As much as it pains me to admit this, I sort of felt for Mike Daisey last week.
The performer behind “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” which was adapted for radio to become This American Life’s most downloaded episode to date, was revealed on Friday to have totally made up some of the most heart-wrenching details of his personal account of the goings-on at China’s Foxconn factory, where many Apple products are made. I first read This American Life’s retraction of the piece, then listened to the solemn retraction-focused episode that followed it and, I’ll admit, it was hard to hear the guy fumble against the pointed interrogation of my beloved Ira Glass. Daisey had lied, and he was embarrassed to have been caught. In a way, I could understand why he would be cautious to admit–to listeners, to Ira, to himself–that that was precisely what he had done: lied. Instead, he skirted around the issue of his crime–which involved deliberately misleading fact-checkers to pass off falsehoods as truths–by saying that the tools of the theatre are not the same as the tools of journalism, and that ultimately the truth he meant to convey, regarding the gravity of what he encountered in China, was still there. Okay, fine. I didn’t agree with the guy, but I could relate to his impulse to dig himself out of a self-created hole. After all, haven’t we all been there? I certainly have, and there’s nothing dignified about it.
A part of me could even understand Daisey’s impulse to fudge some of the details of his story for dramatic flair. Even as someone who IS a journalist and takes the profession quite seriously, I could understand, on some slimy and shameful level, his temptation to include those fudged details in his monologue’s adaptation for This American Life–one of the most beloved and highly-regarded entities of English-language reportage in the world. The exposure! The prestige! These are the things we, in creative industries and otherwise, find alluring.
What I cannot forgive is Daisey’s continued insistence that this impulse, which he acted upon, wasn’t wrong. Further to this, the faux apologies, such as this nugget from today’s post on his personal blog:
To radio listeners: I apologized in this week’s episode to anyone who felt betrayed. I stand by that apology. But understand that if you felt something that connected you with where your devices come from—that is not a lie. That is art. That is human empathy, and it is real, and even if you curse my name I hope you’ll recognize that and continue reading, caring, and thinking.
“I apologized…to anyone who felt betrayed.” How insulting is that? It’s like when Rush Limbaugh, a couple of weeks ago, fauxpologized to people who might–somehow, miraculously– be offended by his choice to call Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut.” As UC Berkeley linguistics professor Geoff Nunberg would point out on NPR’s Fresh air, “That’s the standard formula for these things — you apologize not for what you said but for the way you said it.”
The same is the case with Daisey, who continues to insult the intelligence of the thousands of listeners he duped by refusing to admit his wrongdoing. He is not sorry for lying to us, but sorry for our hypersensitivity to this deception. It’s a patronizing avoidance of moral responsibility, and that I cannot abide.