Joke’s on Who?


So it turns out Mike Daisey exaggerated or just plain made stuff up about his trip to China in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Starting from giving bad contact information for his translator, Mike Daisey’s lies spiral out of control as he enjoyed the benefits of the press for his show to speak on the issues he portrays. Daisey is eventually brought back to face his lies through the wrath of Ira Glass, who reveals many of the issues we heard about in his monologue, and previous broadcast, to be completely false: no N-Hexane scandal (that Daisey directly saw), no overwhelming numbers of underage laborers, and the old man was completely made up to be “like a movie” according to his translator.

I can laugh and acknowledge lessoned learned: I won’t point the finger without checking out the facts ever again!  We didn’t check the facts, mostly, because it was so easy to believe this dramatized story.  It was captivating, because it was a story built to illicit an emotional response. These characters are simply reinforcing stereotypes and misconceptions about Chinese life and culture.  It was successful because Daisey said it that it all was real.  We so easily accepted the ‘hard truth’ about our lifestyle implications for chinese workers.  But turns out, maybe this is not so true.  Even Cathy the translator admits, it’s like “like a movie.”  We’re too quick to jump the gun and point the finger.  Next time, I might check a story out on Google before I start to ask questions about bad practice.

Apple actively seeks out underage workers.  They have a plan, they care, they’re aggressive about following through on it. Other key issues from Daisey’s podcast- like the 14 Chinese hour shifts and nets hanging from the buildings horrible working conditions- remain to be seen.  Duhigg concludes the podcast by reminding us that there are two sides to every story; we hold China to US working standards disregarding China’s economical, political and historical context.

That being said, I’ve never been to China; however it sounds like Cathy is portraying the standard of working conditions for Chinese factory laborers to be above what we would expect based on Daisey’s monologue.  This might be reflective of the liberties the Chinese media has to exaggerate the story for various financial and political reasons.  (Cite: Cathy has never seen a gun in real life.  Even I’ve seen a gun here in rural PA on police officers.) Cathy seems to imply that Mike is a storyteller, a writer rather than a journalist, who is allowed to make exaggerations, except when it begins to shape people’s opinions.  But even then, Cathy didn’t really seem to care one way or another that Mike had distorted the truth.

Know who cared though?  Ira Glass.  He really cared.  I was uncomfortable listening to him berate Daisey into admitting “I was wrong, I made shit up”.  Which he does eventually get Daisy to say.  I stopped listening at 45 minutes in for a while because I couldn’t take the verbal abuse of Mike Daisey any longer.  I just kinda felt bad for the guy.  Ira Glass gets to keep his reputation, which is good.  But it felt like a triumph when Daisey finally admitted he lied.  Like someone somewhere needed to stand up and celebrate, “HA! He did it!  He LIED to us!”  Glass won.  It would have been good to clear up the facts, yes, and maybe I’m just overly empathetic, but it felt overdone…sorry NPR.  But, in the end, I’m glad I can re-evaluate my relationship with Apple again with a more informed perspective!

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7 thoughts on “Joke’s on Who?”

  1. I think Daisey’s creative mind works “like a movie” and is on the verge of pathological. A lot of artists are. Would you expect anything less of Ira’s reaction? He habitually lied on public broadcasting, arguably the most integrous form of news and harmed the reliability of Ira and The American Life to NPR listeners. This is Ira’s job and Daisey didn’t respect that!

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  2. I agree with you about learning a lesson from this experience. I blindly believed Daisey as well, without even considering how realistic the “facts” he was giving us were. In hindsight, I should have realized that Daisey and Cathy walking up to the Foxconn gate near armed guards was a bit of a stretch. I also agree with you about Glass’ berating of Daisey. It seemed like a bit much to me, and was legitimately painful to listen to.

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  3. The idea of finger pointing before fact-checking is a very important lesson to take away. Looking back on the week 1 blogs, almost every tagline, title, or passionate sentence was about a portion of Daisey’s story that turned out to be false. What I think is unfortunate, is that this, and other possible lessons learned from this ordeal are clouded by criticism of Mike Daisey. This is in part Ira Glass’ fault. Daisey was so deeply humiliated and lambasted by Glass, to the point where I felt uncomfortable as you did as well. Until the final portion of the podcast, our attention was turned directly to Daisey, rather than the issue at hand. I appreciate TAL’s efforts to showcase the actual conditions at Foxconn at the end of the podcast, but I wish the time had been better allotted.

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  4. Great job LIz! I liked how you adding in the essential component of fact checking. It is essential for journalism and considering the amount of media attention certain pieces achieve. You raise an interesting point when you describe the uncomfortable feelings that you felt while Daisey was being roasted. Glass certainly wins; he creates awkwardness around Daisey’s long pauses and eventually makes him admit his wrong doing. However, I also have to point out that The American Life should have done more research in the beginning. They should take history into account, and look into the reporter’s backgrounds. Perhaps the purpose behind Daisey’s beating was to shift the attention off of NPR’s flaws and place the blame elsewhere.

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  5. Fun post to read! I completely agree on fact checking anything and everything we read now a days that may sound a little extravagant, so we know exactly what to believe and what not to. Although, yes, this was Ira’s job, Daisey makes is sound so convincing that everything he experienced was true. I believe that it was a bad idea for Daisey to return on the show because it was obviously going to be a roast of all of his lies. However, Ira and his show deserved an apology and the truth from Daisey. In the end, we do gain a better perspective and more awareness of the manufacturing processes in other countries, but most importantly we learn that some things aren’t as bad as they truly seem because they were simply lies by Daisey.

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