Mike Daisey, Unreliable Narrator The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs returns to Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company this month. Why is Mike Daisey still performing his disgraced Apple play?

Photograph by Ursa Waz

If you know only one thing about Mike Daisey, it’s probably that he’s a liar.

Daisey lied in his hit one-man show, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, a monologue that bears witness to the harsh conditions endured by workers who assemble Apple products, when he exaggerated the number of factories he visited and workers he interviewed during a trip to Shenzhen, China.

Daisey lied in the same show when he said he met a girl near the Foxconn factory in Shenhzen who told him she was 13 years old, that she and other underage workers were employed at Foxconn, and that their IDs were never checked.

Daisey lied when he said the factory worker with the mangled hand he met told him he worked at Foxconn, and when he said the man handled his iPad and pronounced it “a kind of magic.”

Daisey lied to the staff of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company last spring, when he insisted that the program of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs include the phrase, “This is a work of non-fiction.”

advertisement

And Daisey lied to the producers of This American Life when they attempted to fact-check The Agony of the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs to build a January 2012 radio program around the monologue: He had seen these things, he said. He didn’t know how to contact his Chinese translator, he said. “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory” became the most-downloaded episode in the 17-year history of This American Life.

This is how Mike Daisey became the most polarizing theater artist in America. In a March 16 episode of This American Life titled “Retraction,” host Ira Glass said the program could no longer stand by “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory.” In an agonizing interview with Glass and Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz, the journalist who uncovered Daisey’s perfidy, Daisey owned up to his deceptions.

Outrage followed—from journalists, from theater professionals who had worked with the monologist, from activists. And Daisey, first defiant, then something closer to reflective, embarked on an apology tour.

Then and now, Daisey has maintained that while he was wrong to allow This American Life to present an abridged version of his monologue as journalism, and wrong to bill it to his own theater audiences as nonfiction, the work remains valid because it made people care about the grueling conditions under which their iStuff is made. The New York Times’ “iEconomy” series from last January bore out Daisey’s descriptions of 60-plus-hour work weeks, cramped dormitories, and workers made to stand until they waddled when they walked.

That’s Daisey’s rationale, anyway, but the implications aren’t just academic. Next week, Daisey returns to D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth—a company with which he shares a long history, and the stage where he “birthed” The Agony and the Ecstasy in 2010 and performed it to plaudits a year later—to remount his disgraced Apple play.

Daisey says all the material that This American Life challenged, roughly six minutes’ worth, is gone. This revision, which Daisey has already performed at the HighTide Festival in Suffolk, England, and at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., adds “12 or 14” minutes of new stuff, some of it directly addressing the outrage over Daisey’s inventions. (Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak will join a post-play discussion on Aug. 4.)

The controversy might have proven disastrous for Daisey, who has earned acclaim for his monologues about social issues and matters of life and truth—performances that are bombastic and kinetic even though the imposing, round-faced Daisey tells them sitting down. And it has placed Woolly Mammoth, the New York-based performer’s home in D.C. for the last several years, in the unusual position of sharing future blowback. To Daisey’s detractors, the brouhaha has raised journalistic questions about Daisey’s brand of fact-based theater. To Daisey, it’s raised broader questions about how the truth is presented by everyone, including the journalists whose standards he could not meet. These are queries Daisey engages in another, new monologue that addresses his own controversy. One point of Daisey’s work is that we are all narrators of our own stories: In other words, everything can be examined, and re-examined, through the prism of Mike Daisey.

But the most pressing question is the simplest: Why is Daisey still performing a play that brought him so much disgrace?

“Before we go any further, I wanted to tell you—just this once—that I am an unreliable narrator. I am made of dust and shadows. I am telling you things now, and I will tell you more things. You will never know my secret heart. You will think you hold it in your hand, that you know the depths of me. And you know nothing. You will never know me. And I never wanted you to. That’s not why we’re here. That’s not why we ever came here to this place. And you should know the truth: That there are no reliable narrators.”

—The Orient Express (Or, the Value of Failure), June 22


If you know two things about Daisey, the second one might be that he performs his monologues from an outline but never a full script. In theory, at least, each performance is unique. That makes it difficult to determine which of the fabrications contained in the version This American Life aired were present in the versions of the show he created at Woolly Mammoth in 2010 and performed there last year.

A royalty-free transcript of the show Daisey posted on his personal website in February for anyone to adapt or perform has been downloaded more than 100,000 times. By my accounting, seven pages of that 53-page transcript contain material that This American Life challenged. In March, when the scandal broke, Daisey pledged to compile a source document providing citations for each of his claims. He changed his mind about that. “My desire to do that was more ego-bound than it was useful,” he says now. He chose to pour his energy into figuring out how to make the show work for a theater audience without the contested portions.

“I don’t care about people’s opinions about whether they now feel the work lives up to their standards,” Daisey says. “I’m learning not to care. If by not hearing about [the revisions], they assume the work is deeply fraudulent, then they should exercise their awesome ability not to show up.”

