In the first week of 1997, almost exactly 15 years before This American Life issued its first retraction, the then-young, not-yet-hugely popular public radio program aired a story about a phone line where callers record apologies to people they’ve wronged.
It was brutal stuff: In one of the recordings aired, an adult male confessed to suffocating his sister when they were children. “It was just a game to me,” he said. “I was too young to know what I was doing.” He goes on to explain that he got rid of the plastic bag he’d held over his sister’s head. His parents attributed the tragedy to crib death. He’d never been able to tell them he was the one responsible.
And now, I apologize to you, oh reader, for my factual but needlessly dramatic opening two paragraphs. The phrase “apology line” popped up in my brain yesterday afternoon as I read disgraced monologist Mike Daisey’s latest blog post, no doubt because I’ve spent so much of the past 10 days listening to him apologize.
On the March 16 episode of This American Life, he apologized to host Ira Glass for lying to him personally during Glass’ attempt to fact-check the abridged version of Daisey’s Apple-manufacturing-expose show, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, that aired on TAL’s Jan. 6 episode.
Last Monday, at Georgetown University, Daisey repeated his apology to Glass, and apologized to his wife and director, Jean-Michele Gregory. He apologized to journalists, and to his audience, “not for the work. Never for the work. But for my behavior in the work.”
In response to a question, he broadened the apology umbrella to include the human rights advocates whose work to improve conditions in Chinese factories could now be complicated by Daisey’s falsehoods.
Yesterday, he repeated all of that in writing, taking off the “if you were offended” bullshit and putting on the hairshirt to atone before:
His audience: “I failed to honor the contract I’d established with my audiences over many years and many shows. In doing so, I not only violated their trust, I also made worse art.”
His peers. “My colleagues in the theater, especially those who work in non-fiction and documentary fields.”
Reporters. “Journalists I gave interviews to in which I exaggerated my own experiences. In my drive to tell this story and have it be heard, I lost my grounding. Things came out of my mouth that just weren’t true, and over time, I couldn’t even hear the difference myself.”
Do-gooders. “To human rights advocates and those who have been doing the hard work of bringing attention to these kinds of labor issues for years, if my failures have made your jobs harder, I apologize. If I had done my job properly, with the skills I have honed for years, I could have avoided this.”
I’d say that’s pretty comprehensive. Maybe he’ll call up translator Li Guifen, aka Cathy Lee, and apologize to her for making her a character in the story—-using her real name, or at least the name she goes by when doing business with Westerners—-when he’d assured her he would not.
But if your appetite for apology has not yet been thoroughly sated, Woolly Mammoth Theater Company announced earlier today that Daisey himself will attend the previously announced public forum scheduled for 7 p.m. tomorrow.
Daisey will be seated in a dunking booth above a tub of N-Hexane, the toxic screen-cleaner that really did poision assembly-line workers making Apple products—-as confirmed in reporting by, among others, Rob Schmitz, the very same Marketplace correspondent who uncovered Daisey’s lies and exaggerations—-just not the workers Daisey actually met with and interviewed.
It’s possible I fabricated part of just that prior paragraph for dramatic effect.