Journalists pushing Daisey

Mike Daisey lied to “This American Life” about working conditions in Apple factories.

Candice Wheeler

 

When part of Mike Daisey’s one-man show about working conditions in Apple factories in China, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” aired on “This American Life” earlier this March, audiences started to pay attention to where their gadgets were coming from.

Now that the monologue has been shown to be partly untrue, audiences should be starting to pay attention to where their news is coming from — and who has the facts to back it up..

“This American Life,” which has an audience pool of 1.7 million people, ran an episode called “Retraction” that informed its audience of Daisey’s falsehood and apologized, saying that they should have “killed the story.”

When “TAL” asked for Daisey’s main source’s information in China, he said her name was Anna instead of Cathy Lee. This was his first lie. Her name was in fact Cathy, and she verified the accusations Daisey made were untrue. When asked for the source’s phone number, he said the number didn’t work, and he had no way of contacting her. Once “TAL” reached Lee, she agreed that Daisey was at fault, and his dishonesty gives Americans the wrong impression of China.

“As a Chinese [person], I think it’s better if he can tell American people the truth,” Lee said. “I hope people know the real China. But he’s a writer, and he exaggerates some things so I think it’s not so good.”

The play gives examples of the dangerous conditions Apple manufacturers face in China. These issues are important and do need to be recognized, so  there are good intentions behind Daisey’s story.

Unfortunately, good intent alone isn’t enough when one is influencing public opinion. There is a definite ethical dilemma here. Daisey’s monologue contains  no actual dialogue from the workers themselves — none that can be well-verified. The play is helping form the opinions of people all over the world, as it has been preformed in five continents.

This story is shaping public opinion about Foxconn, Apple, news sources and China. Daisey seems to want to send his hate message to Foxconn — putting them on blast by falsely claiming that the company failed to provide medical attention to a worker after a metal press destroyed his hand. He continued by saying how Foxconn fired him for working too slowly. According to Lee, none of this was true.

The play continues to be preformed around the world, including in Minneapolis this spring. The monologue was originally well received and had 42,000 downloads in the first 48 hours. Daisey stresses that these performances have a theatrical storytelling style, and audiences should not take it too literally — hypocritical when the playbill clearly reads “a story of nonfiction.”

The main issue isn’t Daisey’s colorful story. It’s that he lied to highly trusted news publications and put their credibility at stake. After the “Retraction” broadcast and his interview with Daisey, “TAL” host Ira Glass has retreated to a “no-comment stance.” Glass told Daisey, “I have such a weird mix of feelings about this. Because I simultaneously feel terrible for you, and also, I feel lied to,” Glass said of trusting Daisey. “I stuck my neck out for you. I feel like I vouched for you with our audience based on your word.”

Making well-supported arguments is fundamental — without proof, our accusations are opinions. Journalism does not revolve around judgment; it’s a discipline of verification through factual evidence.

Daisey was let off easy because he’s not technically a journalist. However, Daisey’s track record includes contributions to The New York Times, Vanity Fair, NPR and the BBC — all highly credible news sources. Who’s to say he hasn’t lied before? Even if there’s truth behind his recent work, the fact that it’s based on fantasized fiction kills it for me.