The Washington Post

Should Mike Daisey get credit for being accountable?

The star of the show (Stan Barouh/The Public Theater via Associated Press)

Rob Schmitz: How many factories did you visit when you were there?

Mike Daisey: I believe I went to 5.

Rob Schmitz: You told Ira [Glass, executive producer of “This American Life”] 10.

Mike Daisey: I know.

Rob Schmitz: Okay.

Mike Daisey: But, now that I’m looking at it, I believe it was 5.

Another OMG moment comes when Glass gets Daisey to admit that the vetting process preceding the January airing of Daisey’s Apple monologue had unsettled him. Says Daisey: “I think I was terrified that if I untied these things, that the work — that I know is really good, and tells a story, that does these really great things for making people care — that it would come apart in a way where, where it would ruin everything.”

Those remarks and the list of fibs and whoppers that Daisey told ”This American Life” and the American Public have yielded a pretty consistent reaction among critics. One says he’s just a liar in search of excuses. Another gives him the middle finger in print. Another says that Daisey has poisoned a bunch of careful reporting on the actual conditions in Chinese facilities that produce Apple products.

Like a good theatrical production, though, the picture cannot be uniformly negative. Despite all his misdeeds, Daisey must at least get some credit for coming back onto “This American Life” to answer for the erroneous impressions that he’d left back in January. After all, he sat there what what he calls “four hours of grilling edited down to 15 minutes.”

Over the weekend, I was composing just that story in my head: “In Praise of Mike Daisey.” Then I called Schmitz this morning to test the thesis.

Yes, Schmitz reported, Daisey came willing to his own grilling. Check there. But from that point on, the picture gets muddled — not exactly an anomaly with a guy like Daisey. As their intense discussion proceeded, Schmitz says that he felt sorry for Daisey, who was being called to account in the most specific ways for stuff that he’d said.

And then another sensation hit Schmitz, who interviewed Daisey along with Glass: “At some point I wondered if we weren’t part of the performance,” he says. “I went back and forth between feeling sorry for him — you heard his tone of voice . . . but I would then shift between that and Wait a second — we’re being played here.”

Then this: “I really felt that unless he is an amazing actor — which he is — he really felt terrible” about the misleading monologue, says Schmitz. There was a key point in the discussion that didn’t make the cut for the show, says Schmitz. It took place when Schmitz asked Daisey point-blank whether his interpretation of the word “truth” addressed the concept in a “broader sense,” or are you “talking about the things you saw firsthand with your own eyes?”

Daisey responded, “I don’t understand.” That’s some good theater.

Think about it this way: Daisey, whose entire career is predicated on being the star of his own show, was the star of the January episode of ”This American Life” on the Apple supply chain. He was also the star of the March episode of “This American Life” that retracted the January episode.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.


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