Daisey Chain Entangles David Sedaris

The Mike Daisey rumpus over his fabrications about Apple’s manufacturing practices has put formerly bulletproof David Sedaris in the crosshairs.

But not with everyone.

From David Carr’s New York Times column today:

Mr. Daisey’s one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” closed its very successful run at the Public Theater in New York on Sunday. The show played a significant role in raising public consciousness, not just about the ethics of offshore manufacturing, but about whether those of us who fondle those shiny new iPads every day are implicated as well.

It was a fine bit of theater. It worked less well as a piece of journalism, which is how it was represented when it was broadcast on “This American Life.” The episode was a huge hit, downloaded as a podcast more than any other in the history of the program. But it fell apart after Rob Schmitz, a reporter from “Marketplace,” another public radio show, fact-checked the specifics.

Inexplicably, Carr gives Sedaris a pass on his similar approach to storytelling:

I am a longtime fan of “This American Life,” but I have never assumed that every story I heard was literally true. The writer and monologist David Sedaris frequently tells wonderful personal yarns on the show that may not be precisely true in every detail, but this was not a story about a family car trip gone bad.

So there’s a two-tier standard for truth? It’s okay to fabricate stories about yourself, but not okay to fabricate stories about others?

Sounds like a slippery slope to the hardworking staff.

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9 Responses to Daisey Chain Entangles David Sedaris

  1. Greg says:

    Had I sat in the theater to hear Mr. Daisey’s monologue, it might have played as theater, but on radio, I heard it as journalism. Nothing in the delivery — no irony, sarcasm, or levity — tempered its testimonial tone.

    Mr. Sidaris’ monologues, however, have never struck me as anything other than literary memoir, generously ornamented with parody and satire.

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      I think you’re right, Greg. The question is not so much how they struck you, as how Sedaris presented them.

  2. I think it’s a question of how the story-teller bills themselves. Sedaris has never, to my knowledge, held himself up as a journalist. Daisey, on the other hand, did.

  3. He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice from the gentle-flowing key to which he tuned the initial sentence, he never betrayed the slightest suspicion of enthusiasm; but all through the interminable narrative there ran a vein of impressive earnestness and sincerity, which showed me plainly that, so far from his imagining that there was any thing ridiculous or funny about his story, he regarded it as a really important matter, and admired its two heroes as men of transcendent genius in finesse.

  4. Bob Gardner says:

    How about the Redemption Unit? Did you write it as journalism or fiction–or something in between?

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      That’s an excellent question, Bob. I’d put The Redemption Unit in the memoir category. And it’s all true.

  5. Bob Gardner says:

    Except that the Redemption Unit is not all true. Take this: “my trade was no longer welcome there or at any other Coop, of which there was one.”
    I was working for the Coop in 1975. Besides the branch at Longwood Ave and the main Coop at Harvard Square there were three others: the tech Coop at M.I.T., a branch at the Harvard Business School and (even) a branch at Harvard Law School.
    Should anyone be upset that you didn’t fact check the number of branches of the Coop? Or grateful that you didn’t waste your time and instead got on with your story? There is a point where minor errors can detract from a memoir but it’s pretty far down a slope which is not all that slippery.
    Readers should be smart enough to discern the difference between a memoir and an expose and apply different standards.

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