Framing the scandal without losing people who haven’t followed it was a thorny process, Daisey says: “Because despite the media’s love affair with itself, I know from performing it all over the place that only about 50 percent of my audiences have any idea that there was a scandal.”

Maybe he’s right, but it didn’t stop The Public Theater—the august New York playhouse that hosted a successful run of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs this winter—from distancing itself from Daisey, the one who professed to speak verifiable truths, while standing up for Daisey, the one who makes art. “Mike is an artist, not a journalist,” the theater’s statement read. “Nevertheless, we wish he had been more precise with us and our audiences about what was and wasn’t his personal experience in the piece.”

With its remount of The Agony and the Ecstasy already scheduled, Woolly Mammoth was less equivocal in its own statement. The same day the scandal broke, Woolly announced it would bring back the play this summer as planned.

Howard Shalwitz, Woolly’s artistic director, says the “Mike Daisey vortex” consumed his attention for weeks following This American Life’s retraction, even though the company never seriously considered canceling the show. Shalwitz maintains that the decision to stick by Daisey was made on principle, without regard for ticket sales or the potential problem of blowing a hole in his company’s summer slate. Woolly could’ve replaced Daisey’s show with four months’ notice if the company believed it necessary, Shalwitz says. (Daisey says no other venue pulled out, either, with one exception: This American Life canceled a one-night engagement it had scheduled for April 7 at The Chicago Theatre.)

All along, Shalwitz says, Woolly’s board supported the decision—which one board member, David Alpert, confirms. Alpert, a smart-growth activist who runs the website Greater Greater Washington and joined the board in 2011, says Managing Director Jeffrey Herrmann kept Woolly’s watchdogs informed of his and Shalwitz’s deliberations in the wake of the scandal.

Ticket sales were strong after the remount was announced, says Woolly spokesperson Brooke Miller, but dipped following This American Life’s retraction. They’ve rebounded now that the theater is promoting the show heavily. (One ad calls The Agony and the Ecstasy “the most notorious and controversial play of the decade!”) A week before opening night, the play has sold more tickets than all but one play in Woolly’s current season.

The cliché about bad publicity seems to hold true in this case: Restaging The Agony and the Ecstasy is no financial risk. But is it a risk to Woolly’s credibility? Shalwitz says he had “some very painful conversations” with Daisey and Jean-Michelle Gregory, the show’s director and Daisey’s wife. He says he’s satisfied with the steps Daisey has taken to make amends.

While Shalwitz says he would have prefered for the conversation to remain about labor conditions, he insists that the fact that the show now invites discussion of the ethics of storytelling along with the ethics of global manufacturing only makes it a richer experience. “This notion that there’s a strict boundary between pure truth and art is completely false,” Shalwitz says. “We all know that that’s false. It’s false in journalism. It’s very false in theater, which is often based on illusion. And it’s false in art in general.”

But Shalwitz acknowledges that Woolly values its relationship with Daisey, who has performed runs of four of his monologues at the theater since 2008. (Daisey is slated to open another new monologue, American Utopias, at Woolly next March.) “We had gotten to the point in our relationship with Mike where we were basically saying to him, ‘What do you want to do next?’ That’s just how much I believe in him as an artist,” Shalwitz says.

“I looked into [Ira Glass’s] eyes and what I saw was fear—which made sense. I’d endangered everything. I’d endangered everything he had. I looked into his eyes and I was certain that I was the story. I was the story. And he is a very good storyteller. I’m very familiar with how much power a storyteller can have. They can make a whole universe. They can erase it, too.”

—The Orient Express (Or, the Value of Failure), June 22


If the decision to carry on with the remount was easy for Shalwitz, it wasn’t for Daisey and Gregory, who has directed all of his monologues—and whom Daisey also misled, he’s said. I asked Daisey if he ever considered breaking up their artistic partnership. The couple has been together since 1997, and married in 2000.

“At different points during the course of this, pretty much every option that people would consider was on the table,” Daisey says. “The idea of not ever performing again was on the table. The idea of divorcing was on the table. The idea of killing myself was on the table. But the idea of continuing but not working together was not.”

Daisey phoned Shalwitz in advance of the This American Life retraction to warn him it was coming. On March 27, Daisey joined Shalwitz and Herrmann onstage for a public forum at Woolly, where Daisey expanded upon the public apologies he’d begun at a talk at Georgetown University the week before. (He first met privately with Woolly’s staff to apologize to them.) Patrons expressed support and disgust for him in roughly equal measure.

The Agony and the Editing of Steve Jobs

Mike Daisey says his revised version of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs excises the elements of the story This American Life challenged and adds new material addressing the controversy over his methods. Daisey declined to go over the changes point-by-point “because that’s the show,” and anyway, he famously speaks his monologues semi-extemporaneously, using an outline, not a full script.

