Monday, September 16, 2013

Perhaps David Sedaris Was Right

Interesting tidbit in New York Magazine this week—they did a roundup of commentary on their site, and
they say this in describing my position after the TAL retraction:

“In the aftermath of that retraction, Daisey made few friends by taking an ambivalent position—apologizing for his falsehoods but arguing that theater might serve a higher investigative purpose than journalism”

Part of this I would agree with—I did make few friends.

But most of this is simply wrong.

I’ve never said theater holds a higher purpose than journalism—I’ve always been loathe to compare two wildly different human endeavors, especially so reductively. It’s like asking which gets better mileage: a walrus or an apple tart?

And I *definitely* have never said that theater holds a higher INVESTIGATIVE purpose than journalism. That doesn’t make sense—in a world where there are very few pieces of theater that overlap with journalism at all, I have no idea why anyone would believe I hold that position.

No one is waiting for Cirque du Soliel to replace NPR’s news division. (Though that would be

I certainly have never felt that my own work had a “higher investigative purpose” than journalism. Back when the NYT investigative piece came out after my initial TAL episode, some people wondered if I was upset that I wasn’t credited in some way—a large number of journalists contacted me and urged me to make a fuss.

Jim Romenesko asked me how I felt, and
I answered then:

“I’ve been telling this story nightly for eighteen months, and I’m absolutely thrilled that the NYT is doing this reporting. It’s what I’ve been hoping for — that journalists would dig in and pull this story out by its roots, and the NYT has done that here.

I’m a monologist, and not a journalist in any traditional sense. I see our roles as utterly complementary –journalism reports the facts that fill our world, and I tell stories that create connections that make audiences engage in a human way...

As a monologist, I’m passionate about stories told fully and deeply, so there can be a way for us to see the truth in a human way. The NYT’s work on this series does that magnificently, and they deserve all the credit for their hard work. I think it’s a great day when a work of art and a piece of journalism can both be in the public sphere affecting change in their own ways. More than anything else, I am grateful to the reporters who are telling this story because when I speak from the stage I feel less alone.”

You’ll notice that my fundamental positions on the roles of journalism and theater are identical here, before the scandal, as they actually are today.

Why would New York Magazine summarize my position in such a clearly wrongheaded way? I think it’s just people writing the story they think they already know.

Paul Raeburn, a media critic at Knight Tracker,
wrote a piece this week on the occasion of my very positive New York Times review for ALL THE FACES OF THE MOON, which he found upsetting. He said:

“One would like to think Daisey would pay a price for his crime, but apparently that's not the case…From what I see in the promotional material, Daisey's new show doesn't claim to be journalism. So we can't accuse him of recidivism. But we shouldn't let him off for good behavior. He hasn't shown any.”

The punitive language is a tell—much like our current correctional system, there’s nothing correctional about the journalistic establishment. He passes judgment without awareness of my
widely-disseminated public apology, or my revising of AGONY/ECSTASY to be 100% factchecked, or the giving of that work away for free so others can perform it.

It's as if he didn't do any research at all, after reading the review and feeling pissed…though that's impossible, as he's a media critic.

It’s also an interesting universe where journalists get to decide who has a voice. After all, he appears to be clear that I work in the theater, but that doesn’t seem to stop Mr. Raeburn from feeling journalists should get to decide when and if I’m allowed to speak.

The fact is that I’m not a journalist in any conventional sense, and never have been. Mr. Raeburn and his colleagues do not get to vote on whether Michael Moore, Louis CK, or Stephen King should be allowed to speak, and they don’t get to vote on me, either.

In fact, even if I *was* a journalist, they *still* wouldn’t get to vote. If Mr. Raeburn disagrees, I would let him know to get to work and begin the purges immediately of all the "impure" journalists, perhaps starting with FOX NEWS.

And maybe there’s a deeper element in both these stories hidden along this thread.

David Sedaris was asked about the TAL retraction a few months ago, and said that he thought, more than anything else, the scale and hostility of the reaction had to do with the death of print journalism.

I don’t entirely agree with that, and I want to be clear that I think people were entitled to be pissed. But the hunger of media journalists to actually nail someone might have more to do with their inability to actually enforce ethical boundaries within their own eroding and transforming profession.

And New York Magazine’s strange assertion that I believe that “theater might serve a higher investigative purpose than journalism” might make more sense if seen through the lens of a fundamental insecurity.

Paul Raeburn and I tussled a little on Twitter, and after going back and forth he posted a new piece with our discussion in it. He ended saying:

“Daisey is arguing that he's done enough to absolve himself, and he might be right.”

I’m not actually arguing that I’ve “absolved” myself. I just think that for many journalists their profession works like America’s correctional system…so there’s no way in those frameworks to express regret, learn, and grow. It’s punitive only.

But I am not a journalist. So I’m not asking for their absolution because fundamentally I don’t need it from them.

And the fact that I never will may be part of their insecurity.