Monday, March 19, 2012

Mike Daisey: Hazy Details

Since I posted a blog about my reaction to attending Mike Daisey's one-man performance, "The Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs," Daisey has admitted that he fabricated certain elements of his trip to the Foxcomm plant in China. His performance now includes a brief explanatory note and he has scrubbed a few details in the recounting of his experience in China.

The brouhaha has been focused on an episode of National Public Radio's "This American Life," in which Daisey's story was presented as entirely factual. "This American Life" has retracted that episode and re-interviewed Daisey to get at the bottom of what about his experience actually occurred and what he created.

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of that radio interview, in which Daisey is speaking to "This American Life's" Ira Glass:
"...everything I have done in making this monologue for the theater has been toward that end — to make people care. I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work. My mistake, the mistake that I truly regret is that I had it on your show as journalism and it’s not journalism. It’s theater. I use the tools of theater and memoir to achieve its dramatic arc and of that arc and of that work I am very proud because I think it made you care, Ira, and I think it made you want to delve [into inhumane working conditions at the Foxcomm plant]. And my hope is that it makes — has made— other people delve."

I guess I don't feel particularly betrayed by Daisey because I experienced his message in the theater, not on NPR. My assumption at the time was that he could very well have embellished the truth to make his point carry more dramatic weight. Had I since learned that all of the details of his trip were fabricated, that would be another matter. But his main point — that we need to pay attention to the way all of our tech tools are made — sticks.

Which brings up an interesting question for the meetings industry. How can you vouch for the veracity of keynote speakers' stories? And are you obligated to fact check them?

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