But if you look at the transcript of The Agony and the Ecstasy that Daisey posted five months ago for anyone to download and perform royalty-free, you can identify some material you probably won’t hear when the show reopens at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.


Page 28: “I get to the main gates, and I get out of the taxi with my translator, and the first thing I see at the gates are the guards. And the guards look pissed. They look really pissed. And they are carrying guns.”

At a Georgetown University appearance on March 19, Daisey stuck to his, er, memory on this. But his translator told Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz “definitely no,” when he asked if the guards had guns, adding that she’s only ever seen guns in movies or on TV shows, so she’d likely remember if she saw one in real life.

Page 30: After a girl who says she works the iPhone production line cleans the screen of Daisey’s iPhone on her pant leg, he asks her age. She replies, “I’m 13.”

Daisey says he’ll no longer claim she told him her age.

Page 31: “In my first two hours of my first day at [the Foxconn plant’s] gate, I met workers who were 14 years old, I met workers who were 13 years old, I met workers who were 12.”

Daisey’s translator disputes this.

Page 44: “And I go to the dormitories.”

The translator says Daisey was not shown any dormitories on his tours of what he initially claimed were 10, then later five, plants they visited together. She says they visited three plants.

Page 54: “Then the workers start coming in. They come in twos and threes and fours, they come in all day—it’s a nine, 10-hour day. I interview all of them. Some of them are in groups—there’s a group there talking about hexane…a potent neurotoxin, and all these people have been exposed. Their hands shake uncontrollably, some of them can’t even pick up a glass.”

The translator claimed this all-day meeting with groups of “twos and threes and fours” of illegal union members was really just a lunch meeting with two people and then two or three more, none of whom had shaking hands. Schmitz said he’d interviewed workers who’d suffered N-Hexane poisoning, but that was an incident that happened in Suzhou, almost 1,000 miles away.

Page 56: “I talk to an older worker with leathery skin. His right hand is twisted up into a claw. It was crushed in a metal press at Foxconn…. He says he worked on the metal enclosures for the laptops and he worked on the iPad. And when he says this, I reach into my satchel and I take out my iPad, and when he sees it, his eyes widen.”

Daisey says he did meet a man with a disfigured hand, but the translator told Schmitz the man never told Daisey he’d worked at Foxconn. She also said the scene of the man touching Daisey’s iPad was made up. “This is not true. It’s just like movie scenery,” she told Schmitz.

One woman told Daisey she found his rationalizations slick and insincere, and that she was ending her relationship with his work for good. Daisey, who said at the earlier Georgetown talk that some of the lies entered his monologue gradually over time, responded, “I’m sorry that this seems too slick for you. I’m sorry. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m not capable of not being slick. Maybe my interactions with people are built and patterned after working with crowds for so long. Maybe I relate to crowds better than I do to individuals, because I’ve spent a lot of time in front of them. I’m not actually capable of taking down my boundaries any further.”

Alli Houseworth, a former Woolly Mammoth staffer who was heavily involved in marketing The Agony and the Ecstasy, wrote a piece for ArtsJournal in March urging theaters to boycott the monologue until Daisey apologized. In addition to his public meas culpa, Houseworth says Daisey phoned her to offer a personal apology “within a week” of the March 27 Woolly event.

Houseworth was a huge fan of Daisey’s monologues prior to working with him on Steve Jobs. The scandal soured her: She says there was a time when she would buy tickets for anything he did, but she won’t be attending the remount and can’t imagine working with him again. But she doesn’t rule herself out of the audience for Daisey’s future monologues. “I am actually sort of curious if he becomes humbled by all this,” she says.

Still, it was unclear to Houseworth exactly who the March 27 forum was for. “You were invited to go discuss the matter with them, but they had already made up their minds,” Houseworth says. “It was like, ‘Sorry, guys: We’re going to do the show anyway, no matter what you say.’”

Steve Cosson, the artistic director of the New York-based “investigative theater” company The Civilians, whose Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play just closed at Woolly, was a panelist alongside Daisey at a June 23 discussion called “Theatre’s Role In Activism” at the Theater Communications Group conference in Boston. He isn’t convinced the theater community has reckoned sufficiently with the lessons of Daiseygate. “I think the majority of the field would want him to continue to write and perform and be presented by theaters,” Cosson says. “I think a lot of people felt like I did—that the quality of discourse and reflection and just looking at ourselves when something goes wrong didn’t happen at quite the level of depth that it should have.”

Cosson rejects the rationalization that no code of conduct exists for theaters whose work combines theatrical and journalistic techniques. “One [suggestion] that came up that was that if theatres are going to be producing or presenting this kind of work, then the norm should be that they should be fact-checking the work, as if the theaters were like publishers,” Cosson says. “I don’t think that’s the answer. I can’t imagine how that would work. But it’s something the field has to talk about.”

