MONDAY, MARCH 19, 2012

Conclusion—Not unlike Limbaugh: In this morning’s New York Times, two columnists discuss Mike Daisey, the latest guy who made shit up.

(But it was done in a very good cause!)

Daisey has been performing a heralded one-man show in which he lies about various matters. Recently, the NPR program An American Life did a long segment about Daisey’s show. The program then retracted its segment, noting that many of Daisey’s representations were, alas, not true.

To read David Carr’s take on Daisey’s deceptions, just click here. We will quote the ruminations of Charles Isherwood, a Times theater critic.

Should Daisey be allowed to make shit up? Even in service to “a good cause?” Sorry but no! Or at least, so Isherwood said.

In the following passage, Isherwood describes Daisey as he continued to play NPR’s Ira Glass. Isherwood is refined and polite as he describes the way Daisey lied to NPR about his translator. After that, he defines the obvious problem here:
ISHERWOOD (3/19/12): The episode is agonizing listening for anyone who admired Mr. Daisey’s show, as I did. In an interview with Ira Glass, host of “This American Life,” Mr. Daisey is evasive, obfuscatory and occasionally contrite in responding to questions about how his version of events differs from that of the interpreter, Cathy Lee, whom he hired to interview Foxconn workers in Shenzhen. (It does not reflect well on Mr. Daisey that he initially told the producers that the translator’s name was Anna, and that he had no way of contacting her; a Google search readily turned up Ms. Lee.) When pressed about his trustworthiness, he told Mr. Glass in the most recent program, “You can trust my word in the context of the theater.”

The problem is Mr. Daisey’s particular brand of theater is experienced by the audience as direct and honest testimony to events that he witnessed...This is also known as reporting, which is journalism. The weight, authority, emotional power and—like it or not, theatricality—of “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” derive precisely from the assumption that Mr. Daisey is telling the truth about the events he describes.

I certainly believed that the stories Mr. Daisey told—of seeing guards with guns at the Foxconn factory, of interviewing a 13-year-old girl who worked at the factory, of talking to an elderly former Foxconn worker whose hand had been destroyed—were true. According to Ms. Lee and the producers of “This American Life,” they were not.
Like thousands of others, Isherwood believed that Daisey’s statements were true. The show's power stemmed from that false belief.

As it turned out, they weren’t true.

Daisey was peddling false belief. So too with the New York Times’ Gail Collins, who has fallen in love with a dog who took a ride on the roof of a candidate’s car. Collins is lazier than Daisey—that’s true. But she too is dishonest.

When Isherwood saw Daisey’s show, he assumed Daisey was telling the truth. So too with Collins’ enormously credulous readers.

On March 8, Collins devoted her entire New York Times column to the tale of the dog on the roof of the car. She received 691 comments. Virtually no one showed any sign of wondering if Collins was actually telling the truth about the dog on the roof of the car.

Incredibly, no one asked why Collins had repeated a “rumor” as she told her stupid old tale. 691 comments!

Not one person asked.

Was Collins actually telling the truth? Almost no one seemed to wonder! But then, people like Collins have been fleecing us rubes since the day time began.

People like Collins are legion. Professor Harold Hill sold us trombones. Barnum said we get born every minute. Rush Limbaugh has been shoveling shit to us rubes every day for the past twenty-five years.

Limbaugh’s listeners are massively gullible. Collins' readers as well.

Might we make an obvious comment? Collins doesn’t have the slightest idea what happened to Romney’s dog that day. She doesn’t know if he enjoyed his rides on the roof of the car. She doesn’t know why he got sick.

She doesn’t know if Romney made his wife and kids stay in the car while he handled the mess. She doesn’t know if he lovingly toweled Seamus before he went back up to his perch. She doesn’t know if Seamus ran away after arriving in Canada, the “rumor” she put into play.

She doesn’t have the slightest idea what the fuck she’s talking about. And no, she actually isn’t puzzled by Romney’s “airtight” remark.

What she does have is a pleasing tale—and an exceptionally lazy work ethic, mixed with a disregard for the truth and an open contempt for her readers. Let’s return to 2007, when this lazy pseudo-journalist debuted her current obsession.

It started on August 4 of that year. Collins, languishing on the veranda, fingered herself as he made her announcement:
COLLINS (8/4/07): Haunted by Seamus

Most high-profile politicians acquire weird little bits of biography that you just cannot shake out of your mind. A reporter once told me that he sat next to a member of Congress on a trip, while said lawmaker kept eating mayonnaise out of those little packets they give you at fast-food restaurants. Even if this guy someday single-handedly resurrects the Equal Rights Amendment and shepherds it through 37 State Legislatures, when I look at him, a corner of my brain will always think condiments.

Then there is Mitt Romney, a candidate most of us don't really know well yet. (A disconcerting number of well-informed people seem to believe his name is ''Mort.'') Yet he could become the Republican presidential nominee. It behooves us to pay attention, to mull his Iran plan and deconstruct his position on health care.

But every time I see him, all I can think about is Seamus the dog.

