Mike Daisey's lies cheapen the whole issue of working conditions in China

Taking artistic license on such a serious subject like Foxconn's working conditions disgusts me.

When National Public Radio aired a segment of Mike Daisey's popular stage show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" during its current events program "This American Life", little did NPR know the implications of its piece. The show set off a firestorm of criticism, putting Apple in even a worse light than it already is.

Daisey's show tells us that the Chinese workers at Foxconn don't know what they're making. Many of the workers are underage, working 70 hour weeks for low pay in poor conditions. Daisey claims to have met these workers in his own trip to Foxconn's Shenzen plant, and is there when a worker dies after a supposed 34-hour shift. There's a lot more in the piece, but there's a huge problem.

Most of it is not true.

"The American Life" host and producer Ira Glass asked Daisey to record a modified version of his stage show for the program, which Daisey agreed to do. The segment aired in January, but was pulled last week after "Marketplace" uncovered discrepancies in Daisey's accounts.

It appears from the speed at which Glass and others are running away from the segment, no fact checking was done -- at least before the program aired. Apple as a result received a lot of flak for things that never actually happened, all because of sloppiness in checking facts.

Make no mistake: there are issues with Apple when it comes to Foxconn. Working conditions at the plant are less than stellar, and the Cupertino, Calif. company admitted to such a long time ago and is working to make things right. The last thing Apple needed, however, was somebody like Mike Daisey exacerbating the situation for the sake of what he considers to be good theater.

"I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge", Daisey argued on Friday. "It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity". Integrity? Are you frickin' kidding?

This is a serious topic, one that engenders significant emotions. Daisey's argument is bullshit and as manipulative as he was in getting "This American Life" to run his trash. You have no integrity at all when you embellish a serious subject with lies, and then on top of this make money from it. For this Daisey deserves every bit of public flogging he's getting.

His most recent statement is even worse. Read this: "If people want to use me as an excuse to return to denialism about the state of our manufacturing, about the shape of our world, they are doing that to themselves", he bemoans.

Wait a minute. You just lied to the American public, cheapening the entire argument over working conditions in Chinese high-tech factories. This is your fault and not the media or anybody else's. Lying to get your point across is not an excuse. You took a real world situation and made a mockery of it, and it's offensive.

Don't blame your mistakes on anybody else, Mr. Daisey. They are your own. Be a man and own up to them, sir.

To any playhouse thinking of allowing Daisey's show to run in its building following the end of its run in the Public Theater of New York on Sunday: don't. Unless you're going to hang a huge banner across the entrance to the theater warning all who enter that what they're about to hear is pretty much a lie.

While I've spent much of this post criticizing Daisey, in the end it's Public Radio that really failed here. Think what you want about the politics, but its reporting has always been stellar. For "This American Life", producer Chicago Public Radio, distributor Public Radio International and US syndicator National Public Radio, to fail to do basic fact-checking here really blows my mind. As Poynter points out:

"'This American Life' is one of the great journalistic storytelling institutions in the world. But they somehow didn’t verify the facts that underpinned this remarkable first-person story. It’s ultimately a failure of storytelling".

A failure in storytelling, a failure in the most basic precept of journalism: checking your facts. This should not only be a teaching moment for those creating theater out of current events, but also journalists out there who put getting a hot story out in front of making sure all your ducks are in a row first.

Hopefully we learn from this.

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