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The Agony and the Calumny of Mike Daisey


This past week, for the first time ever, This American Life issued a retraction. In Episode 454:Mr. Daiseyand the Apple Factory, the public radio show broadcast an adapted version of Mike Daisey’s one man stage performanceThe Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. The show details Daisey’s travels to China, specifically to the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen where much of our Apple products are made.

Click here to link to the original podcast.  It is, to date, the most popular episode ever of This American Life. Mike Daisey became famous. He was doing more shows, going on the news, Ira Glass was introducing him at special performances.

                    Mike Daisey on MSNBC

Which is why last week when Ira and company issued their official retraction, that much of what had been broadcast as true, was actually false, a shock wave rippled out. “This American Life” and “Mike Daisey” and “Ira Glass” were all trending nationally on Twitter. People were pissed off or amazed or smugly admitting they’d thought all along he was full of it.

This past week’s show was entirely dedicated to the retraction: how they discovered the falsehoods, what Daisey was thinking, and what they know believe to be true. It’s tough to listen to. It’s apparent that the ever calm, dulcet voiced host, Ira Glass, is upset.

And I was upset too. It’s a strange feeling, that of feeling betrayed by someone you don’t know but to whom you have an emotional connection. It’s why Oprah went off the rails talking James Frey, I think (which is mentioned in an unexpected way in Retraction). A person makes you feel and emote and opens your eyes to some new part of human existence…and it’s all bullsh*t? Well yeah, that’s bullsh*t.

                   Mike Daisey at Foxconn Apple

Some are getting pretty ugly with their commentary on Daisey, and unfortunately TAL is getting some heat too for not committing him to the proper standards of journalistic integrity. But here’s my issue: what am I supposed to get out of either of these stories now?

The most emotionally harrowing parts of Daisey’s story are lies; he’s not owning up to it. Stand still. Daisey is standing by his work which is making him tailspin faster into incredibility. And now the story that could have been a mark for change is in tatters.

I guess what I want is for the crew to do a show on lies. The psychology of liars and what happens when we find out we’ve been lied to.  What it means to own up to something, and if honesty really is the best policy. That’s what I’m grappling with more than workers’ rights in China. And I don’t think that makes me cruel or apathetic; by Rob Schmitz’s account they seem to be alright. But I’m grappling with this man who lied and continues to lie to me and you and Ira and Rob and especially himself.

Boo hiss, Mike Daisey, and shame on you.

PS - If you’ve never listened to, or even heard of, This American Life these are two great episodes to start with. I recommend them highly. But if you, like me, would prefer to hear stories of a lighter fare, give this favorite episode a try.

Filed under This American Life Mike Daisey Apple Steve Jobs Ira Glass Rob Schmitz Foxconn

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