“To reliably narrate a travel story is to talk about horrendously boring shit. The art of travel narrative is in the excision of reams and reams of pointlessly dull material, removed to only allow the glassy pebbles of a perfect experience to sit next to each other.”

—The Orient Express (Or, the Value of Failure), June 22


To some, the litany of apologies and explanations that Daisey embarked upon in March were the desperate reflexes of a charlatan hoping to salvage a 15-year career as monologist that until four months ago had brought him far more acclaim than condemnation. But I found myself defending Daisey, and I believe his argument that The Agony and the Ecstasy still has merit.

In the monologue, Daisey marshaled his tale-spinning gifts for an unforgettable condemnation of the world’s most iconic—and most profitable—technology company. And for the first time in his career, he urged his audiences to do something when the show was over. He distributed handouts encouraging people to email Apple CEO Tim Cook and to scale back the pace at which they upgrade their Apple devices.

But he didn’t upgrade his story-building methods to withstand the scrutiny to which they’d eventually be subjected. He went to Shenzen, but he didn’t take notes or make recordings of his interviews, the way a reporter would. When Marketplace’s Schmitz phoned the translator Daisey had hired and she refused to support Daisey’s account of events he said they’d experienced together, Daisey admitted he’d taken major liberties in his descriptions of what he personally witnessed.

I can understand why at this point journalists, especially, wanted Daisey to shut up and go away. They spend their professional lives trying to craft narratives that have a powerful emotional impact, bound by stricter rules than the ones Daisey feels he must observe. For them, cutting the corners Daisey did would be career-ending.

I’ve long admired the ability of the Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten to conduct reportage that moves with the grace and pathos of the best prose fiction, so I asked him what he thinks of Mike Daisey. “It bothers me that people want to find excuses for Daisey, and are doing so in ways that confuse the issue,” writes Weingarten in an email. He says he only knows Daisey’s work from the January This American Life episode and subsequent fallout. “Think about the underlying reality here: Mike Daisey has such contempt for his listeners that he is willing to invent facts—powerful, evocative, central facts of his narrative—to make people believe what he thinks they should believe. He is saying: I, Mike Daisey, believe a certain truth about the world. I want you to believe the same thing, so I will distort reality to make you believe it, and not tell you I am doing that. It is so dishonest, and so manipulative, it is essentially intellectual totalitarianism.“

The line on Daisey has been that he committed a journalistic crime—duh—as well as a theatrical one: He took his power from claims of personal witness even though he did not witness everything he described. But I don’t think it’s right to blame Daisey for falling short of our expectations. Rather, I think we expect the wrong things from the medium.

In my view, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs remains valuable not for the specific facts it imparts but for the way it makes us think, at least for two hours and hopefully for much longer, about the human cost of the devices we carry with us. Daisey lied about what he saw and heard, but he didn’t lie in portraying the circumstances within Foxconn as hellish.

I was outraged that Daisey would risk the reputation of This American Life by lying to Glass and producer Brian Reed (a former Washington City Paper staffer) so they wouldn’t discover his monologue did not hew to their standards. But I never felt outraged as a member of his audience. Unlike many of Daisey’s critics, apparently, I’ve never assumed that anything a stage storyteller tells me is as rigidly factual as what I read in the New York Times. I reserve those expectations for Charles Duhigg, David Barboza, and Keith Bradsher, whose “iEconomy” series I might not have devoured when it hit the Times in January had I not seen Daisey’s show nine months earlier.

Now Daisey is the story as much as Apple. It’s a notion compelling to the team at Woolly. “Why would we walk away from a conversation that’s only getting richer, more complex and more interesting?” says Shalwitz. He says Daisey is a one-of-a-kind talent, that no one matches his almost hypnotic power to interweave personal reflections with explorations of big themes like terrorism, currency, and—even before this scandal—the porous nature of the line between fact and fiction.

For his part, Daisey has lashed out at journalistic coverage of his controversy. And he’s criticized the technology press, which he says is still too soft on Apple. His biggest target may be the notion of unassailable truth itself. “Objective journalism is an illusion that’s comforting to many of us,” Daisey says.

He’s already started to talk about it in his native language: as a stage story.

A day after our first telephone interview, Daisey sent me an audio recording of his June 22 workshop performance of The Orient Express (Or, the Value of Failure) at the Theater Communications Group conference. (The piece is in progress.) In it, Daisey crosscuts between recounting a European vacation he and Gregory took in May to escape the heat of media scrutiny, and his direct reflections on the scandal. Because it’s a Mike Daisey story, the parallel narratives dovetail and intersect elegantly. He speaks of sleepless nights and heartbreak. He mentions Paul Farhi’s Post story examining whether it would now be appropriate to fact-check the many humorous David Sedaris essays that have aired on public radio over the last 20 years. He points out that none of us will ever be offered a time machine to reward our perfect hindsight.

