When reading a news article or listening to a news podcast, how do you decide what to believe? Do you take everything at face value? Do you fact-check? The answer differs for each individual. It also differs based on who is reporting the news. But what happens when something written for artistic purposes is reported as news? The answer: the “Retraction” on This American Life of Mike Daisey’s story on Foxconn.
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.”
While listening to the podcast, I couldn’t help but sympathize with Ira Glass. If I were in his situation I would felt like I were lied to. He is trying to share what he considers is a news story with his audience, a story that was his most downloaded of all time, and it turns out major parts were fabricated. I think
I can personally say that I felt somewhat embarrassed as Ira Glass began to break down Mike Daisey’s arguement or monologue that we listened to last week. Last Sunday, I typed out a blog post on this same Apple laptop that I’m using now about how I was startled by the “truths” Daisey appeared to expose about Apple and Foxconn. I wondered aloud what types of hardships the people who produced my keyboard faced while making it. Additionally, I believed Daisey to be sincere, passionate, and trustworthy. I thought he was the real deal, and he was doing a fantastic job of raising awareness to what really happens at Foxconn. Seeing as Daisey’s monologue was the most downloaded podcast in the history of This American Life, I’m sure I’m not alone in this situation.
All the air has come out of the sails at this point. Every minute, Daisey’s assertions such as 12 year old workers, underground union meetings at Starbucks, injured hands, and guards with guns were broken down and proven to be false. The more I think about it, Daisey’s details were questionable even the first time I heard them. However, he told a great story, and the passion in his voice made me want to believe what he was saying. I wanted to believe he was truly trying to make a difference, and not simply advance his personal career. “Everything in this monologue is built out of my trip.” This is the line Daisey answers with when asked if he simply lied to his listeners. Clearly afraid of the negative connotation surrounding the word “lie”, Daisey pauses for a long time before dodging the question with this answer. Last week, he seemed to burst with confidence and could do no wrong. Now, he sounds defeated. He seems more concerned about saving his reputation then conveying to the listeners what the truth actually is.
This is what the problem with this situation really is. I don’t doubt that Foxconn has many issues, and Apple needs to take action in some areas. I believe that the Foxconn employees do face poor conditions and a lack of worker’s rights. The problem with what Daisey did is that he takes all the good out of his argument, and forces people only to focus on the lies that he told. The Mike Daisey Foxconn story is now about Mike Daisey, and not Foxconn. He did a good job raising awareness and getting the word out there about Apple and Foxconn. However, all of that is gone now because Daisey chose to exaggerate the story and advance his career instead of focusing on honest reporting and getting the facts right. He lost all credibility. I take away from this experience a lesson about how one always needs to take news or stories they come across with a grain of salt. Mike Daisey did a lot of good things, but his failure to act ethically and with integrity tore down what once was an extremely powerful story.
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. Continue reading Joke’s on Who?
The line between journalism and theater is clearly drawn from the podcast. We pay attention to the different morals and ethics at play here; all of which seem to cast a negative light on drama itself. We should not look to Daisy’s mistaken classification but rather to the character flaws he exhibits. Continue reading Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
Storytelling is a skill that requires the storyteller to be able to paint a vivid picture and give people a take away message from the story. I would even consider storytelling to be a kind of art because of how creative and personal it is. When people share their experiences or views they are delivered in their own personal way-some ways more effective than others. When I am with friends or family and they are telling a story I often take note of who is telling the story and what their tendencies are such as embellishment or leaving out major details. When listening to Daisey’s podcast last week I was upset by all that he unveiled about Foxconn and found all of his stories and details to seem true and valid because of the clear descriptions he provided. When learning about Daisey’s lies during his broadcast and embellishment of the conditions at Foxconn I was taken aback that he would lie about such terrible things.
Many people rely and put trust in journalist to report the truth and act as a reliable source of world issues and current events. I think that Daisey’s embellishment of the details of Foxconn was not the worst thing. Through his exaggeration he was able to draw more attention to the conditions at Foxconn. Even though Daisey fabricated the material in his broadcast I think that behind his lies there is a deeper truth that is important to take notice of. When talking about the working conditions in China I think that it is important to set a dramatic theme so the monologue really has an affect on the listeners. This ties back to my point about taking note of who is telling the story or reporting back because it may have an impact on how seriously you take the information.
Daisey justifies his lies by saying he wanted to “capture the totality of the trip” by fabricating the “facts”. In my opinion Daisey should have been honest about fabricating details about his trip by letting listeners know before hand that some of the things said are not completely true. Daisey speaks about the importance of the truth and how stories should be subordinate to the truth. Based off of his comments about lying during his broadcast I now find it very difficult to put any trust in him and his stories. I spent some time thinking about this issue on a larger scale and was imagining if all journalist and news reporters fabricated “facts”. Our world would be built off of lies and real issues could be masked by lies preventing us from addressing worldly issues such as working conditions in big factories like Foxconn. Mike Daisey not only put his own credibility at stake, but also the show that he was broadcasting on.
“Mike Daisey’s Apple Explanation is…Awkward”
Bloomsberg Bussinessweek By: Mark Gimein
What I learned from Daisey’s lies and embellishments was how in today day and age people need to be lied to in order to “care” and understand worldly issues. I think this is an important take away because it shows how disconnected we all can be. Daisey’s dramatic approach in sharing his experience was affective and eye opening, but I still think that listeners should know beforehand if all of the details are based off real occurrences.
We all watch the news and believe everything they tell us. The media would never lie, right? Or are we just expected to take every single thing we hear with a grain of salt? In my opinion, many people are too busy to come up with their own interpretations and would rather just listen to what they hear on the news. But many times, stories are reported through different perspectives and given different twists based off the views of their network. Continue reading “Truth” is in the eyes of the beholder
While listening to “Retraction” I was, on one hand, becoming more and more frustrated by the fact that Mike Daisey was unable to flat out say that he fabricated and exaggerated many of his personal experiences in China, yet on the other hand, I realized that the purpose of his monologue is to bring awareness to people about a situation that realistically does need to be improved. Listening to Daisey’s follow up interviews with the This American Life crew was uncomfortable, as he regularly took long pauses after being asked a question, as if he was debating whether or not to tell the whole truth, or to continue attempting to cover his tracks. Ultimately, by the end of the podcast I found myself to be irritated by Mike Daisy’s responses, the way in which he chose to answer the questions presented to him, and his justification for doing what he did.
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.