Many people cry out for more truth in journalism. News anchors and radio talk shows are constantly under fire for their false or unsubstantiated claims, and have driven their fact checkers to drink with their increasingly aggressive claims. One arena that might need a fact checker of its own soon is the Public Theater. “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”, a monologue written and performed by Mike Daisey, recently had to revise a large portion of the act featuring details touted as fact which did not stand up to close scrutiny.
In an interview with Ira Glass, he admitted that he manufactured a good portion of his theatrical act in order to convey his message to the public. Framed as the result of hard journalistic research, Daisey’s work attacks Steve Jobs and Apple’s practices. Critics wish that Daisey could have set his work more as a fictitious view to illustrate a point. Thus freed from fact, Daisey could have said whatever he wanted to say to attack Apple and its founders.
Daisey supports his piece, despite the necessity to drastically revise it. He views his role as an artist as someone called to action by a given situation. He felt it necessary to manufacture some of the more sensational points in his monologue to more strongly ring with his audience. Should an artist really be held accountable for the opinions expressed in their works, or details touted as fact? Or should the audience of such a piece understand that an artist on stage is by definition a work of fiction? Should art be considered on the same level with news and journalism?
Consider this: Rob Enderle, a veteran technology analyst, has stated his fears that Daisey’s work has lost all credibility. As a champion of fair worker’s rights, he has done irreparable harm to the very cause he was trying to assist. Companies emboldened by Daisey’s fall, will now take even more shortcuts in their work to reach the bottom line of cost.
While highly sensationalizing a topic may indeed bring it to the public’s eye, what an artist does with that topic may do more damage than good.