The agony and ecstasy of Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey

On Friday, This American Life retracted the story “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” because it contains fabrications. The press release is here.

I think This American Life should keep the episode available as part of its official history of the show. Without it, we will lose a critical piece of our own historical culture, much the same way we have when we redacted the n-word from works of literature or shelved films that show actors in blackface. Without the episode, we will know where we are, but will have forgotten the steps we took to get here. Without the episode to remind us, we are bound to repeat this error at some time in the future. Moreover — while deeply embarrassing for Ira Glass — it will remain a stark reminder of his duty to respect his “blink” moments.

It is too easy for the journalism community to condemn Mike Daisey as a liar and blame only him for perpetrating this fraud. “It is about trust and truth!” they pontificate. “Without trust, journalism is nothing.”

I don’t know if it is as dire as all that, but I think the issue is about more than just trust. I think what Mike Daisey was able to pull off speaks more about who we are as an American culture than it does about the nature of journalism, truth or trust.

By his own admission, Mike Daisey is a performance artist. The monologue and the story he crafted were always his performance, whether he was on stage in front of an audience, in front of Ira Glass or Ed Shultz. The fact that each of the latter chose to ignore the fact that Mike Daisey was in character and performing was their failing, not his. I’m sure he was just as delighted in duping them as they were delighted to be interviewing him.

The Canon is replete with works by artists and writers who borrow facts heavily to spin their stories. Many times the veracity of the story is never explained as that would ruin the mystery. However, there are hints in each work to suggest that the story — while plausible — is simply not a factual account.

In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce the reader is led to believe that Peyton Farquhar has somehow escaped his hanging. In the middle of his narrative, the more attentive reader will begin noticing some inconsistencies such as the trees lining up in the forest and the shift in point of view. The reader who becomes wedded to Farquhar’s success will miss the subtle cues.

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf does not even bother to hide the fact that she would be lying to the reader. “Lies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping.” Whether or not there were lies contained in her essay or where they were is up to the reader to decide.

In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne introduces us to the story by way of telling us he found “documents, in short, not official, but of a private nature…I could account for their being included in the heap of Custom-House lumber only by the fact that Mr. Pue’s death had happened suddenly…” and the cloth containing an embroidered scarlet letter. Anyone of the day would have known Hawthorne to be a custom house officer and this accounting plausible. It is only by prefacing the story with The Custom House that made it believable as a historical reckoning. It was, of course, entirely false as was the story of Hester Pryne.

In each of these performances, there were a few details that were just too perfect, just too pat. But the audiences really, really, really needed to believe and each fooled its audience in its time. The cues are what Ira Glass missed. Missing the cues is what is embarrassing him.

Mike Daisey’s performance on This American Life illustrates what he knows intimately about American Culture. Mike Daisey knows the power of story in a highly-charged, desperate culture in the middle of a crises of identity.

We are a culture that will desperately believe in a myth rather than the facts. We want to believe the Olive Garden is authentic Italian food or that what McDonalds puts out as food is actually a hamburger. We believe we are paying the full price of the cell phone service we receive or that books should be free. We believe reality TV is not edited and the indie band we just discovered is authentic and has not been marketed. We believe the music we stole from a locker is justifiably ours because the music industry has been ripping us off for years.

We believe FOX News is really news and not just entertainment wrapped around a set of facts. We believe we can somehow get skinny eating whatever we want without exercising.

We are a culture that believes in a man named Jesus who walked the Earth two thousand years ago and was born of a virgin mother and nailed to a Roman cross to save us from our sins. We believe this so passionately that we are willing to bend non-believers to our will with laws and public shame. We believe this so deeply that we are willing — actually require — the person with the ability to blow up the entire world twenty-seven times over to also believe.

We believe that iPads should cost under $1,000 and blithely turn our attention away from the human and environmental abuses that make that possible. This is what makes a story like Mike Daisey’s plausible, possible and probable. It is the juxtaposition of our deep unease with the reality that people are being exploited with our insatiable need to have cheap stuff that taps our conscience just a little and tells us that Mike Daisey’s story is true, even though it is factually inaccurate.

How could we not know? The truth is, we couldn’t not know. The signs of truth are too blatant.

And we also believe that This American Life is journalism and that journalism does not tell stories. Journalism reports the naked facts, unedited. In reality, Ira Glass is every bit as skilled a storyteller as Mike Daisey is.

For this one episode, Mike Daisey was better. He should never apologize for that.

Don’t touch my junk; a TSA stand-off anthem for anti-healthcare reform and other government good stuff

In the 1970s, the government told us lead paint was perfectly safe. In the 1960s, the government told us asbestos was perfectly safe. In the 1950s, the government told us smoking was perfectly safe. In the 1940s, the government told us prenatal drugs were safe. Need I go on?

What are we missing here? Why are we being prodded into being hyper-focused on the prudery of being seen naked and ignoring the very questionable health safety claims of these airport full-body scanners? If we were told that in order to board a plane, we would need to each be given a flu shot, for our own protection from travelers who may be coughing and that shot would be administered by a TSA agent who carries no medical malpractice insurance or verifiable certification, would we submit to that? If we didn’t, we couldn’t board the plane. Nor could we leave once we entered the security area without being subject to arrest and fines. Would 98% of the flying public submit to that? Probably. We’re sheep and the TSA knows it.

