By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Three must-reads on the Mike Daisey meltdown

The blog semi-hiatus continues this week. But I do want to break my silence long enough to recommend three must-reads on the matter of Mike Daisey, the lying liar who bamboozled the public radio show “This American Life” about Apple and China, and was brought down last week:

You can listen to Ira Glass’ remarkable interview with Daisey here.

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  1. Mike Benedict

    Dan, in fairness you also should link to Daisey’s blog, in which he points out that This American Life’s retraction is utter nonsense:

    “Given the tone, you would think I had fabulated an elaborate hoax, filled with astonishing horrors that no one had ever seen before.

    “Except that we all know that isn’t true.”

    Having been to China more times than I can count, and having seen some of these factories myself, I can unequivocally state Foxconn is a different breed from the other multinationals operating there (or here, for that matter — Foxconn’s Houston factory is notorious for its its serial sexual harassment). Twenty (and counting) on-campus suicides do not lie. Multiple factory explosions do not lie. Foxconn runs the only China factory I know of that have armed guards on the premises. (Keep in mind, guns are rare in China, and few criminals use them.)

    I know you love Apple, but the fact is that when it comes to monitoring their supplier base, they say one thing and do another.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Mike: You’ve already linked to Daisey’s blog. I will link to the New York Times’ extremely tough (and true!) reporting on Apple, Foxconn and China.

  2. Art Kane

    You might be interested my blog post this subject:

  3. I saw Mike Daisey’s monologue in New York in October. He’s a compelling storyteller but I was skeptical even as I sat there watching it.

    It was clearly a performance and I wondered what had been embellished. I mean, for the amount you spend on a ticket, you want emotion, drama, conflict.

    Some of the scenarios he described and quotes he used just seemed a little too perfect. They were clearly designed to provoke an emotional reaction. I was skeptical that someone who didn’t speak the language or know the culture could get workers to open up to him, much less workers in a repressive, totalitarian country. (And I realize he had an interpreter.) So the revelation that some of it was fabricated didn’t surprise me.

    But what bothers me is that in the program, Daisey stated that this was a work of nonfiction, which it wasn’t. And then after Jobs died, he penned an op-ed in the Times, he went on TV and became some kind of self-styled expert, based on what he said he saw. And he didn’t see most of it.

    In the end, I found the Times series and the Steve Jobs biography much more authoritative and thought-provoking about Apple’s Chinese factories and about the company’s history and culture.

    I think if Daisey had made a little more effort and used a little more ingenuity, he could have come up with a work that would have been just as compelling and 100 percent true. I think this is a good example of someone who isn’t a journalist getting in over his head. And it’s a reminder that good journalism is hard work.

  4. Mike Benedict

    @Dan: There’s an interesting quote in the NYT piece:

    “Apple is not the only electronics company doing business within a troubling supply system. Bleak working conditions have been documented at factories manufacturing products for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba and others.”

    What the NYT piece doesn’t explain is that Dell, H-P, Motorola, Sony, Nokia and yes, Apple, all outsource their electronics build primarily to the same company: Foxconn.

  5. Heather Greene

    This sort of seems like how in the 1950s, any random somebody could get a national platform to say terrible things about living conditions in the U.S.S.R. regardless if they were true or not. We like to look down and laugh at what people believe about American Catholics in the 1850s for example, yet look at us now acting as if we really know anything about Chinese labor condition. Although the hopeful sign is that correction happen in about two weeks so bully for that.

    What I find interesting is for all the bashing of the blogosphere, it was cable news that got this story going, not the blogs. They just assumed TAL had done the fact checking for them. Cable news shows like to just report second from what they read in other sources and think gotten a bit lazy on it.

    Also interesting was the point from Fortune magazine was that it Marketplace then Ira Glass who called Mike Daisey a liar, but not Apple Inc. They certainly had the time.

  6. Rick Peterson

    Maybe the larger point is that if it fits their narrative, intellectually dishonest people will pound on an issue. Twenty years from now, people are going to scratch their heads and say “Considering everything else that was going on, the Globe was fixated on Mitt Romney’s DOG? Really?”

  7. Mike Benedict

    @Rick: Maybe the larger point is that if it fits their narrative, intellectually dishonest people will pound on an issue. Twenty years from now, people are going to scratch their heads and say “Considering everything else that was going on, the Globe was fixated on Mitt Romney’s DOG? Really?”


    You mean like how they all scratch their heads and say, “Considering everything else that was going on, the entire American media was fixated on Willie Horton?”

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