Friday, March 16, 2012

Radio's "This American Life" Has a Big Problem ...

...and it's one of the the most popular programs that the public radio program "This American Life" has ever aired. The program, broadcast Jan. 6, was a long "essay" by Mike Daisey, allegedly reporting first-hand on abusive working conditions at Apple factories in China.

The problem is that much of the report evidently was cooked, as we say in the trade. Piped, as we say. Made up, as you might say.

Here's the report on the scandal and the official retraction of the program today by "This American Life."

Here's the response by the "essayist" Mike Daisey (who also does a brisk business performing this monologue live in his popular one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" at theaters all over the country) when the radio producers confronted him with the disturbing information that he seems to have made shit up, as we also say in the trade when we are not being polite:

"I'm not going to say that I didn't take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard," Daisey tells [Marketplace China correspondent Rob] Schmitz and ["This American Life" executive producer and host Ira] Glass. "My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it's not journalism. It's theater."

Oh sweet and merciful Jesus, serious editors all over the country are saying. It's the old "it ain't journalism, it's art" ploy. It's the "my passion made me do it" ploy!

On his blog, Mike Daisey now says the following: "My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story

Call the lawyers, quick!

This is a major journalistic scandal, and "This American Life" is spending the entire program tonight correcting it. (And, per tradition, it should be groveling in shame and remorse to its audience.)

"This American Life" has been hyping this turkey for months. The program and its home station WBEZ in Chicago had scheduled a live presentation of Daisey's monologue at the Chicago Theatre on April 7, with Ira Glass leading a Q&A afterwards. But Ira won't be answering any questions about this steaming pile now, because, of course, the WBEZ theater show has been canceled.

On its program site tonight, "This American Life" has the following note (italics mine):

"Regrettably, we have discovered that one of our most popular episodes was partially fabricated. This week, we devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory," Mike Daisey’s story about visiting Foxconn, an Apple supplier factory in China. Rob Schmitz, a reporter for Marketplace, raises doubts on much of Daisey's story.

You know what, "This American life"? When you have bought a story that is cooked, you should not cheese-out (as we say in the trade) and explain that now, oops, to your horror, you realize that the report "was partially fabricated" and that "doubts" had been raised about its veracity.

Partially fabricated is like being partially pregnant. And those doubts, I would guess, perhaps should have been raised a while back. Cooked is cooked, even if some of the ingredients were legit.

You don't weasel out. You don't winge that some of it was probably accurate. No. You take that report out in the back yard and you shoot it in its freaking head, and then you tell your listeners that you are mortified that you violated your basic journalistic principles and foisted off a stage show by some fabulist as actual journalism, and that are so damn sorry you want to die. Then you take your lumps. And then you go back and you re-report that story without fabrications, using journalists, not performers.

National Public Radio, in its story on the scandal, reports that several theaters are sticking by the fabulist Mike Daisey, and not cancelling his one-man show.

Stay tuned on this story, is my advice, because I think it has legs, as we also say in the trade.

Meanwhile, I can only hope that the media in general might one day start giving so much time and space to all of these proliferating, precious memoirists, including the ones who always seem to be whining about a lost love or a one-legged dog that helped them find tranquility through meditation.


1 comment:

ChefNick said...

That's hilarious, Joe, to pop on your blog and see pretty much the exact same post I just put on MY blog (

Of course, you say it much better than I possibly could, but it's almost uncanny that we both used the Weasel word. I don't know about public radio at all, but it's clear these radio folks are steaming mad, and I'll wager that Oprah will be butting in toot sweet.

The gall that this Daisey guy has is astounding, and it burns me up that he's making tons of money off it. His mea culpa speech is pathetic, too.