Friday, March 16, 2012

Uh, just before Ira Glass throws Mike Daisey under the bus - please note that Mike Daisey "lied" about things that are true

I'd like to point out this note from Rob Schmitz, one of Daisey's interrogators:

What makes this [This American Life's actions] a little complicated is that the things Daisey lied about seeing are things that have actually happened in China: Workers making Apple products have been poisoned by Hexane. Apple’s own audits show (PDF) the company has caught underage workers at a handful of its suppliers. These things are rare, but together, they form an easy-to-understand narrative about Apple.

Hmmmm. So Daisey "lied" about things that are actually true.  I wouldn't say it's time to buy your next iPhone yet.


  1. As an historian, I can't sympathize. We're a tribe given to the old-fashioned value of accuracy. Objectivity may be impossible, but you should damn sure strive to get your facts straight. And at the very least not lie.

    The abuses he describes are true, but he owes it to the workers at the plant he chose to visit to describe their reality accurately. His obligation is to them, and to no one else.

    Why couldn't he have brought the other material - hexane, illegal unions, cameras in dormitories - in another way?

    What bugs me the most is that story about the man with the mangled hand. Daisey utterly ignored his actual experience - he appropriated him and made him into an element of his narrative.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Perhaps, but as a historian you must also appreciate that social change has rarely been brought about by people who told the truth. Indeed, Daisey is in a long line of "benign" fabulists who effected positive change via embellishment or personalization of general truths. I mean, is he so different from, say, Woody Guthrie, who fictionalized his own life (as biographers have since shown) to match the lives of the people he was trying to help? I'm not so sure - even though, yes, it's obvious that self-aggrandizement was a part of what powered Daisey's fibs, and his prevarications are hard to reconcile with the towering sense of moral outrage he likes to summon towards others in his show.

    And I have to turn your question around, and point out that if his obligation was to the workers in China - well, he did come through for them, more than anyone else ever has; largely as a result of his show, Apple has begun open up its factories to outside observers. It's interesting that journalistic reports of suicides in Apple's factories couldn't do that, but Mike Daisey could. So where does that leave your argument? His lies probably saved lives, or at least made them more bearable. I'm not sure I can condemn him for that.

    I'm also intrigued by the whole question of "authenticity," and how this episode reveals it can be manipulated - and how it looms with outsized import in the cultural environment. For I don't believe that if he had worked his stories of Apple's various atrocities into a third-person format that his performance would have had HALF its impact. Why that is so I think is a pressing cultural question.

  4. Hi Thomas,

    I do appreciate your writing in this topic.

    Bad esn