Mike Daisey invokes Mark Twain but doesn’t check the quote and gets it wrong.
His latest blog post begins:
“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
—another American monologist
The reference is to Mark Twain. But as you can see from the note reproduced above, the actual quote is: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Which is an exceedingly small matter, and hardly a crime. “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated…” is the more familiar line, and it’s funnier, even though Twain didn’t say it.
But what about the truth claim Daisey was making: reports are circulating that this is career death for Mike Daisey, as it was for Jayson Blair. People are dancing on his grave. (Yes, he said that.) I’ve read a lot of coverage of this episode, including the stuff most hostile to Daisey, and I have not seen anyone make that prediction or dance that dance. Have you seen any critic, any reporter, saying: it’s over for him, he will never have another play produced?
Gawker, which is completely merciless toward Daisey, doesn’t say it’s over for him. Jack Shafer of Reuters, who compares him to other famous liars, says nothing about his career being finished. David Carr of the New York Times is contemptuous, but he does not forecast career death. Neither does the Times theatre critic, Charles Isherwood, in his commentary. The Washington Post’s media reporter, Erik Wemple, gives him credit for coming forward to be interviewed on This American Life; nothing about career suicide. The blogger who casts doubt on his earlier play about working at Amazon points out some fibbing, but does not say: this is the end for Mike Daisey. Neither does Howard Kurtz on his CNN show.
It’s clear now that Daisey should have declined at least some of these [media] invitations. And certainly he should have said no to This American Life given his understanding that their standards for literal, verifiable accuracy are much higher than his own. He knows this. He has said this. So let’s forgive him. Everyone who doesn’t pay attention to theater can go right back to not paying attention. Thanks for checking in.
Therein lies the challenge of the activist artist. Daisey didn’t stretch the truth to further a journalism career — as did Jayson Blair and other reporters busted for fictions. Daisey, I believe, had altruistic motives.
Mike Daisey may well recover from this scandal. He’s not a precocious careerist like Stephen Glass or Jayson Blair. He is one of the most gifted artists of the American theater. It’s even possible that This American Life has done him a favor—if Daisey draws the right conclusions from this episode. So far, it doesn’t seem like he has.
No it doesn’t. Maybe there is someone somewhere who has reported that Mike Daisey is finished; and he cannot come back from this. It is possible. (Of course, he could have linked to such reports and saved us the trouble but that isn’t his way.) What’s clear to me is that the line, “reports of my death,” is more theatricality from Daisey. (See my earlier post: Master manipulator with nerves of steel.)
He doesn’t think it matters whether there actually were such reports. The audience will get it: he’s not going to hide in some cave! He will go on. Yes. And so will his con.
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