right to be angry with the dramatist, but then this would not have happened in the first place.

Lets scrutinize the dramatist Mike Daisey.  What he did was wrong and there is no denying that he should not have lied to the media or the general public.  Nor should he have stuck to his story when the fact checking was done on his monologue.  However, he did what he set out to do: raise awareness of Foxcomm and Apple factories in China.  Now for the first time, Apple is letting independent auditors and media into its factories and making near full disclosure about its operations.  Did Daisey hurt Apple?  Nope, the stock is doing better then ever, and the company has just been handed a media gift of proving itself as focused on its employees.  According to the NBC Nighty News on March 29th, Apple will be reducing the hours of staff but increasing wages so the workers at the factories do not take a financial hit, all this to keep in line with overtime laws.

The other main problem with Daisey was the byline for the monologue: A True Story.  Had he presented it as a monologue, with dramatic intentions, for that is its actual nature, he would not be in any hot water, nor would This American Life.  If he had done this, there would have been no story, no awareness, and no fame.  Daisey sits in a precarious spot, he must choose his path wisely because all eyes are upon him.  But if he is like Junior (Indiana Jones) and drinks from the wooden cup, he is set.  As it is, he can look forward to a book deal and maybe a film.

This American Life has also risen in social standing, as the general populace that normally consumes Rihanna and Chris Brown issues saw on Yahoo! something about their beloved Steve Jobs.  What they found was an exposé of This American Life, and as most American’s are fascinated by watching something crash and burn, they began to pay attention to this ‘little’ public radio show.

Whatever side you stand upon, there is one fact for all parties involved: media exposure.  The age-old adage of there is no such thing as bad press is fueling this controversy.  Though Glass is angry and ashamed, Daisey hurt and infamous, and Apple stuck rectifying the situation, all of them have benefited from this story.  Or should I say fabricated story?


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