Mike Daisey, whose Twitter bio now describes him as a “noted fabulist,” is once again playing the character of Mike Daisey.

“I respond to story with story,” he says. “I actually think that’s the human way to do it. But it takes longer.”

Mike Daisey performs The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs July 17 to August. 5 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. $40–$67.50.

The article originally contained two reporting errors. The title of the work Mike Daisey performed at the Theater Communications Group conference, The Orient Express (Or, the Value of Failure), contains a comma and parentheses. And the article misquoted Daisey’s Twitter profile. He describes himself as a “noted fabulist,” not a “known” one.

Our Readers Say

Who is fact-checking our news media, which claims, in louder language than Daisey, to be reporting "the truth"? No one is holding Fox News' feet to the fire, demanding retractions of stories that are so subjective in their approach and dubious in their sources. Daisey chose the theatre as his performance venue, not the news media. Name one legit news source that doesn't play to its audience with biased reporting and questionable accuracy. I'll take Mike Daisey over The Washington Times ( or Post, for that matter) any day.
I have not seen Mr. Daisey's work, only read/heard about it. As a performer, and (attempted/failed) writer, I understand the idea that this sort of storytelling does not have to be as "factual" as a journalistic account. However- this particular "story" was intended, as mentioned in the article, to promote activism- and was labeled (in a way, from what I've read, none of his other pieces have been) as "non-fiction". That, to me, holds it to a higher standard. Not to mention his never admitting, until confronted with his translator's testimony, that there were any fabrications. That's troubling. None of this would have been a problem if he had inserted a note in the program (instead of the "this is a work of non-fiction" note) that certain events had been conflated, combined, and fictionalized for the sake of storytelling.

In one excerpt from "The Orient Express" you quote, he says "The art of travel narrative is in the excision of reams and reams of pointlessly dull material, removed to only allow the glassy pebbles of a perfect experience to sit next to each other.” That, of course, is true of all art- any novel, movie, play, or TV show that is supposedly "realistic" still excises the boring parts. i had an acting teacher who once said that you could never act "realistically", no matter the medium, because your character exists on a higher level of being- nothing ever happened to them unless it was either exciting or painfully, comically boring. But Mr. Daisey seems to have confused allowing "only the glassy pebbles of perfect experience to sit next to each other" with polishing the dull pebbles until they are glassy- and importing pebbles from elsewhere to add to the collection.
I wasn't confused, Andrew.
My aunt was a story teller. My mother never understood why we liked her stories so much, and insisted on "setting the record straight" about what "really" happened. Story-tellers are not journalists. Their goal is to highlight a truth about human nature and the human condition, not to recite "facts". There is a difference between Truth and Facts that most people just don't get, and that's really too bad. If you think of the best story-tellers as parable-tellers, then maybe you won't get quite so worked up about literal 'facts'.

If you're going to call Mike Daisey on his exaggerations and distortions, you also have to acknowledge that David Sedaris is equally guilty of massaging facts to fit the story, as is Augusten Burroughs, and most other people who know how to tell a really gripping "true story". Facts are just NEVER that interesting without a good narrative surrounding them, and sometimes you need to hammer them into a round hole.

So what?
I saw the show at the Public just before the "scandal" broke. I still do not understand why people refuse to allow for the necessity of using artistic license to make a larger point. It is so much easier for people to attack Mike Daisey than to listen to what he is saying. It is ridiculous that people are still angry at him. For what? Exaggerating the story so we would wake up? Or are people angry because he made us feel guilty, when we don't want to, for consuming Apple products without a second thought as to the cost?
The truth be told, Daisy may have easily had just as effective a performance had he NOT embellished or distorted the facts as he did. Being a creative sort of guy, he could told his story and made all of his points, without the falsehoods. So why do it at all?
It's theatre for goodness sake. Not journalism. Daisey is a performance writer not a reporter. I saw the piece in Sydney and never for one moment assumed that every single conversation, person he met or detail he described was an exact replica of his experience in China. Because I knew I was watching a piece of theatre. So saying, that did not in any way diminish the power of Daisey's message: that for us to have our gadgets and cheap T-shirts Chinese factory workers labour in conditions most of us in the well-fed world would find totally unacceptable.
I find all your low expectations deeply disheartening. You expect that when you are told that the narrator saw guards carrying guns, and that the narrator met a pathetic, deformed old man with a hand crushed by a Foxconn machine -- you are perfectly willing for these things to be made up? When the narrator tells you that he talked to lots of 13 year old girl workers, but he didn't -- you don't feel patronized and manipulated? What WOULD cross the boundary for you? What if Daisey had said he witnessed a worker beaten to death by guards for asking for a second helping of gruel? That be okay? Where's your line?

What if this story had been presented as fiction? Mike Daisey says, here's a story about what I imagine things are like in Foxconn, where I've heard conditions are bad. I went there but didn't see much bad stuff, but here's what I imagine it might be like, if I really dug deep.

