I empathize with Ira Glass’ in his anger toward Mike Daisey. The Mike Daisey mishap is an embarrassment to This American Life. Ira Glass and producer Brian Reed both vouched for the validity of a story that turned out to be false. T.A.L. was arguably justified in retracting the radio show for its journalistic errors. The issue, however, is that Mike Daisey is not necessarily a journalist. Mike Daisey is an actor, or a type of activist. He stated, “My mistake, the mistake that I truly regret is that I had it on your show as journalism and it’s not journalism. It’s theater. I use the tools of theater and memoir to achieve its dramatic arc and of that arc and of that work I am very proud because I think it made you care, Ira, and I think it made you want to delve.” Though he does so retroactively, this quote has great importance. It is less important to me as to whether Mike Daisey thinks his work is journalism or art. What is important to me is the goal of the ‘act’ in Daiseys mind. Daisey goes on to talk about how his fabrications were woven into his narrative of his trip to China because people had lost interest in the Foxconn scandal. This is taking his apology to be truth, which I am hesitant to do. “[…]And he says that made a strong impression on him, seeing the coverage vanish like that, seeing people suddenly not interested in the workers there anymore[…]And he wanted to make a monologue that would make people care. That was his goal.”
Looking at Daisey’s work under this context, I understand his urge to bend the truth. Yet Daisey sought to do one thing- to make us care. To turn our attention for an extended period of time to Foxconn, and to the Chinese mobile phone manufacturing industry. And while having our attention, add shock value so our attention will stay on the atrocities that we hear of. I thought about this, and looked back on posts from the previous week. Interestingly enough, some of the most passionate and prominent subjects in writing were on the ‘atrocities’ which had been mere fabrications. Although the fabrications were what grabbed us, everyone seemingly did further research of their own into Foxconn and Apple. We had an intense in-class discussion about the original podcast. I would argue that after listening to the redacted TAL podcast, people cared. And that was the true goal of Daiseys work, beit journalism or theater.
What is unfortunate is that Daisey made the unethical decision to not admit that his work was not true. By lying about his visit to China to gain more recognition, he diminished his overall goal. The discussion now is not on the ethics of Apple, but the ethics of Daisey himself. Playing devil’s advocate for Daisey, I do feel bad for him in this sense. He brought the destruction of all of the ‘work he was most proud of’ upon himself. I felt strange listening to this retraction podcast. I thought mostly about how quickly I accepted Daisey’s work to be fact. How quickly I, and other students turned the podcast into feelings of remorse for my strong support Apple. I feel foolish for writing a strong piece based on a subject that turned out to be not entirely true. Looking back on those feelings after hearing the full retraction podcast, I think mostly of Mikey Daisey’s original goal for his ‘show’. To make people care. While I cannot say I fully agree with the ethics of Daisey, I can confidently say that for a time I cared. I cared about learning more about Foxconn, I looked at the iPhone 6 and iWatch presentations differently, I cared about diving deeper into the ethics of Apple. What is important is that I did so at a time when all of it would be otherwise irrelevant. What I hope the lasting impact of Daisey’s work is, and I think Daisey as well, is that while we have been presented with a colluded story, we are motivated to seek out our own truth.
*I wrote in defense of Mike Daisey not to defend his bending the truth, but to look at his piece in the context of its original goal.