Knights and Knaves


“Retraction” is an attempt by This American Life to restore their credibility. It succeeds in this respect to an extent, but it does not completely negate their failure to do sufficient fact checking for the original story. Unfortunately for Mike Daisey, all of the credibility This American Life and Ira Glass restore for themselves is at his expense. They paint Mike Daisey as a liar by asking leading questions and eventually outright asking if he lied.

Mike Daisey lied about Foxconn to make a more interesting story. He is a storyteller though, so does it matter? This American Life, however, is not a podcast that tells stories, it is supposed to provide listeners with investigative journalism. Ira Glass should have figured this out and realized that he most likely exaggerated his experiences so that he could make a play out of it. From this perspective, Mike Daisey did not really do anything wrong. He lied about his experiences, and he performed his monologue as truth, but it was still a performance that clearly should have been taken with a grain of salt.

Who did Mike Daisey hurt by lying about his trip to China? While it may be an unpopular opinion, the reality is that Mike Daisey unfairly damaged the reputation of Apple and Foxconn. He made false accusations regarding the extent of unethical practices and flat out falsified other details. Ira Glass notes that the only people in China who have guns are the military and the police. Mike Daisey on the other hand, says “the guards look pissed. They look really pissed. And they are carrying guns” (“Retraction”). This comment is just plain false. It is an attempt by Daisey to get the audience interested, provide concrete evidence that Foxconn workers live in constant fear and make the Foxconn factory seem more like a prison than a place of business.

The trouble with Daisey’s lies is that they ended up letting Apple and Foxconn off the hook. These two companies do deserve to have their reputations damaged because of their labor practices. However, Daisey made it impossible to tell fact from fiction and, in doing so, made it impossible to properly address the problem. Some say lying for the greater good of humanity is acceptable, but this example shows that when those lies come to light they can make matters worse

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7 thoughts on “Knights and Knaves”

  1. I never looked at this from this perspective, but I agree with you in saying that Mike Daisey made it impossible to tell fact from fiction. His story could have increased some awareness about the poor working conditions in China, but it also ruined the credibility of future stories that might raise important issues about the same problem. Now, the target audience, which is mainly Apple’s customers, might think twice before believing in a new story about Foxconn or Apple, because they think that they have been fooled out once. I think Mike Daisey could have used alternate ways if he really wanted to address the problem, but he chose the wrong one. Off the top of my head I don’t know what this alternate way would be, but I’m sure there was one.

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  2. When I first heard Mikey Daisey’s monologue, I took his word as fact. From the attention it gathered, I think it’s safe to say that I was not alone in that. While I’m not defending my, or the public’s, blind acceptance of a random person’s words, I think it is an aspect of the situation that must be evaluated. In the public’s eye, there is a sense of credibility that comes from standing on a stage, speaking on air or being broadcast on television and it is the ethical duty of people in those positions to tell the truth. Yes, it was TAL’s job to fact check Daisey’s story and they should have done a better job initially, especially with their knowledge of him as a performer. However, I think that even from his perspective as an actor and author, Daisey was in the wrong by so knowingly misleading the public.

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  3. I don’t think saying that Apple and Foxconn were in some ways misrepresented is that unpopular. There is some evidence that they may be better then the average.

    Some will argue that China is unfairly represented as having as many working problems as other poorer countries, like Bangladesh or parts of sub-Saharan Africa or the Persian Gulf. This, too, is accurate.

    But, Daisey knows the USA, and especially its tech-loving citizens have a personal, special connection to the products made in China because we consume so many of them and, in the case of technology, we have such a personal connection with them.

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  4. You don’t need a gun to use violence or coercion…

    From a 2010 Reuters report:

    In China, a Reuters reporter found out the hard way how seriously some Apple suppliers take security.

    Tipped by a worker outside the Longhua complex that a nearby Foxconn plant was manufacturing parts for Apple too, our correspondent hopped in a taxi for a visit to the facility in Guanlan, which makes products for a range of companies.

    As he stood on the public road taking photos of the front gate and security checkpoint, a guard shouted. The reporter continued snapping photos before jumping into a waiting taxi. The guard blocked the vehicle and ordered the driver to stop, threatening to strip him of his taxi license.

    The correspondent got out and insisted he was within his rights as he was on the main road. The guard grabbed his arm. A second guard ran over, and with a crowd of Foxconn workers watching, they tried dragging him into the factory.

    The reporter asked to be let go. When that didn’t happen, he jerked himself free and started walking off. The older guard kicked him in the leg, while the second threatened to hit him again if he moved. A few minutes later, a Foxconn security car came along but the reporter refused to board it. He called the police instead.

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  5. Shawn, I really enjoyed your puzzle, though it took me a few minutes to solve. Pat, I think you made some astute points in your blog. I really appreciate you commenting on how Mike Daisey unfairly damaged the reputation of Apple and Foxconn. I wonder if they ever considered suing him for libel or slander?

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