This American Life: Retraction [PDF Transcript]
There are going to be some amazing masters theses written about this event.
For a long time I’ve been fascinated by the ethics of telling stories that uncover truths while the stories themselves aren’t factual. I mean, that’s the essence of liberal religion. I think this comparison is particularly apt given the way Apple devotees worship Steve Jobs, the way theater fans worship theater, and the very name of Daisey’s show: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.
I wonder now if last week’s obsession with The Lifespan of a Fact on public radio was a subtle way to prepare listeners for this.
I wonder if Mike Daisey has any hope of maintaining a career as a monologuist after this. Will his next great monologue be the theatrical equivalent of the Opera Apology Appearance? I Lied To You And Now I’m Sorry: A Theatrical Monologue By Mike Daisey (Of course, a more appropriate theatrical exploitation of this chapter would be for someone else to create Daisey/Glass, ala Frost/Nixon, so Daisey himself neither profits nor has a hand in how this part of the story is portrayed and interpreted.)
The real problem for me, as someone who wants to believe in the redemptive power of theater, is that Daisey’s fabrications go beyond what happened on stage, beyond the confines of his story. During the fact-checking process, he lied directly to the radio producers. He wrote op-eds in major newspapers containing these lies.
I mean, I get it. The attention that came to Daisey because of this monologue was huge, career-making, life-changing. And when that kind of attention comes calling, it’s very hard to draw the line and say, “No, I this kind of exposure, this kind of publicity will pull my story out of the realm of theatrical licence and into an ethically indefensible area.” How do you say to This American Life, to The New York Times, etc. “No thanks?”
But he should have. And Daisey, in particular, as someone who has examined these very issues in previous pieces—most damningly so in Truth, about James Frey—should have known better and acted better.
Is this an opportunity for an American conversation of the nature of truth versus fiction, truth versus facts, history versus memory versus mythology? Probably. Will the conversation last beyond one news cycle? Doubtful.
ETA: The Public Theater’s statement on the show’s relationship to facts.