As a leader in public relations, Koroberi houses employees who are both invested and passionate about complying with journalistic ethics and standards. That said, I’m finding it impossibly hard to ignore this week’s news frenzy over Mr. Daisey’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. As I flip through the emerging articles filled with accusations, I find myself wondering, “Who is really to blame?” There are three key players in this controversy and each one is being blamed by someone who values journalistic standards.
The player with the fewest fingers wagging shame in its direction is the New York Public Theater. Prior to the controversy, the Public Theater’s performance program deemed Mr. Daisey’s monologue “nonfiction.” The entire controversy could have been avoided by simply inserting the classic Hollywood “based on true events” line and leaving the word “nonfiction” out of the program – and something tells me that the word “nonfiction” won’t be appearing in Public Theater programs anytime in the near future.
Also under scrutiny are Ira Glass and the production staff of his radio program, This American Life. After attending the “nonfiction” one-man-show at the New York Public Theater, Ira invited Mr. Daisey to perform on his radio program. The episode, Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory, quickly became the show’s most popular episode, with 888,000 downloads and 206,000 streams since its January debut. Unfortunately for Ira, he opened the episode by stressing the story’s credibility, “…we’ve actually spent a few weeks checking everything that he says in his show.” Ira continued to emphasize the story’s credibility by stating, “As for Mike’s findings, we have gone through his script and fact checked everything that was checkable.” The Brown University alum should have known better than to say that they fact-checked the script when they did not.
Of course, of all of the parties involved in this controversy, the most obvious person to blame is Mr. Daisy himself. However, at first I didn’t want to point my finger at Mr. Daisey. I wanted to defend the statement he made Friday, “What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism.” Should we hold Mike Daisey to the same journalistic standards we hold ourselves? In my opinion, the answer is no. Sure, he probably should have spoken up when the programs were printed at the Public Theater, but Mr. Daisey’s real mistake was agreeing to step off of the stage and into This American Life, MSNBC and Real Time with Bill Mahr.
Once he was in the newsroom, Mr. Daisey should have stated that his story was a composition of both his personal experience in China and his research, rather than letting the story go on air as a journalistic report. Additionally, Ira and his staff at This American Life should have realized that Mr. Daisey’s story was not a work of journalism before they let it air. I think Elisa, a blogger for French Exit, explains it best, “’Nonfiction’ isn’t journalism…If you want to do a political expose, don’t go to Broadway for material.”
Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC technology correspondent, also relates the controversy to the overall state of journalism, “The bigger question is what we’ve learned about journalism in the age of what the writer Andrew Keen has called the ‘cult of the amateur’. I believe the whole affair has reinforced the value of journalism as a profession.”
With so many human-rights activists under scrutiny, including Jason Russell of KONY 2012 and Greg Mortenson of Three Cups of Tea, the need for transparency is becoming increasingly vital for those with a cause. By going on the news with an embellished story about a situation that didn’t need exaggerating, Mr. Daisey hurt the missions of many human-rights activists by creating skeptics.