Seamus, in case you missed the story, was the Romneys' Irish setter back in the early 1980s. Mitt used to drive the family from Boston to Ontario every summer for a vacation, with the dog strapped to the roof in a crate.
On this one occasion, Collins was honest enough to mention that “crate.” (By inference, she suggested that Seamus often took this ride without getting sick.) Soon, she dropped even this small concession to truth from her recitation. In January, Neil Swidey seemed to say that Collins’ crate-free construction has led some of her readers to think that Seamus was “strapped to the roof of the car” all by himself. No kennel with windshield at all!

We can’t say for sure if that is true, but this was the start of Collins’ obsession. Please note the way it began:

As responsible citizens, we should be examining Romney’s thoughts about Iran and his ideas about health care, Collins said that day. But people! Collins didn’t want to be bothered with that.

Instead, Collins said that she was “haunted” by Romney’s dog. She said she just couldn’t shake the tale out of her mind.

Result? Collins indulged herself that day; she has kept it up for five years. As she continued her column that day, thoughts of real issues fled her extremely small upper-class mind. Instead, she indulged herself with all manner of dumb stupid shit. Here’s how this small-town buffoon ended that first column:
COLLINS (8/4/07): Most of the candidates from both parties have pets. In fact, so many of them have golden retrievers or labradors you can't help but wonder if they rent them…

McCain also has a ferret, which could provide ample opportunity for lively discussion with Rudy Giuliani, a well-known ferret-hater. Few of us who lived in New York City during his ferret-banning crusade can forget the day a ferret owner confronted the mayor on a radio-call-in show. Giuliani, in tones of Dr. Phil on steroids, urged him to seek psychiatric care. (''This excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness.'')

Animal-lovers around the nation may also be interested to know that Giuliani's second wife once asked for $1,140 a month in dog support for Goalie, the family retriever. Or that the third Mrs. Giuliani is a former saleswoman for surgical staplers—a profession that involves demonstrations of how well the product works during unnecessary surgery on dogs.

The Giuliani campaign has dodged the question of whether Judith Nathan Giuliani ever was involved in this kind of activity, which usually ends badly for the dog in question. This week a spokesman said he didn't know, adding: ''In the 1970s that was an acceptable medical technique,'' which I think we can probably take for a yes.

Once we settle all these issues we can get back to health care. Although every time Mitt Romney walks on stage, a sodden Irish setter is going to flash before my eyes.
Lounging comfortably on her divan, Collins indulged herself in all manner of dumb stupid shit. And as she ended her debut, she made a promise she never kept. “Once we settle all these issues we can get back to health care,” she said.

Collins never did that.

Five years later, she is still wasting everyone’s time on fact-challenged tales about Romney’s dog while avoiding the sorts of topics which actually matter.

What is Romney actually like? How does Romney treat actual people? Collins keeps pretending to study these questions through her use of the gentleman’s dog. But as we showed you Saturday, what follows is the only time Lady Collins has ever forced herself to discuss Romney’s conduct at Bain, a topic she must have found boring:
COLLINS (11/19/11): Romney is the richest person running for president, worth somewhere between $190 million and $250 million. Most of that came from his work at Bain Capital, a firm that bought up troubled companies and gave them makeovers. Although many people lost their jobs when Bain Capital reeled in their employers, Romney's work did create a lot of new value. Which, on occasion, Bain Capital walked away with, leaving the remnants of the company flopping helplessly on the beach.

In 2010, Mitt earned somewhere between $9.6 million and $43.2 million, according to The National Journal's calculation of his financial reports. I believe I speak for us all when I say that there seems to be a lot of room in the middle of that estimate, but you get the idea. Much of that came from investments, but Romney also gets quite a bit of cash for making speeches. He once made $68,000 for one appearance before the International Franchise Association in Las Vegas.

People, if you were raking in more than $9.6 million a year, would you waste your time talking to the International Franchise Association? Perhaps you would if international franchises were especially close to your heart. But, in that case, why charge them $68,000? There are a lot of mysteries in the Mitt saga. For instance, if you were a very wealthy father of five energetic young boys, would you choose to spend your vacation driving the whole family to Canada with the dog strapped to the roof of the car? Wouldn't it be more fun to take a plane to Disneyland?
Did you know that Romney looted pension plans at Bain, then accepted federal bailouts? Collins’ readers don’t know that either! You see, Collins is too bored and depressed to discuss such dry-as-dust matters. And we’re sorry, but no: She never did get back to Iran. Or to health care.

Like the bulk of her upper-class guild, Collins doesn’t seem to care very much about boring, dry-as-dust topics like that. She’s enormously self-indulgent—and she isn’t especially honest.

People! Post-journalists just want to have fun! In Collins’ case, she wants to kill time repeating her tale about Mitt Romney’s dead dog. Like Daisey, she will invent or embellish facts to make her silly tale work.

Why does Collins behave this way? If we might quote the fictional Michael Corleone: Just this once, we’ll let you ask us to play the shrink.

Why does Collins behave this way? Let’s note a recurrent theme from her highly embellished column about Romney’s dog. This was the first Q-and-A to which she subjected herself:
COLLINS (3/8/12): Haven't you brought this episode up like about 10 million times already?

