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Mike Daisey's Journalism Meets Theater Debacle: Where Do You Draw The Line?

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By now, most of you know that Mike Daisey, the actor and writer of "The Agony And Ecstacy Of Steve Jobs," admitted to fabricating parts of his one-man show and misleading producers of "This American Life," among other news sources. Entertainment Weekly reports that Daisey is retracting "questionable sections" of the monologue and adding a prologue about the controversy surrounding his reportage on Chinese factories. Oskar Eustis, the director of the Public Theater in New York, told EW that "Mike is a great storyteller, not a journalist. I wish he had been clearer about that distinction in the making of this piece." On "This American Life," Daisey supports this idea, saying, "The mistake that I truly regret is that I had it on your show as journalism and it’s not journalism. It’s theater."

'In an article in Forbes today, the author writes about "the viral allure of the almost true," a terrible phenomenon where the intentions justify the means. For instance, we know that Daisey claimed to have met workers poisoned by n-hexane, a chemical used in making iPhones, in Shenzen, China. However, this never happened. But Apple's audits of its suppliers showed that a similar incident did occur, just in another city. Does the fact that there is a larger truth amid the muddled claims still mean anything?

Yesterday, Daisey issued a statement on his website, writing:

In the last forty-eight hours I have been equated with Stephen Glass, James Frey, and Greg Mortenson. Given the tenor of the condemnation, you would think I had concocted an elaborate, fanciful universe filled with furnaces in which babies are burned to make iPhone components, or that I never went to China, never stood outside the gates of Foxconn, never pretended to be a businessman to get inside of factories, never spoke to any workers.

Especially galling is how many are gleefully eager to dance on my grave expressly so they can return to ignoring everything about the circumstances under which their devices are made. Given the tone, you would think I had fabulated an elaborate hoax, filled with astonishing horrors that no one had ever seen before. Except that we all know that isn’t true.

What do you think, readers? Do the ends justify the means?

Can it be argued that Daisey is not a journalist, but a monologist who wanted to get to the heart of the matter? Or is this a justification for sloppy (or nonexistent) reporting? As the Dead Kennedy's sang in their 1986 anthem: "Where do you draw the line? / I'm not telling you, I'm asking you."

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this article, we stated that the network that produces and provides "This American Life" to stations is NPR. It is actually PRI, Public Radio International. While some NPR member stations choose to carry "This American Life", NPR is a content provider, not a radio station and does not produce the show. We apologize for the confusion.

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