You gonna watch that show? Buy tickets?

Yeah, Mike Daisey knows you won't. But he'd like to make money. So . . . .

I'm sure I'm not the first person that had never heard of Mike Daisey until the kerfuffle with This American Life and those pesky facts. Hence, I originally took it at face value, not having known him as a performer, rather than a journalist. What bothered me most about his deception into the factual nature of his monologue was that I seem to recall him using a lot of 'emotional impact' kind of arguments when Ira asked him why Mike had fabricated parts of the story. He implied that had he not made up those parts of the story, that we wouldn't have cared, and that we wouldn't have pressed the issue based on facts that weren't facts. To be honest, my favorite visual in his performance needed no fictitious characters:

---
"When I leave the factories, I can feel myself being rewritten from the inside out. The way I see everything is starting to change. I keep thinking, how often do we wish more things were handmade? Oh, we talk about that all the time, don't we? I wish it was like the old days. I wish things had that human touch.

But that's not true. There are more handmade things now than there have ever been in the history of the world. Everything is handmade. I know. I have been there. I have seen the workers laying in parts thinner than human hair, one after another after another. Everything is handmade."
---
Saw the laundered edition of The A&E of Steve Jobs in Charleston at Spoleto. Just wish to add a few elements to the conversation. Daisey is a FABULOUS performer, and his preternatural rage is often hilarious. Part of the hilarity in the Steve Jobs monologue is Daisey's unsparing criticism of himself as a rabid Apple fanboy - and believe me, Daisey can do rabid. So there always has been a rich vein of self-loathing in the piece as Daisey looks at how Apple actually makes its delectable, irresistible sausages. I don't remember apologetics in the Charleston edition, so I hope they don't weaken the piece.
So this is what a journalist has to say: "He is saying: I, Mike Daisey, believe a certain truth about the world. I want you to believe the same thing, so I will distort reality to make you believe it, and not tell you I am doing that. It is so dishonest, and so manipulative, it is essentially intellectual totalitarianism." But isn't that what every fiction writer in the world does every time they set words to paper? So what's so wrong with it? And yes, I know Daisey claimed this was non-fiction, but he never claimed it WAS journalism. So the anger seems completely misplaced.
The Mike Daisey Five Stages of Being Caught Lying

Denial: “Some facts were injured in the telling of this story. The truth, however, remains unharmed.”

Passive-Aggressive Apology: “I’m sorry that this seems too slick for you. I’m sorry. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m not capable of not being slick. Maybe my interactions with people are built and patterned after working with crowds for so long. Maybe I relate to crowds better than I do to individuals, because I’ve spent a lot of time in front of them. I’m not actually capable of taking down my boundaries any further.”

Misdirection: "Objective journalism is an illusion that’s comforting to many of us."

Anger: “I don’t care about people’s opinions about whether they now feel the work lives up to their standards. I’m learning not to care."

And Finally, More Lying: "I really do believe that stories should be subordinate to the truth."
It was plainly never Mike D's intention to launch a discussion about the height, depth, width, flavor & texture (etc.) of his deception but as a person who has grabbed tickets to and been inspired by each of his intricate, meticulous, at times outrageously funny monologues at Woolly--and as a reader of Chris Klimek's insightful piece plus all eloquent, previously posted commentary on it (above), I'm really thankful that Mike is out there, doing whatever it is he does because there is clearly truth and Truth in it. As others have said, if the discussion eventually wends its way back to his ultimate point--that we must examine the human cost of our e-gadgets, our investments, our personal choices--I think we can declare victory for Mike and for sanity. And may that help him sleep soundly enough at night to return from his unconscious with more insights to share in great stories as yet untold ...
I find this article a little perplexing. Why go to such pains to detail all of Daisey's fabrications, showing readers just how horrific they were, and then absolve Daisey? Klimek shows himself to be as gullible as Daisey's audiences--I, for one, know that Daisey's claim that no other venues canceled planned productions of this monologue to be patently false. As a writer who's been careful to note when stories are based on fact as opposed to factual, I don't understand why Daisey couldn't have done the same. I am certain his already built-in audiences would have still flocked to see a monologue billed as "based on actual events", especially one about this controversial subject. That he didn't take that easy, harmless and basic step (along with the This American Life debacle) makes him seem at best a liar and at worst, malicious. Theater's only obligation is to be what it purports to be--if it claims it is nonfiction, it should be nonfiction; if a play is billed as "loosely based on facts", it is surely creating distortions. But documentary theater of the sort in which Daisey traffics is theater's journalism. He needed to distinguish it as another kind of theater in order to avoid the justified vitriol he's received.
It's very clear why this Daisey fanboy posing as a journalist would draw in open-minded readers with a long preamble containing critiques of Daisey before closing with absolution: this is contemporary PR at its finest. Once you've been hypnotized with a performance of full disclosure and frankness, it's a lot easier for the spinner to stick the hypodermic full of LSD into your butt.