I've made a kind of game of trying to mention Seamus every time I write about Mitt Romney. This is because the Republican primary campaign has been an extremely long and depressing slog, and we need all the diversion we can get.
As the rulers often do, Collins has made this into a kind of game! And then, you see the great ur-theme of her work:

Everything else is extremely depressing. Collins endlessly says, directly and otherwise, that she is depressed by her work.

Depression is a vicious disease, even when it creeps in on such little feet that we can pretend to joke it away. But Collins constantly discusses the need to engage in stupid diversions because the real world is so depressing. Here’s what she told NPR’s David Folkenflik back in December:
FOLKENFLIK (12/20/11): She has already cited the dog in just shy of three dozen columns. Why would she do that? Collins says such moments can reveal character—in this case, Romney's rigid emphasis on efficiency.

"When I started writing columns, I thought that my goal would be to get people more interested in politics and to try and do it in a way that did not cause them to want to throw themselves out the nearest window," Collins told me during an interview at her office in midtown Manhattan. "And Seamus works very well on that front.”
Folkenflik wanted to know why Collins won’t stop pimping that dog. The New York Observer was wondering too. Here’s what Collins told them:
STOEFFEL (12/16/11): To Ms. Collins’ mind, the running gag brings levity to the election grind, which, given the state of things, can get a little grim.

“If you bring in animals it does cheer people up,” she noted.
If you bring in animals it cheers people up? Collins sounds like someone who works in a nursing home. (Don't worry. She doesn't.)

Throughout her career, Collins has discussed her great journalistic theory. She has to keep introducing “gags” and distractions to cheer her readers up. If she treated her readers like adults, they might throw themselves off the roof!

To our ear, someone possibly protests too much. To our ear, Collins seems to be self-medicating through her use of distractions and lies.

There was a time when people like Collins weren’t allowed to do this. In an earlier day, people like Collins weren’t allowed to get on the air or into the national print. This wasn’t a “democratic” practice. But it did serve the national interest.

Like Professor Hill and Barnum, Cronkite and Brinkley knew a key fact—we the people will swallow any damn thing. We the people are highly gullible.

And we aren’t very smart.

Walter and David didn’t allow the Harold Hills to get on the air. But then, one day, the ownership class had a better idea! They let Imus and Howard Stern have their own shows. Before long, they were broadcasting Limbaugh.

This was very good for commerce, but it was very bad for the discourse. In this new system, we the people get deceived all day long!

First we got Imus, then we got Rush. Collins, lounging on her veranda, has emerged from that very low class.

Full disclosure: Our grandfather worked with P. T. Barnum. Go ahead: Just click here.


  1. Great work, Bob!

    Imagine the scorn and downright hatred that would be visited on the Lady if for five years she had been pimping the story from July 2003 when Romney heroically helped strangers trapped on a sinking boat in Lake Winnipesaukee? If she kept embellishing the tale to make Mitt seem like a strong, decisive, good-hearted leader, ready to take action to help people in need? Then a whole bunch of people would think she was just like Rush, indeed.
    They would be parsing her lies with electron microscopes.

  2. She is helping Santorum. Is it tribal? Is it because she hates Romney so much she cannot stop herself. She is helping Santorum. It's good this site is trying to aid Romney a little. Collins has got so many people to believe her changing versions of this story. The animal rights people are now going after Mitt because of Collins.

  3. Comics need a schtick, like "Hello, dere!", or "I get no respect, I tell ya!", or "Is there any group I haven't offended?"

    There is no danger the right will be influenced by Gail Collins, and I would be surprised if liberals (or anyone for that matter) turn to her for facts of any kind.

    It's too bad the NYT keeps publishing her work, but that hurts them more than it hurts us.

    Nice article about Rufus Somerby.

  4. On the great Gail Collins issue The Daily Howler continues to pull the plug and curse the darkness.

    The issue of this one man shoe is fairly interesting. While I would have long ago dismissed the unfunny and idiotic writing of Gail Collins with no help from The Daily Howler, who knows, I might have been taken in by this fellows theater piece. Were the people who believed in it fools? Does the show reflect an actual truth bigger and more important than it's fabrications. Has this actor only given the world reason to dismiss legitimate issues concerning Apple and the abuse of workers?

    Sorry, at the Daily Howler all things lead back to Gail Collins. As the poster above reminds us, Rick Santorum has now latched on to dog story. Last time I checked, Rick was not exactly a member of our tribe.

  5. Once more, Bob, you've misidentified the distributor of 'This American Life' (not 'An American Life').

    It is not NPR, but PRI (Public Radio International) - a completely separate network. Additionally, T.A.L. is produced by Chicago Public Radio.

    As this was already pointed out twice on Saturday, I'm coming to believe you, like Maddow, are reluctant to correct your own mistakes. Or perhaps, wisely, you just ignore your own comments section.

  6. One shouldn't assume no commenters in the NYT protests Collins's gaffes. The Times refuses to publish comments critical of their columnists.

  7. You won't see this anywhere else. Thank you, Bob