March 21, 2012

Did Jeff Bezos teach Mike Daisey how to lie?


An interesting side note to the ongoing controversy over Mike Daisey’s monologue about Apple, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”: In what Jack Shafer calls a fresh “fabulist excuse,” Daisey once credited Amazon founder Jeff Bezos with teaching him how to deceive reporters.

It’s a skill Daisey has used a lot over the past year: when lying to a This American Life producer about his sources and, before that, while talking a Gawker reporter out of covering obvious inconsistencies in his monologue.

In 2005, while doing a presentation about his monologue/book 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ (about his time working at Amazon), Daisey told a live audience that it was Bezos that really excelled at getting out of a tough spot in media interviews:

I think Amazon made me the person I am today. Aside from making me very wary of corporate situations, I try to apply the marketing savvy I learned from Jeff Bezos. [laughs] I really pattern the marketing of this show and other shows after the way I saw Amazon talk about itself.

For instance, when people from the media started talking about the show and the book, they’d say, “Oh — he’s a disgruntled worker!” And I’d take a page from Jeff. In every interview about Amazon, someone would ask him a binary question: “Is Amazon x?” And he’d never say “yes” or “no” — he’d always take a middle path that opens up five more questions. So someone would say, “Why are you so angry at Amazon?,” and I’d say, “Oh, I’m not angry at Amazon. In fact, it’s more of a love story.” And it opens up conversations with the media: They’ll say, “Well, now I can’t write it in 20 words — I guess I’ll have to write a longer piece that’s more complex, or I guess I’ll actually have to be interested.”

The above quote and emphasis comes via Jack Shafer.

Kelly Burdick is the executive editor of Melville House.