This week we were all shocked to learn that noted monologuist Mike Daisey’s most recent work The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs was found to be less than completely truthful. In a painful confrontation with This American Life’s Ira Glass, Daisey, fessed–up to fabricating several of the more dramatic anecdotes he bases the show on. The monologue was excerpted and featured in a This American Life episode in January. That episode became the most popular download in the history of the show with 888000 downloads as of this week.
Nonetheless, the show’s host and creator Ira Glass very publicly retracted the show over the weekend during the latest This American Life Episode which was dedicated to exposing the Daisy fabrications. According to Glass: “Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.”
I can’t pretend to have known that Daisey was making stuff up, but I was bothered by the theatricality of singling out Apple ever since his story started drawing attention to Foxconn. I brought this up with Flip contributors Anita Verna Crofts and Alex Stonehill when the first This American Life piece ran. This article contains a section labelled “The Apple obsession is weirdly narcissistic” that gets to what bothered me about it: “…Apple is not the main worker-safety problem in China. Nor even Foxconn. Not even close. Internationally owned factories are at the better end of the Chinese spectrum in wages, working conditions, safety, and (usually) environmental policies. Foxconn’s wages are higher, and its accident rate is lower, than for Chinese-based factories as a whole…”
This is not to say that Apple shouldn’t try to do better, but making this a PR issue for one company obscured the real systemic problems. Apple could have reformed operations at Foxconn and made its problem go away, while every other company did nothing. Now even that doesn’t need to happen, because in making Foxconn workers into poster children for malfeasance, Daisey lied. Now Apple’s PR problem has taken care of itself.
This is the dark side of storytelling laid out before us.