Stop Digging, Mike Daisey!

Mike Daisey’s bristling response to This American Life starts with the most irritating epigram you’ll see all month.

“Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”—another American monologist

A Mark Twain reference! There’s only one more hackneyed trick in Epigrammy than a politician starting out with Teddy Roosevelt’s “man in the arena” quote. It’s the Mark Twain “reports of my death” reference. Twain made it when a reporter, working on bad information, tried to confirm that Twain was alive. Not the cliche I would have chosen, really.

Things get worse.

[T]he segment with me is excruciating—four hours of grilling edited down to fifteen minutes. I thought the dead air was a nice touch, and finishing the episode with audio pulled out of context from my performance was masterful.

This criticism makes me fret about Daisey, who’s actually continuing to perform his previously scheduled shows. (He’s editing the show a bit; I’m unfamiliar with what he’s actually changed.) No one sits for an interview, for a medium with a certain length and format, and expects the entire thing to be published in full. Daisey’s subjects don’t talk to him and expect everything they say to be monologued. Reporters edit. The audio “pulled out of context” – actually, what is he talking about? The version of the show that most people will hear has no such audio.

I admire Jack Shafer for trying, but it’s tough to pull Lessons About Journalism from the Daisey meltdown. Sure, as he eventually says, he gave fresh attention to a labor issue that wasn’t getting much coverage. Journalists followed on the story and got solid, factual stuff. He might want to stop spreading more manure on the ground, and let them keep working.