The Art of Lying

Mike Daisey is an American actor and author, most famous for his monologue, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”. This American Life (TAL) host Ira Glass has now produced two episodes on the subject, the first containing Daisey’s monologue, and the second, which retroactively exposed the inaccuracies of the first. Glass apologized for endorsing and reporting Daisey’s embellished story, explaining that journalists have an obligation to report facts- something Daisey’s story was apparently lacking. Daisey agreed that misleading the public is wrong, but argued that his monologue was art, not journalism. His goal was to make people passionate about the very real labor problems going on in China, and he thought that would be better accomplished by reporting what had been happening, even if he hadn’t seen it himself.

I don’t have an issue with Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” monologue. Although the story is routinely embellished, if not completely made up, it accomplished its goal- to get the public thinking. As social commentary, the monologue is great. My problem with it arises from Daisey marketing his piece as journalism, a view that Glass shares. Art and journalism are two completely different beasts and should be acknowledged as such. A journalist should report the facts. Ideally, they would be free from biases and focus on informing the public as accurately as possible. Art, on the other hand, is much more open to interpretation. There is no “wrong” art in the same way that a journalist could be wrong. Art is used to express feelings and emotion, something Daisey did quite well. However, when he went on This American Life and discussed his “experiences” as “fact”, Daisey attempted to blur the line between art and journalism- without the public’s knowledge.

While I disagree ethically with Daisey’s conduct, and logically comply with the idea that journalism and art are different, I cannot refute that there is art in journalism. In describing the epitome of a journalist earlier, I used the key word “ideal”. In reality, in concurrence with the technological boom of the past two decades, journalism has devolved into a competition to see who can create the most eye-catching headlines or tell the people what they want to hear. Generally speaking, I think mass media still has the ability to be a trusted news source, but it is not currently the case because of the merger between art and journalism. Daisey gives a perfect example of this mentality. There is truth in what he had to say, but he felt the need to dramatize it to increase public reception. In doing this, Daisey created a moving piece of art, but not a piece of journalism.


4 thoughts on “The Art of Lying

  1. I really enjoyed your comments on the dichotomy of art and journalism. I also believe that Daisey’s embellishment was not harmful to many and that it accomplished the goal of entertaining an audience while bringing these issues to light. I never thought of his monologue as being “art”, so its interesting to categorize his speech that way, especially since his words and experiences were open to interpretation. Lastly, I agree that journalists should share the facts. But do we, as individuals, have the obligation to question information when we aren’t sure of the true facts?


  2. I agree with your article, especially about the differences between art and journalism. I think a lot of the anger that everyone is feeling against Daisey is largely because he tried to label and pass off his work as “journalism” when he had created it as “art” for theatre. You made a great point about there being art in journalism which I agree with – if journalism was simply the stating of facts, it would not generate nearly as much interest as it does but raise an interesting point as to how much embellishment is too much?


  3. I totally agree with the fact that journalism is now all about getting the most views and creating the biggest headlines. This seems like an early example of something going viral. Mike Daisey was able to create public outrage with his monologue and supposed experience. This was able to increase the amount of money he made while becoming famous. I felt like Mike Daisey took advantage of the situation and tried to make as much money as possible until he was caught.


  4. Interesting viewpoint. I believe that it is a difficult thing when a renowned organization like This American Life WANTS your story and you have to them “Well, this is my form of art, soooo, there are some embellishments.” For a writer, this is the PR of a lifetime, like getting a record deal with Mussel-Shoals if you’re a classic rock musician and then telling them “Well, my songs are my own artistic covers of other songs, sooo….”. The pressure was definitely added by TAL’s influence and audience reach. The pressure was added by the opportunity for awareness to be made towards the injustices of 3rd world countries at the hands of Apple. The pressure was added to be famous. And in a sense, all three of those contexts were fulfilled even after the exposure.


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