Mike Daisey misses the reason for his own discrediting

I can’t let this go.

Mike Daisey, whose one-man show “The Agony And Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was recently exposed as containing blatant lies about Daisey’s experiences at a Foxconn plant in China, still refuses to see why he’s been discredited. Here’s an excerpt from a blog post he published on Monday, the 19th.

“Many consider this week’s THIS AMERICAN LIFE episode one of the most painful they’ve ever listened to. In particular the segment with me is excruciating—four hours of grilling edited down to fifteen minutes. I thought the dead air was a nice touch, and finishing the episode with audio pulled out of context from my performance was masterful.”

Note the snarky tone. You’d think a guy who had suffered a national, career-threatening humiliation would be more humble. First, he’s sure to reveal that he endured “four hours of grilling.” He mentions that it was “…edited down to fifteen minutes,” which sets up the paragraph’s conclusion:

“I thought the dead air was a nice touch, and finishing the episode with audio pulled out of context from my performance was masterful.”

Nearly every scoundrel I’ve ever encountered shouts “out of context” when cornered. It’s a good move, as it requires more work that it’s worth to debunk. You must find the original source and read well around the statement to get the context. Most people aren’t willing to do that, so they back down when “out of context” rears its head. Daisey knows this.

“Given the tenor of the condemnation, you would think I had concocted an elaborate, fanciful universe filled with furnaces in which babies are burned to make iPhone components, or that I never went to China, never stood outside the gates of Foxconn, never pretended to be a businessman to get inside of factories, never spoke to any workers.”

Here’s the first indication that Mike doesn’t understand what the hubbub is about. The statement begins with a gross exaggeration, meant to make his actual statements seem pedestrian. But the second part is even more telling:

“…I never went to China, never stood outside the gates of Foxconn, never pretended to be a businessman to get inside of factories, never spoke to any workers.”

No one is saying that. The majority of people following this story believe Mike went to China, stood outside the gates at Foxconn, pretended to be a businessman and spoke to workers. That much has been confirmed by the interpreter who accompanied Mike. He continues:

“Especially galling is how many are gleefully eager to dance on my grave expressly so they can return to ignoring everything about the circumstances under which their devices are made. Given the tone, you would think I had fabulated an elaborate hoax, filled with astonishing horrors that no one had ever seen before.”

Again, this illustrates that he’s divorced from reality. Mike’s detractors don’t deny that some terrible and even appalling things happen in Chinese factories.

The bit to focus on here is “…that no one had ever seen before.” That’s exactly where the disconnect is. It’s not a question of what “no one” or anyone has seen. It’s a question about what Mike says he saw first hand. Forget “no one” or anyone. They aren’t the issue here. Mike knows it, and he’s trying to be slippery.

Note the language, too. Galling. Gleefully. Hoax. Horrors.

Mike:

“There is nothing in this controversy that contests the facts in my work about the nature of Chinese manufacturing. Nothing. I think we all know if there was, Ira would have brought it up.

You certainly don’t need to listen to me. Read the New York Times reporting. Listen to the NPR piece that ran just last week in which workers at an iPad plant go on record saying the plant was inspected by Apple just hours before it exploded, and that the inspection lasted all of ten minutes.

If you think this story is bigger than that story, something is wrong with your priorities.”

The “bigger” story here, the real tragedy, is that “by lying, Daisey undermined the cause he purported to advance,” to quote Max Fisher.

Mike’s argument (as I understand it) boils down to, Americans must be aware of the often terrible conditions frequently endured by those who make some of the devices they use. That’s a noble cause to champion, and I agree. Those factories and exhausted workers seem  a world away to many Americans, but they’re not.

This whole thing could have been avoided if Mike’s show began with a simple disclaimer like “This monolog is based on stories I gathered as well as first-hand encounters I experienced while in China.”

I understand that some Chinese factory workers endure terribly unpleasant circumstances. I also understand that saying, “I did [X]” when I never did is called lying, and that can demolish a person’s credibility, no matter how noble or deserving their cause.

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