Hey, doesn't Daisey begin his, uh, work of truth beyond facts with an extended, over-the-top rant about how much of an Apple fanboy he was? Hey, wait a second...
Chris Klimek: "Daisey lied about what he saw and heard, but he didn’t lie in portraying the circumstances within Foxconn as hellish."

Really? Chris Klimek knows that Foxconn's conditions are hellish? Cite? Personal experience? Or just an assumption that if it's Chinese, it must somehow be bad? Or apparently, Klimek is all knowing....

If conditions were that hellish, then Daisey would have plenty examples to write about -- he certainly wouldn't have to make up shit. So either it isn't hellish at all, or Daisey is really really stupid for ignoring the very facts he would like to have in his performance piece.

I am just as disappointed with readers comments as Gene Weingarten. Truth isn't important anymore, all we really want is confirmation of our own ideas. So I guess everyone here would be okay when a conservative outlet writes articles about the evils of homosexuality, or liberalism, or Obama's birth certificate. After all, this is the "truth" as they understand it, and they are free to make up shit in any "performance piece" that they would like.

Oh -- I guess because they already do that stuff, it's okay for artists (who are generally liberal) to make up stuff just to prove a point that they "know" is true, even if there are no facts to support it.

Okay -- since Daisey says it's okay to make up shit to reveal a higher truth, I welcome his ex-wife to write a performance piece about their marriage. she is free to make up whatever lies she would like about Daisey as a husband, and it's perfectly okay because it's merely in the service of telling the higher truth that he is a liar and an opportunist.

We'll see whether Daisey appreciates her artistic endeavor.
Thalia: " if the discussion eventually wends its way back to his ultimate point--that we must examine the human cost of our e-gadgets, our investments, our personal choices"

If that is true, why can't Daisey use real facts to support the Truth? Why must he resort to lies to support the Truth? Why not use the truth to support Truth?

Truth supported by lies is nothing but crap. Anyone who can't see that is full of shit, frankly, because then you can use any lies to support whatever you like. There are lots of evil people in the world who use lies -- why be like them?

Daisey's piece is about Truth at all -- whenever you use lies to support your contention, it's nothing more than pure propaganda. Dont' we have enough of that already?
Although I had seen Mike perform in the past at Woolly, I had not seen this piece. Three of us went to last night's opening performance and not only did we love the show, so did the many around us who gave Mike a well-deserved standing ovation.

And no, this is not a PR piece. We are simply regular theater-goers who feel that our lives were largely enriched last night, and that we are sincerely fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience nearly two non-stop hours of captivating genius. I personally applaud Howard and Woolly for not only remounting this wonderful show, but for standing behind the talent of a wonderful artist and showman.

For the record, I too was disappointed to learn that Mike was less than forthcoming about certain facts, not the least of which was the identity of his translator Kathy (her real name which is used in the show, but which he conveniently claimed was Anna in a desperate attempt to avert her being located . . . sorry Mike).

BUT it is cleat to me that Mike has been caused to suffer both publicly and personally as a result of this entire situation, and as a result he seems to have endured more than his share of scrutiny and criticism (both externally and internally). For those of you who continue to throw stones, would it not be more humane to try and find compassion and forgiveness, rather than inflicting even more pain and humiliation?

We all make mistakes and the true test is how we atone. Mike, I hope yours will be in the form of many more monologues which Woolly (and others) continue to mount for the pleasure and enjoyment of those of us who are nourished by your amazing energy and wit, as well as your brilliant perspective and insights into the world around us (which most would not otherwise be able to see as vividly).

Howard: "BUT it is cleat to me that Mike has been caused to suffer both publicly and personally as a result of this entire situation, and as a result he seems to have endured more than his share of scrutiny and criticism."

I see. So he shouldn't have to suffer any consequences for lying to the public? He lied, and admitted he lied. We should just shrug our shoulders and say okay? He slandered Foxconn for no reason, and slandered the translator and the people he met -- but they have no cause for anger or anything at all?

" I too was disappointed to learn that Mike was less than forthcoming about certain facts."

Oh, is that what we call lying now? I'm sure that the whole mortgage debacle that we suffered will be glad to hear this. If Romney is charged for perjury, his defense won't be that he lied on the SEC form -- it was that he wasn't that forthcoming. And he shouldn't have to actually suffer for his lies, right?

Oh, yeah, that's right -- Daisey's heart is in the right place, so we should cut him slack. As long as you apply the same rules to everyone else, I'm fine with that. But if you think Daisey should be treated specially because he just confirms your own prejudices, then you are opening a huge can of worms.
"Daisey's piece is about Truth" . . . "it's okay for artists (who are generally liberal) to make up stuff just to prove a point that they "know" is true" . . . "Daisey's heart is in the right place, so we should cut him slack."

