I came, I saw, I lied


I felt a slight sense of bitterness and resentment after reading the transcript of the “Retraction podcast”. It was tempting to label Mike Daisey as a good-for-nothing scoundrel. I feel that although he is certainly guilty of deceiving the public, he might have been attempting to do good, for both U.S. consumers and Chinese workers.

Cathy, the translator, and other organizations that watch over workers’ rights in China have revealed a number of discrepancies in Daisey’s story. These reveals change both the gravity and the scale of the Chinese worker’s situation. Long shifts, spartan conditions and cost cutting that undermines safety certainly exists. It is more unpleasant as a laborer in China than it is to work a similar job in the United States, where higher labor standards are employed.

Yet, many of the tools that Mike Daisey employed in his work directly try to paint a picture where Chinese workers are not just assigned to long, uncomfortable shifts. They describe a dystopia where people are treated as criminals guarded by armed security. A dystopia where as long as there is a 0.025% increase in drying speed, a neurotoxin will be used instead of alcohol to speed up production, and the government and corporation responsible will turn a blind eye.

Again, the situation is certainly not fully positive for the Chinese workers, even with some of Daisey’s affirmations debunked. But working 60 hours a week (not unlike an intern on Wall Street for example) can be attributed to overzealous managers who verge on the edge of ethical behavior. It cannot be attributed to a conspiracy of government and corporations that will do absolutely anything to minimize costs.

Still, I believe Mike Daisey had the noble intention  of trying to motivate societal change to improve worker conditions. And art, what Daisey was claiming his monologue is, can inspire and move us. Exaggeration, as long as it creates an interesting tale, is perfectly acceptable in art. Art however, is different than journalism. A work of art should not be treated as journalism though, and I support Ira Glass’ reaction. Mike Daisey has at least lied through omission by not being frank about his exaggerations. And marketing art as fact is very dangerous when the feelings provoked can trigger knee-jerk reactions.

Treating the situation of the Chinese workers holistically, rationally and bringing gradual improvements to align labor standards internationally will allow U.S. consumers to have “guilt-free products” and Chinese workers to improve their lives.


3 thoughts on “I came, I saw, I lied”

  1. I agree with your belief that Mike Daisey had noble intentions. After being moved by his monologue, my gut feeling tells me that he felt the words that he was saying, even though they were half true. I’d like to point out that 60 hours of factory work may not be equivalent to 60 hours of Wall Street interning. The one may be more physically taxing, while Wall Street can be mentally taxing to say the least. It is definitely not an Apples to Apples to comparison, but I don’t think we can justify 60 hour work weeks as a cultural thing. However, being that there are so many social-justice issues in the mainstream media, I think Mike Daisey did us all a huge disservice by placing this one in particular at the forefront, possibly for his own personal gain.


  2. First off, I thought you chose a great title. I agree with you in saying, “as tempting as it was to label Mike Daisey as a good-for-nothing scoundrel, I feel that although he is certainly guilty of deceiving the public, he might have been attempting to do good, for both U.S. consumers and Chinese workers.” But I think Daisey failed to consider the implications of his dramatic flare on the other players involved (i.e., Apple, Foxconn, and TAL). While I think he was wrong in embellishing his stories, I do understand that his background in theater may have played a role in his, hopefully, negligent decision to label his monologue as journalism rather than theatric art. Yet, I think if he truly did know the severity of what he was doing in misleading his audience in order to pursue his own means, he acted unethically.


  3. Great read and I agree strongly with your point of Daisey attempting to achieve, “societal change.” Although Daisey does make false claims and significant exaggerations, he does attain the attention of many in effort to improve an aspect of society.The most important thing for me would be, when does the exaggeration become too much? How much must one lie to help improve a certain situation. Although Daisey did bring significant attention to this issue, he also ruined his image as a reliable source. Now, most likely, certain organizations would not count on Daisey to write up a story or article simply because his lie was too much. Resulting, in a somewhat ruined career.


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