updated 06:55 pm EDT, Mon March 26, 2012
Says he lost grounding, will be more 'humble'
Finally admitting more candidly that he had "violated" the trust of his audiences and had "exaggerated my own experiences" in interviews with journalists, monologist Mike Daisey laid out a formal apology on his blog in a post titled "Some Thoughts After the Storm." The post recognizes that audiences felt misled by the blurring of truth and "truthiness," though he does not address whether the show will go on.
Daisey, who has done a number of successful monologue-based shows, began touring a production called The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs more than a year and a half ago. The focus of the show was Daisey's observations of the imbalance between an America that paid well for its electronics gadgets (focused primarily on Apple's success in that field), and the difficult and sometimes abusive working conditions of the low-paid Chinese workers who actually made the products.
Much of Daisey's show was based on observations he made during a trip to China in 2010. In some cases, however, Daisey has since admitted that some specific tales were fabricated.
Incidents mentioned in the show sparked national backlash against Apple by progressive and labor-rights groups, and pressure from the scrutiny caused the company to make its own auditing and improvement process more transparent, but although some of Daisey's accusations were borne out in other investigations, several of the most emotional or shocking parts of his monologue now appear to have been made up or at least greatly exaggerated.
It was when Daisey repeated some of the incidents as true on the PRI radio show This American Life that the story began to unravel. An NPR reporter tracked down Daisey's Chinese translator, who disputed a number of specific meetings and what was said.
Confronted by TAL, Daisey recanted some of the stories, but said the overall point was to get the audience emotionally engaged in what he saw as an corporate disgrace. TAL was forced to retract the entire Daisey episode, saying he "misled" the program's fact-checking team during the initial episode.
Ironically, Daisey begins his latest apology by reprinting a quote from an interview in Seattle in which he specifically delineates where the boundaries are in relating true events in theater. "You have so many tools on stage as a storyteller. Like, any time you want something to happen, you don't have to pretend it happened and lie, you can use a flight of fancy, you can say, 'I imagine what this must look like,'" he said at the time.
"You can say anything and you can go in whatever direction you need to go, but be clear with the audience, but be clear with the audience that at one moment you're reporting the truth as literally it happened, and another case you're using hyperbole, and you just have to be really clear about when you're using each tool. " He used the quote as a way to acknowledge that he had failed to do so in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, saying "it ... makes clear where I fell short " and that "when I said onstage that I had personally experienced things I in fact did not, I failed to honor the contract I'd established with my audiences over many years and many shows. In doing so, I not only violated their trust, I also made worse art."
"This is not the place for me to try and explain my good intentions," Daisey writes, refuting his own earlier defense. "We all know where the road paved with good intentions leads. In fact, I think it might lead to where I'm sitting right now."
He goes on to specifically apologize to audiences for being "careless with that trust," referring to the unspoken contract between performers and their listeners that what they hear is essentially true. Daisey also apologizes to fellow theatre colleagues, recognizing that his errors may have made others' jobs, particularly in non-fiction and documentary storytelling, more difficult.
He then also expresses his regret to journalists for "exaggerating my own experiences," saying his "lost his grounding" in the endless retelling of talking points to various media and that "over time, I couldn't even hear the differences myself." Daisey also apologizes to human rights and worker advocates, saying that "if I had done my job properly, with the skills I have honed for years, I could have avoided" the controversy that has now cast doubt on the whole story of worker struggles in China. "Instead, I blinded myself, and lost sight of the people I wanted to help the most."
Prior to this latest mea culpa, Daisey had already acknowledged that the play would be re-written to be more specific and would include a new prologue as a disclaimer. In the new post, he left unsaid whether the show would be performed again -- it is booked for at least one more run in Washington DC this summer -- or if he would specifically drop those elements of the stories that have been shown to be untrue.