I listened to the "Retraction" episode of "This American Life," and was captivated and repulsed by the replays of the "The Agony and the Ecstasy," with Daisey's heavy-handed phrasing and gulping passionate voice. He injects Apple is eeeevvvilll directly into the theatergoer's brain. You hear the audience reaction and feel them in his manipulative hands. This is art! But it's journalism too. All you have to do is say it has fictionalized elements, and you're in the powerful realm of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and "The Jungle."
I am a longtime fan of “This American Life,” but I have never assumed that every story I heard was literally true. The writer and monologist David Sedaris frequently tells wonderful personal yarns on the show that may not be precisely true in every detail....Yes, what exactly is the difference between Sedaris and what Daisey did? One is humor and the other drama? But both humor and drama employ exaggerations, composites, and invention. One is only trying to entertain and the other is trying to incite political action? That's more like it. One is an author telling stories on himself (and his friends and family) and the other has identified a target and intends a vicious attack that will cause real harm. That matters.
Now, Daisey stresses the victims of his victim: the workers in China, the people he made the audience care about by making up dramatic scenes that, it turns out, never happened, like the man with a hand that was mangled making an iPad who gets to touch, with that mangled hand, a finished iPad, and he strokes it and calls it "magical." This is a version of what is the classic melodramatic encapsulation of the plight of the factory worker: He labors over the creation of a product that he can never own.
Carr — writing in the NYT — turns to the NYT journalists who published a series of articles "investigating Apple’s suppliers... that may have contained a bit less drama, but landed hard." I presume these articles are accurate, but how do I know? Carr anticipates the reader's skepticism about the trustworthiness of professional journalists (who can't make the I'm-an-artist defense when they are caught faking). He ends his article with a coy reference to "an e-mail to someone I know who is an expert on journalistic malfeasance [askins] if, in a complicated informational age, there was a way to make sure that someone telling an important story had the actual goods." We get a quote from this character, a quote that's only worth quoting to get to the revelation that it's Jayson Blair. Somehow the NYT expects you to remember who Blair is... or they're hoping we've forgotten.
I put that link on Blair's name. It's not in Carr's article — and it's even a link to the NYT. Blair's articles seemed so good because they included vivid details that extracted empathy from the reader:
Some of Mr. Blair's articles in recent months provide vivid descriptions of scenes that often occurred in the privacy of people's homes but that, travel records and interviews show, Mr. Blair could not have witnessed.Why lie about pansies? Red, white and blue pansies. To make you care. You can't be relied upon to care based on journalistic facts alone. Those who would manipulate your political opinions know they need to pull at your heart. They give you flowers. They give you an old man with a shaking, mangled hand.
On March 24, for example, he filed an article with the dateline Hunt Valley, Md., in which he described an anxious mother and father, Martha and Michael Gardner, awaiting word on their son, Michael Gardner II, a Marine scout then in Iraq.
Mr. Blair described Mrs. Gardner ''turning swiftly in her chair to listen to an anchor report of a Marine unit''; he also wrote about the red, white and blue pansies in her front yard. In an interview last week, Mrs. Gardner said Mr. Blair had spoken to her only by phone.
From the "This American Life" transcript (boldface added):
Mike Daisey: And everything I have done in making this monologue for the theater has been toward that end – to make people care. I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work. My mistake, the mistake that I truly regret is that I had it on your show as journalism and it’s not journalism. It’s theater. I use the tools of theater and memoir to achieve its dramatic arc and of that arc and of that work I am very proud because I think it made you care, Ira, and I think it made you want to delve. And my hope is that it makes – has made — other people delve....Make people care. This is the what we are exposed to when we encounter text. An author is trying to make you care. And maybe you feel that upwelling of caring — empathy... ah, the twinges of humanity. Aren't you a good person to surrender to the injection of caring about the thing you've been manipulated into caring about?
And I stand by it as a theatrical work. I stand by how it makes people see and care about the situation that’s happening there. I stand by it in the theater. And I regret, deeply, that it was put into this context on your show.
Make people care. May I suggest that you shift your focus from "care" to "make"? Someone is trying to make you feel/think what they want you to feel/think. They'd like you to directly internalize the viewpoint they have chosen and do not want to try to prove on facts and reason alone. Resist!
There. Was that dramatic enough to make you care about resisting the writers who are out to make you care?