“Why Mike Daisey had to lie”

Josh Topolsky, writing for The Washington Post:

“Daisey’s lies inspired honest questions about the gadgets in our pockets. Did he betray the trust of the public and journalists by lying? The answer to this question is easy: Yes. But were the lies necessary?”

Josh never answers the second question, but suggests that Daisey shouldn’t be condemned for his actions. In other words, the end justifies the means.


In my experience, a person who asks, “does the end justify the means?” is seeking justification because he knows he’s wrong. Labor abuse is a real issue and Daisey could have raised awareness just as easily without lying. In fact, more effectively. Today I ask myself, “What else did he make up?” I bet I’m not the only one.

Were the lies necessary, Josh? No.

[Via The Loop]

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.


“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.

Chicago Theatre cancels Mike Daisey performance, Q&A with Ira Glass

The Chicago Theatre has cancelled an April 7th performance of Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” which was to be followed by an on-stage Q&A with Ira Glass:

“Please be advised that the performance scheduled to take place at The Chicago Theatre on April 7, 2012 has been cancelled. Tickets ordered for the April 7, 2012 performance through Ticketmaster Phones or Ticketmaster Online will be automatically credited to the original purchaser’s credit card account. Tickets purchased through a Ticketmaster Outlet or through The Chicago Theatre Box Office must be returned to the original point of purchase for a full refund.”

Gee, I wonder why.

Some other theaters will run the show as planned and not issue refunds.

Thanks to reader Patrick for the tip.

Daisey alters The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

The AP:

“Mike Daisey, the off-Broadway performer who admitted that he made up parts of his one-man show about Apple products being made in Chinese sweatshops, has cut questionable sections from the monologue and added a prologue explaining the controversy.

Oskar Eustis, artistic director of The Public Theater, where the monologue is being performed, said Saturday that Daisey has ‘eliminated anything he doesn’t feel he can stand behind’ from the show and added a section at the beginning in which he addresses the questions raised by critics.”

I’d love to know what sections have been cut. If you attend a performance, please share any observations you have.

Theaters won’t cancel, refund future Mike Daisey shows (Update)

The Public Theater, where Mike Daisey’s show “The Agony And Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” is playing, has released a statement about the production [PDF]. It reads:

“In the theater, our job is to create fictions that reveal truth– that’s what a storyteller does, that’s what a dramatist does. THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS reveals, as Mike’s other monologues have, human truths in story form.

In this work, Mike uses a story to frame and lead debate about an important issue in a deeply compelling way. He has illuminated how our actions affect people half-a-world away and, in doing so, has spurred action to address a troubling situation. This is a powerful work of art and exactly the kind of storytelling that The Public Theater has supported, and will continue to support in the future.

Mike is an artist, not a journalist. Nevertheless, we wish he had been more precise with us and our audiences about what was and wasn’t his personal experience in the piece.”

Great fiction does indeed offer insight, discussion and introspection on real issues. That’s not the problem here. The problem is that Daisey knowingly let his audience assume he was sharing factual, first-hand experiences.

As for the show itself, it continues. Edward Champion of Reluctant Habits contacted the Public Theatre and found that the three remaining scheduled performances will take place. Additionally, ticket holders who’ve decided they don’t want to see the show in light of Daisey’s lies will not receive refunds.

There’s more. Daisey is scheduled to perform the show at Burlington, Vermont’s Flynn Center on March 31. Champion was told that show will be performed as scheduled. Daisey also has a run scheduled at Washington, D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theater Company from June 17th to August 5th. According to Champion, those performances will happen and there will be no refunds.

As for the show itself, there have been minor changes [1. Update: The AP reports on additional changes.]. Aaron Dobbs attended the March 17, 2012 2:00 PM show in New York and shared these tweets:

I’d love to know if Daisey still tells the story about meeting underage workers, after admitting on This American Life that he never did. Or if he describes a man who suffered hexane poisoning, after admitting that it never happened.

There’s no controversy at all. Daisey lied to This American Life, CBS Sunday Morning and The New York Times. He also let  his audience believe he was sharing factual, first-hand experiences. He was not.

Update: The Chicago Theatre has cancelled a performance that was supposed to feature an on-stage Q&A with Ira Glass. No surprise there.

[Via Daring Fireball]

“That’s the real scandal”

Writing for The Atlantic, Max Fisher hits the nail directly on the head:

“How receptive will [the public] be the next time a reporter writes about how Chinese laborers are forced to stand for so long they struggle to walk, or that some workers weren’t even given gloves to handle poisonous chemicals? Will they believe the reports that say Chinese manufacturers could fix a number of these problems simply by rotating shifts or allowing workers to organize to ask for gloves, neither of which would cost them (or American consumers) anything?…Or will they think back to Mike Daisey, and wonder who else might be lying to them?

By lying, Daisey undermined the cause he purported to advance. That’s the real scandal.”


Who was Daisey’s interpreter again?

NPR: [1. The NPR site is down as of this writing, so here’s a mirror of its statement.]

“During fact checking before the broadcast of Daisey’s story, This American Life staffers asked Daisey for this interpreter’s contact information. Daisey told them her real name was Anna, not Cathy as he says in his monologue, and he said that the cell phone number he had for her didn’t work any more. He said he had no way to reach her.”

Cathy Lee (Chinese name: Li Guifen) was in fact Mike Daisey’s translator during his trip to China. She’s pictured and interviewed here. Oops.

“I wouldn’t express it that way”

Rob Schmitz, Mike Daisey and Ira Glass discussing the accuracy of Mike Daisey’s reporting:

“Rob Schmitz: [Chinese interpreter] Cathy [Lee] says you did not talk to workers who were poisoned with hexane.

Mike Daisey: That’s correct.

RS: So you lied about that? That wasn’t what you saw?

MD: I wouldn’t express it that way.

RS: How would you express it?

MD: I would say that I wanted to tell a story that captured the totality of my trip.

Ira Glass: Did you meet workers like that? Or did you just read about the issue?

MD: I met workers in, um, Hong Kong, going to Apple protests who had not been poisoned by hexane but had known people who had been, and it was a constant conversation among those workers.

IG: So you didn’t meet an actual worker who’d been poisoned by hexane.

MD: That’s correct.”