CBS, NBC and other networks are saying that 81% of the public support the full-body scanners and 98% of all passengers are submitting to the full-body scan. They are in effect, saying that the “don’t touch my junk, opt-out” protestors are marginal, fringe, prudish nut-jobs. While the public is being corralled into the propaganda of the scanners as a “strip search,” the real concern of the scanner is being downplayed and all but ignored by both the TSA and the media. The real concern should be the health issues associated with using x-rays in a non-medical environment for non-medical reasons. The real concern should be how the TSA uses and abuses power once challenged by those who gave them the power — the American voters.

The double-down, dig-in, jaw-clenching, frustration-laden, totalitarian, “you don’t have to fly” rhetoric of Sec. of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and TSA Director John Pistole is adding fuel to the fire of the debate. Not only is it adding fuel to the TSA v flying public, but it is giving ammunition to the GOP for health care repeal. “See how they act when you resist?” they will point. “This is your government doing what they think is best for you.”

And that has consequences. Even people who voted for Health Care reform will be doing a second take and asking themselves, “If this is how they treat me when I resist at the airport, what if I resist that mandated health care? Do I really want to be treated like this when I go to the doctor?”

What the TSA is doing is not real security. Barking at people non-stop, aggressively callously and disrespectfully patting down travelers, irresponsibly submitting them to doses of radiation that may or may not be a “safe dose,” threatening resisters with arrest or detainment is not security. It is a circus and a breeding ground for small-minded people to wield power over helpless citizens with impunity. We’re seeing this vein in Napolitano and Pistole. We see and feel it in the hands of the TSA agent who neither sees nor hears us as he gropes and recites the policy he has memorized but never listened to.

A calm, control of the environment is real security. While I don’t generally use Hollywood as an example of real life, a quick viewing of Roadhouse should be part of the training. Bouncers who yell, grab and provoke only increase violence. Coolers who quickly, calmly and quietly diffuse the situation leave most of the patrons not even knowing there was ever a threat. I’ve seen this work in many European airports.

You can feel a difference in the air between Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) and New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) that is more than a little subtle. In AMS, you see the heavily armed guards around the perimeter, but they are not showy. You know you are being watched but not threatened. The guard who asks you questions in rapid succession is always calm, polite and respectful, but you are not able to goad him/her into an argument or force a break in character. (I’ve seen Americans try.) They ask you if it is ok to reach inside your coat in a soft, polite tone that makes you feel like you have a choice (you really don’t.) When you land on the US side, the transportation and customs people start yelling into the crowd to “get your passports out,” “make sure you have your Declaration Form 6059B complete,” “US citizens in this line, everyone else here” and on and on. The anxiety and circus continues to mount as the luggage moves through customs and you are “greeted” by agents. “Where were you? How long were you there? Did you visit any farms….” without respect or emotion except frustration and contempt.

But I digress.

The Federal Government has very few real opportunities to interact directly with the American public. Most of the time, we buy and sell things from corporations. But of the three government points most citizens touch — IRS, USPS and TSA — it seems to me that they could at least stop and think about how their most intimate interaction policy is affecting all others, seen and unseen. No less than the setback of modern healthcare for several more generations is at stake.

If you lose the trust of mothers with children at the TSA, you lose them at the doctor’s office as well.

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The seeds of mistrust

GAribbon

Today, I look at my Google Analytics for this blog. I clicked on the Site Overlay view and it dutifully built my site with the percentage of clicks over each link. I then exited GA, but pulled up my blog in a new window. After the blog loaded, the GA overlay built with the ribbon above my blog. No big deal, I just logged out. But it kept doing it. I dumped the cache. Still, then I dumped all the Google cookies. Still. I restarted Safari. Still. I restarted my Mac, relaunched Safari. It looks like it is ok.

As useful as the Site Overlay is, I’m not clicking on that link again. I no longer trust it to release the site back to me. Moreover, I no longer trust what Google is doing that I can’t see.

I quote Mr. Weasley of Harry Potter’s, The Chamber of Secrets: “Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”

National City, what were you thinking!

I click on the bookmark into my checking account at nationalcity.com and was immediately jolted into thinking I had gone the wrong place. I quickly shut down my browser, cleared the cookies, and panicked. I then went in again and saw the same thing! Then, I realized October was breast cancer month and the whole word is pink instead of the usual green.

National City, what the heck were you thinking! The entire banking industry is in turmoil, people are nervous about their money and you go and change one of the fundamental things about you that says “trust us”? Why would you do that?

I know breast cancer is important and National City is a big supporter. That is ok. But, next year, please, please, please forgo the pink facelift and make a big pink ribbon on the side or something. Don’t mess with the foundations of your web site.

And that trustworthy green is a big foundation.

Anna Nichole Smith Confusion

I am confused. Is ANS a national hero? Has she solved world peace or bombed a sovereign nation? Has she cured cancer? What has this woman done except posed in Playboy, married a billionaire, made a reality show on E! and flashed everyone in Australia? Given the INCREDIBLE amount of coverage on ALL the networks, broadcast, cable and Internet, you would think that we have just lost one of the best and the brightest our society has to offer.

How are we supposed to now mark her death? Do we lower the flag to half-staff? What if we just attached a large bra to a flagpole and lowered that to half-staff?

You humans are really a funny species. Thousands die in Darfur every month. The same with Iraq. Thousands of Americans die each year from the effects of poverty in the richest county in the world and what do you use your public trust of the media for? A debate over a bubble-headed, bleach-blonde, artificially-enhanced, silicon-injected piece of eye candy. Wow. So glad I’m a dog and TV is just plain boring to me.

Gotta take a nap so that I am ready for my afternoon walk now.