This American Life Retracts Mike Daisey’s Apple Story

Turns out @MDaisey made up a lot of elements in his piece, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”, which deals with the questionable way in which we get our shiny Apple products. Unfortunately, there were small and large lies told in the process, and This American Life is retracting the whole thing.  Meanwhile, Mike Daisey’s standing by his story, as “theatre” and not “journalism”.  I loved his work, and saw “If You See Something Say Something”, but I think Mike Daisey’s done a big disservice to human rights interests — the headline is likely to be “Apple’s just fine, it was all a crazy liberal lie”. I’m disappointed, to say the least.

44 thoughts on “This American Life Retracts Mike Daisey’s Apple Story

  1. Deron Bauman

    Thanks for the post, Casey. I don’t know what clusterflock should be anymore, but maybe something like this. I’ve been meaning to make a post to talk about it. Blogs, community, journalism, relevance, etc.

  2. Casey Cichowicz Post author

    I was able to reach the TAL page — and the thing is, it wasn’t a complete lie. TAL doesn’t break it down neatly (they maybe should) but some of the things were that the workers poisoned by n-hexane were in a different plant and he didn’t meet with them, he didn’t meet with as many people as he said he did, and the story of the worker who’d never witnessed an iPad turned on was made up.

    In fact, my headline choice kind of is an example of my own complaint, now that I think about it.

  3. danielle

    I guess in the end, I’m mad at Mike Daisey for not just saying that the story was based on the trip with a few small embellishments for artistic effect, since really, that’s true. Why effectively discredit yourself 100% when 95% of the story is true? But angry as I am about the fact that he lied, i think it’s impossible to deny that Daisey probably did more to pull back the curtain on The Oracle at Cupertino (who it turns out was part genius but also large part tyrant and master of myth-making) until Daisey. We were all too excited to own and love our iPods/Pads/Phones and didn’t want to think about the NYT-verified horrific facts regarding the human or environmental cost that goes into each and every one of these shiny little toys.

  4. Joel Bernstein

    Unfortunately, that 5% seems to be the most compelling evidence of willful ignorance or incompetence. There’s a huge divide between “these bad things happened” and “these bad things happened so frequently that I was able to wander around for a few weeks six days and find dozens of victims”.

    I hope Foxconn improves their labor standards, and I hope Apple transitions to manufacturing and assembly technologies that would reduce the need for human factory labor. I hope the people of China one day have enough alternate employment prospects that working in a shithole factory for 12 hours a day no longer qualifies as a positive career opportunity.

    Sent from my shiny new iPad

  5. Sheila Ryan

    I’m just gibbering here, and not only that, but gibbering with a disclaimer: that I’ve only heard a portion of the Daisey piece as produced by TAL and have only read reviews of the theater piece that Casey has actually seen.

    I’ve not always known what to make of TAL since they began producing more stories that seemed to conform to the conventions of “journalism.” Before the advent of such innovations as contributions by the “Planet Money” team, I regarded TAL as a kind of audio magazine featuring pieces in the “belle-lettristic” vein. Drawn from “real life,” sure, but shaped and crafted by the creators and producers.

    I guess I should say simply that I’m confused.

    Oh, and this reminder from Sarah Pavis:

    This American Life airs at 7 pm tonight in Chicago. Appointment radio.

  6. Sheila Ryan

    And then there’s this by way of an aside from @Hungryghoast:

    So this “Mike Daisey is a hack” story breaks from some business journo hack same day new iPad is in stores? ::raises eyebrow/strokes beard::

  7. Sheila Ryan

    I’m assuming he means Whomever from Marketplace. Really just tossing this out for comments (like a nineteenth-century cartoon archivist anarchist lobbing one of those bowling ball-shaped TNT bombs) — or silent dismissal — from those more on top of things than me. Wondering whether they view it as accurate. Wondering whether they view it as relevant.

  8. Sheila Ryan

    In truth, though, the timing seems only moderately interesting, and maybe not even that.

  9. Sheila Ryan

    Okay, okay, okay. So the deal is that the TAL piece was comprised of recorded excerpts from Daisey’s theater piece?

    So we’re talking about misunderstanding vs. misrepresentation, is that maybe right? I’m just trying to catch up.

  10. Sheila Ryan

    I must say that Daisey is not coming across well at all at all in the “live broadcast” I am listening to “online.”

    Me, I would have gone all, “I was being metaphorical, man! I was representing a larger truth!” If I were confident of my aims and my work, I would have brushed aside criticism.

    See, I have been really out of it. I mean, I have known about this — read about it, heard bits of it. But I honestly imagined that Daisey’s theater piece was closer to Swimming to Cambodia than to the Living Newspaper.

    I’m still catching up.

  11. Sheila Ryan

    Now that I understand that, Casey (and thank you), whew.

    Also, listening to this “live” radio “broadcast” “online” is becoming unpleasant and, ummmnh, igry.

  12. Sheila Ryan

    If Daisey weren’t being such a weasel and making such half-assed defenses for himself, I might feel differently.

    I understand Daisey’s regret over having placed the story on TAL. But he flat-out admits his misrepresentation. He brought this debacle on himself.

  13. Sheila Ryan

    Oh, and I get your point, Casey — that what most folks agree upon as flat-out honest representation was powerful enough.

    I think what is now bugging me most about Daisey is that he seems to have wanted to have it both ways, by which I mean he wanted to present his storytelling as straightforward reportage.

  14. Sheila Ryan

    It is important shit, Casey. And I guess that the pity and the shame of it is that interest in Mike Daisey and Ira Glass et al. is distracting.

  15. Amanda Mae

    Oh he gets excited in the TV episode when he talks about when they mention him on The O.C.

    Which seems exciting.

    But yeah, sorry. I was being jerky. I am just tired of people getting worked up over stuff every week and then forgetting it, and then outrage over something else and then something else and then who knows what else. KONY! Not Kony! Monsanto Farms! Not Monsanto! etc, ad nauseum.

  16. Sheila Ryan

    Ooh, I missed that! I’m so out of it that I’m only familiar with his default bemused setting.

    But no need to say “sorry.” I was mostly fascinated to have popped up from my subterranean tunneling and to realize that I understood what people were talking about.

  17. Josh Weichhand

    Did any of ya’ll hear Ira’s pre-podcast announcements over the past month or so saying that Mike Daisey would be performing the rest of his one-man show live in Chicago for TAL? There seemed to have been a lot riding on his original story – lots of awareness built and accolades doled out. Pretty much exactly what good journalism should hope to achieve, I think (and you could almost sense the excitement and sense of accomplishment in Ira’s voice when he talked about the story).
    It’s a shame, but I can only respect TAL more for their calling attention to such an embarrassing situation and retracting the entire thing.

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