Well said Randy, I couldn't agree more with these three comments extracted from each of your three posts.

"I . . . would be okay when a conservative outlet writes articles about the evils of homosexuality, or liberalism, or Obama's birth certificate. After all, this is the "truth"."

SO now you see the power of "journalism". Yes, Randy this is what some journalists do to construct their stories, regardless of which "outlet" or camp they are writing on behalf of. I have had it done to me. Something I said was quoted out of context and there I was in the middle of a very painful and embarrassing controversy which could have potentially cost me my future career. My vow in gratitude for it passing over: to help this from happening to someone else.

"He slandered Foxconn for no reason, and slandered the translator and the people he met"

Mike Daisey is NOT a journalist, Mike Daisey is NOT a politician, Mike Daisey is NOT a government official (and therefore Mike Daisey is NOT to be held to a standard as such), plus, in my humble opinion, Mike Daisey is NOT a defamer (If he were, I think the many named in his show, especially Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak -- who will be on stage with Daisey at Wooley in early August -- would have already taken action).

Again, Mike Daisey made a mistake, actually several mistakes, and YES RANDY, Mike lied, but from what I can tell he really IS sorry. So I say LIVE AND LET LIVE, Randy, and PLEASE try to put your energy into a more productive outlet which can hopefully make an actual difference where it counts.

And one final word to the wise Randy, not so sure that some of what you have written isn't defamatory.

AS an attorney, I am well acquainted with what is defamatory. Whether Foxconn or Jobs actually take action against Daisey isn't dispositive of whether it is defamatory.

It's great that Daisey has finally come clean -- but he only did so when he was caught. That's fine -- but it seems plenty of other people think what he did was fine and dandy. I don't.

What I really object to is the notion that it's okay to make up shit because you KNOW that you are right about the bigger picture. Gene is right on -- it's is not only intellectually dishonest, but it's insulting to anyone who has a brain. I don't need lies to determine whether Apple engages in unethical practices; I need facts.

It doesn't matter whether he is a journalist -- when you say that your work is a piece of non-fiction, you are asserting that it truthful. What else are people to expect? But the bigger issue is one of credibility. If Daisey wants to be taken seriously as an artist, then he blundered badly. I have no interest in seeing any of his works because there are plenty of other performance artists who don't blow their creds like this. Ultimately, the real person Daisey hurt was himself, and no one I don't have any interest in beating him up any further -- he apologized and hopefully he won;t make the same mistake again.

What I continue to have a problem with are people like the other commentators who are happy to fall for this. As an artist who also sits on the boards of several small non profits (yes, an attorney can be both) it is rather distressing that people will readily accept lies and will allow Daisey full rein to continue spouting lies. This ultimately hurts other artists who are trying to uphold ethical lines of conduct while still pursuing their craft.

And yes, I noticed that you took my lines out of context and used them in a way to portray thoughts as the opposite of my real intention. Cheap shot, but not at all unexpected.


RANDY: "[I]t's insulting to anyone who has a brain" . . . "I need facts."

QUESTION TO RANDY: I too need facts . . . exactly how many people do you know, or even know of, who do not have a brain?

On behalf of all of us who are NOT insulted and who, by extension, must not have a brain, we feel defamed. Like me, others here are also attorneys (certainly not a rarity in DC) whose brain are their primary commodity (i.e. tool of trade). Not having a brain would render us incapable of performing our jobs and we would therefore be defrauding anyone who hires us.

RANDY: "I have no interest in seeing any of his works because there are plenty of other performance artists who don't blow their creds"

QUESTION TO RANDY: How can you judge what you have not seen or heard?

Few if any "performance artists" have the capacity to conceptualize, investigate (often involving travel to remote locales), create, and perform high-caliber, thought-provoking, awe-inspiring works such as those consistently delivered by Mike Daisey.

RANDY: "I don't have any interest in beating him up any further -- he apologized and hopefully he won;t make the same mistake again."

QUESTION TO RANDY: Are YOU ready to apologize and promise not to make the same mistake again?

None of us are without fault, even those with a brain, even attorneys, even artists, and especially those who believe they are.

Why does Daisey perform this work now and why do people go to see it? I just saw it at Wolly Mammoth and can opine because it is a very well written, crafted, and acted work. Powerful. Funny, spellbinding, clever, loud and insightful. Daisey is no lightweight in any sense of the term and holds his audience for two whole hours, no intermission, and he never leaves the table! A true tour de force of a play and a performance. Did he make grievous errors earlier? Yes. Has all around lived and learned. I think so.
Don't be naive. There's NO SUCH THING AS BAD PUBLICITY.
I am trying to find the original radio broadcast or even a copy of the original in transcript. Mike Daisey's site does not give out his e-mail, only a link, and I am not linked. Can someone get this message to him please? thank you

Leave a Comment

Note: HTML tags are not allowed in comments.
Comments Shown. Turn Comments Off.
...