Honesty: The Difference Between Journalism and Art


As I watched the Bucknell Forum production of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, I considered how the interruptions evaluated elements of Mike Daisey’s original monologue. I enjoyed the explanations of Chinese cultures that various professors brought to the forefront and how these challenged Daisey’s claims. I felt that these rebuttals of sorts made the audience develop their own stance on particular issues, especially regarding the economic implications on factories in China.

However, the clips of Ira Glass researching Cathy and his interrogation of Daisey were insightful, but also frustrating. I could understand why Glass was disappointed by the fact that Daisey had not actually met workers who suffered neurological deterioration from n-hexane exposure. My issue with Glass is that he claims to have fact checked Daisey’s narrative in the original podcast. In my opinion, thorough fact checking would include reaching out to Daisey’s translator. Glass does not actually do this until the “Retraction,” and even then he says the process was easy and Cathy is pretty forthcoming in distinguishing between fact and fiction. Although I have not listened to the full retraction podcast, the elements provided in the Bucknell Forum production make me more annoyed with This American Life for their seemingly lazy fact checking procedures than with Daisey.

My feelings stem in part because I don’t feel that Daisey was deceptive about his story. While he not a journalist, I don’t think that he needs to report to be honest.  Maybe my feelings are a result of my experiences in both journalism and creative writing, but I think that storytelling as an art form is honest not in its facts, but in the feelings it evokes and the social constructs it explores. I think that journalism is honest in that it covers the facts as the reporter knows them. By relying on an artistic medium, Daisey was striving to reach people on a personal and emotional level and in doing so inspire them to act. As Cathy says, “he is not a journalist,” and I don’t think there is anything wrong in Daisey’s methods of storytelling. However, I do think that it is wrong to have marketed the story as reporting and that is something that both This American Life and Daisey are complicit in.

What do you think the difference is between art and journalism? How does honesty play a role in either or both?

[Photo: L. S. Lowry’s painting of Huddersfield in 1965.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._S._Lowry%5D

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9 thoughts on “Honesty: The Difference Between Journalism and Art”

  1. I agree with your statement that Daisey is not a journalist and is therefore not required to ensure his report is honest. Storytelling is simply a careful orchestration of words to have a desired effect on an audience. In the retraction podcast, Daisey is clearly apologetic and remorseful for having allowed his story to be put on This American Life and to be conveyed as journalism. I found his apology completely justified and agree this was his main mistake. However, This American Life was a key means of distributing the story and really propelled it in the public eye, igniting conversation. Could the mistake, or misrepresentation of his art as honest truth, be worth it?

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    1. It’s interesting to hear about how apologetic Daisey is in the retraction podcast, since I haven’t heard it. I also think you make a great point about the platform the misinterpretation afforded. In my opinion, the mistake is definitely worth it. If I were Daisey, I would be apologetic but without regret. Gaining that kind of audience, sparked the conversation that Daisey’s story wanted. However, do you think the retraction makes it easier for Apple and other companies to brush aside the claims?

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      1. Mike Daisey’s podcast aired in 2012.
        Apple first conducted audits and published supplier responsibility reports in 2006, after news articles showed poor working conditions at Foxconn.
        In 2012, Apple released its full supplier list and “became the first technology company to join the Fair Labor Association, a nonprofit group that aims to improve conditions in factories around the world” (according to a New York Times article).
        Apple knew of the injuries, suicides, underage workers, and more going on at its factories since 2006. The public just wasn’t widely aware of these issues until MIke Daisey helped bring them to light. Considering Apple has continues to show improvements, I think the retraction is somewhat irrelevant. His story still had a positive impact and I hope it will continue to ensure companies are held more responsible for working conditions.

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  2. I do find Cathy’s fairly nuanced understanding of the situation interesting. Glass holds her up as his star witness, but she is pretty even-handed.

    Thanks for watching the play! Your reaction is exactly what we wanted, for the audience to think through these issues for itself.

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  3. I feel like the response from Apple that Megan mentioned in the previous comment is exactly what Daisy was intending. Although he should not have reported his story on TAL as journalism, his goal was to expose the problems with these factories, in particular Apple. By informing the public of the working conditions, Apple was forced to take action. However, do you think it was unfair of Daisy to only target Apple instead of all the tech companies?

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    1. If you’d actually seen the full monologue, or if I’d been allowed by TAL to put in the sections I wanted, my work always made it clear that the issues are larger than Apple. They wanted it to be a pithier story. Editing.

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  4. I agree that fact checking is the responsibility of This American Life and Ira Glass, but I don’t think Daisey should be selling a theatrical monologue about mistreated workers as truth. It is one thing to make up a play and not specifically name Apple and Foxconn then say that workers are being mistreated, but completely something else to damage a strong companies reputation unfairly. That being said, every journalist should check their sources before publishing, especially if they publish to an audience as large as the one of This American Life.

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  5. It is interesting reading your post as I choose to listen to the retraction. I would be very interested to learn what the professors addressed of Chinese culture as this was my biggest issue with Daisy’s show. I felt as if he painted an unfair picture of Chinese culture and their sock-economic status as a developing nation. Your perspective from being a creative writing major and having experiences with journalism made me pause. You challenge my feelings on regarding the retraction as I originally had discredited most of Daisy’s monologue after finding out it was not entirely truthful. I feel conflicted as I read “I think that storytelling as an art form is honest not in its facts, but in the feelings it evokes and the social constructs it explores.” I agree with this statement but where does the line get crossed about creating social constructs that exist in reality and create unfair, real perceptions of societies?

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