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March 20, 2012


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George V

Now then what's going onward Christian Barnard Woolley jumper music critic Glenn?

Not David Bordwell

So you played Jim Fingal to DFW's John D'Agata, Glenn? What are the chances that the Mike Daisey affair would break so soon after The NYT Book Review and NPR spilled ink/bled air on The Lifespan of a Fact, anyway?

Interesting (to me) sidenote: St. Patrick's Day, after the quite uncomfortable what with all the silences This American Life postmortem aired in Chicago, we just happened to catch up with Burke and Hare, the latest John Landis effort -- which begins with the title card, "This story is true" before continuing, "Except, of course, for the parts that aren't."

Two thoughts arise from this juxtaposition of journalistic and filmic arts: 1) Is Ira Glass correct to assert his assumption as "normal" that people expect monologists who say "this happened to me" to mean they have not embellished? Did anyone check with the pharmacist or whoever the day Spalding Gray walked in from his movie set with full-on slashed-wrist gore FX to make sure that went down as related? and, 2) Does it really the ruin the artistic achievement to start a monologue with a Landis-style wink? Would ita killed Mike Daisey to do so? Apparently it woulda killed D'Agata, crusader against essaycide.


I think one of the chief problems with Daisey's embellishments — at least in the stage production; I haven't heard the TAL episode — is that by the end of the show, he adopts a tone of incredibly righteous anger. There is no winking involved — explicit or otherwise. It may start out as a monologue, but it's a sermon by the time it's over, complete with proselytizing calls to action and a bullet-pointed handout.

In retrospect, his preaching is all the more irritating and troubling because of the deception.


Speaking of sermons, the pastor of the church I attended in my youth once told a story about coming across a boy holding the string to a kite. Even though he couldn't see the kite, he knew it was there because he could feel it tugging on the string. Of course, the pastor said this was also a metaphor for faith in God -- you might not see him up there, but you feel him in your soul, or whatever.

I immediately recognized this little anecdote as the same one I'd heard Pop Staples relate on the Staple Singers' version of Paul Kelly's "God Can," from their great "Unlock Your Mind" album. Now for all I know, it didn't originate with Kelly or Pops either, but it really threw me off for the pastor to tell the story in the first person, as if he had actually experienced it. I didn't ask him about it though. I suppose he would've offered some rhetorical justification. But I felt his choice made the story a lie rather than a parable (or both, I guess).


"But for all that, well...I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right. We stand by our story."

Good enough for you and Wallace, good enough for Daisey.

Woolf didn't write the proper apologia, but a quite valid one exists out there. The facts were pretty much true to the facts on the ground, and Daisey doesn't just have the spin skills to explain his storytelling conflations to an Ira Glass indignantly proclaiming "I know but I feel like I have the normal worldview."

God save journalists, and god save folks who are trying to tell a true story from somewhere else than the "normal worldview". Time to re-watch 'The Conformist'.

Todd Murry

New-ish reader and Wallace fan. Became aware of you from Wells' site (FYI, mea maxima culpa, etc.).

Don't know if you do New Inquiry (they rub me wrong sometimes) but all but the last few graphs of this: http://thenewinquiry.com/blogs/zunguzungu/the-jimmy-mcnulty-gambit/ kind of expressed how I felt about this deal. The last few get to "late capitalism" for me. Their Stalker/Zona peice isn't too bad either: http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/stalkerzona/ .

That Fuzzy Bastard

Petey: Just for the record, a lot of the stuff Daisey said didn't just not happen to him, it didn't happen at all. If you listen to "Retraction", there's quite a few facts that are just wildly untrue, including armed guards at factory gates, underage workers all around, and cameras in people's bedrooms.


Just to say: Wallace's piece is brilliant, and it's gratifying to know just how rigorously fact-checked it was, but while reading it it's pretty obvious that it should be taken with a grain of salt. The names clearly aren't all real, and the satirical--indeed, hilarious--tone throughout makes it difficult for anyone to claim to believe it to be an eyewitness, CNN-style work of reporting. At the least, it's a Tom Wolfe-New Journalism kind of thing, and most people understand that those things are coming from a person with a point of view out to describe things with a certain amount of embellishment, even if that embellishment never quite goes outside the bounds of provable fact.

The Daisey thing sounds pretty much like a you-are-there actual report, even if it's also kind of a travelogue, and there's clear indignation and implicit political and legal action warranted from what he said. He wanted to have real-world impact from this, and he lied not just in misrepresenting his exact role to an audience, but directly to his producers/editors, and that's inexcusable.

To put it another way: Wallace was mostly just observing people at an event and satirizing them, Daisey was making accusations about the most popular company in America and the way it makes its products. If you're gonna do the second, you need to be able to back up your facts.


I felt sick listening to the Daisey piece the first time around, bc his self-conscious, self-infatuated storyteller cadences and choices were so trite and obvious to me...Several times he drew out a long pause and I was able to finish the suprise ending of his sentence for him. (After he echoed me verbatim the audience would respond with delight, of course.) I still didn't suspect truth bending, although I think may have anticipated the "it's a kind of magic" tag (but can't recall). In retrospect that line especially seems too pat, and given my over-awareness on his packaging of his material, I was not a whit surprised when the news broke. Also, what Spalding Gray got up to in his private time is not the same as lobbying human rights accusations. What no one mentions to Daisey is that even though workers that fit his descriptions have existed *somewhere,* his telling us that he kept tripping over them wherever he turned implies to the listener that there are far more rampant abuses than actually happen. You can't decide to inflate numbers because the reality will insufficiently outrage people--then they are outraged about a fiction, and his rationale for neatly collating things into his one experience goes out the window.


It's not just about what he said or didn't say in his monologue. The problem is that Mike Daisey has also written op-eds and given interviews, and in those, *out of character*, has made the exact same claims: "I met a group of workers poisoned...", etc. Which, we now know, isn't true.


"Daisey's protestation "I'm not a journalist" is something I heard a lot from Dave during the process. (The variant was 'I'm not a reporter.'...)"

And this is why all the blame for this incident lies squarely in TAL's lap, not Daisey's. Even as a long-time admirer of TAL, it made me somewhat sick to listen to Ira's constant "You lied to me" badgering. I haven't seen Daisey's show or seen any of his material in other media, but it seems like the errors that he's being faulted with—narrative compression, character consolidation, and re-arranging timelines—are pretty common narrative/theatrical devices, making it 100% on TAL's shoulders to verify his story or spike it if they couldn't.

Glenn and Dave did it right, and it sounds like Ira should have called Glenn to learn how to deal with journalism coming from a "not a reporter."


For me, what's so galling about the Daisey Affair is that he was ostensibly meaning to illuminate a very real problem. There shouldn't have been a need to embellish; it's obvious that workers at Foxconn (and many, many other offshore firms) are being harmed by their working conditions. If he had done the work, and argued his case cogently, he could have struck a good, honest blow for a worthy cause. Time will tell if this really damages the cause of fair trade, but for right now it seems to have significantly muddied the water.

And yes - no one reading Big Red Son would confuse it with pure journalism, even those unfamiliar with Wallace. Daisey's piece was structured and presented as muckraking journalism, which makes his "creative license" claim absurd.


Typically late to these momentous cultural events, I spilled some "ink" on this issue here:


Really, though, it was mostly an excuse to mention F FOR FAKE, which this whole zeitgeisty focus on fact and fiction seemed expressly designed to do.

(Be warned, though, I say nice things about Dan K. in my post.)

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