A lot of people are done with Mike Daisey. They wrote the monologist off in March, when This American Life devoted an hour to retracting the version of Daisey’s muckraking, supposedly unembroidered monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs that the public radio show had broadcast to instant acclaim back in January. Daisey spent the spring apologizing and explaining himself. But in July he returned as scheduled to Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company—the same venue where he’d “birthed” Steve Jobs in 2010—to remount the controversial monologue, excising the elements that had been debunked (primarily by Rob Schmitz, a China-based reporter for Marketplace). They were only a few moments out of a two-hour show—but they were the most memorable ones. Steve Jobs wasn’t as powerful shorn of its most dramatic scenes. How could it be? But I saw something admirable in Daisey’s willingness to atone for his sins rather than simply vanishing for a year or two.
Cynics will say he was just accelerating the celebrity-penance cycle—as he must, because as a theater star, he’s not rich and only kind of famous. (More famous than he was before he started criticizing the world’s most iconic and profitable tech company, certainly, even though he’d already made his name with monologues like 21 Dog Years and If You See Something, Say Something.) I wish he hadn’t felt he needed to make stuff up to make his tale of the people who make our iPhones and iPads more compelling. I wish he’d stayed in China long enough and spoken to enough employees on the Apple production line to find the defining moments he sought. I don’t think he’s completely full of shit when he argues that there was some disingenuous piety in some journalists’ claims that what they do is worlds apart from what Daisey did. But no matter what, he remains an artist who commands our attention.