Making People Care


I knew the This American Life retraction would expose some over-exaggerations Mike Daisy had made, but I was not prepared for the extent to which his story was hyperbolized. He conducted far fewer interviews than he claimed, Foxconn was much more approachable and accommodating to visitors, all meetings were set up in advance, underage workers were not commonplace, and n-hexane was not a concern. In addition, Mike did not experience dorm room conditions and likely did not talk to a man with a mangled hand.

I felt much less sympathy, and almost uncaring, towards the Foxconn workers, writing off their true working conditions as not very dire, especially compared to how their conditions were originally portrayed. So, that being said, I agree with Mike Daisy when he argues his story would have had much less impact if it was not told entirely from the first person and embellished the way it was.

The clip was the most downloaded podcast This American Life had ever had. Therefore, the reality is that millions of people downloaded Mike’s story, heard it, processed it, and even perhaps passed it on.

In addition, Mike confirms that all the embellishments he makes give a full summary of what has ever occurred in factories in China, not just Foxconn and not just during his trip. The problems he addresses through his story are all real concerns, they are just not as commonplace, or as concentrated to Apple product manufacturers, as he made them seem.

The biggest problem I have, therefore, is that he targets Apple. If he is trying to expose overall concerns for working conditions in China, he should not put a target on the back of a single electronics company. In addition, I feel that Mike could have come clean in a much easier way, a planned way, in order to avoid the embarrassment and discreditation he has endured. Mike says, “I think I was terrified that the work that I know is really good and tells a story, that does these great things about making people care, would come apart and ruin everything.” However, if his story is art, as he claims, he should have been able to admit to his exaggerations and simply explain where he drew his inspirations from. Passing off his entire tale as true, and telling lies to cover lies, makes him appear as a complete fraud instead.

Mike could have released his story, then later released a disclaimer that explains all the details that are absolutely true, those that are true but not his personal experiences, and those he made up completely. Clearing the air and pointing out the many truths of his story would have maintained the impact it had, in my opinion. Still, as I said, millions of people have heard his original story and far fewer have likely heard the retraction. Perhaps he was correct in getting the story out there and getting the nation talking. The fact that there is an entire podcast now devoted to the real facts over in China still proves that his story made us care, made us consider China and the working conditions, and made us investigate them further.

Mike wanted to make a monologue that would make people care. I think he succeeded through his embellishments, and that these untruths were necessary in order for his story to have the impact it did.

Is it false advertising?

Maybe.

Did it succeed in getting a conversation started, even if it did turn into a semi-controversy?

Yes.

Should he have created this story and performed it?

Yes.

Featured image credit: Staff members work on the production line at the Foxconn complex in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, May 26, 2010 / AP Source: AP

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5 thoughts on “Making People Care”

  1. I think it is very interesting that you bring up the point he only targeted Apple in his monologue. If his ultimate goal was to generate a discussion about general working conditions in factories abroad, then why didn’t he mention other factories or companies in his story? I also find it interesting that he not only targeted one company, but Daisey also fabricated some of the conditions he claims to have witnessed during his trip to Foxconn. Why would he try to target one of the most popular brands in the world and use fabricated information to do so? If you are going to try and advocate against a huge company, then you should make sure you have valid information to support your claims.

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    1. I recently read a Washington Post article that specified some new facts I thought were interesting. First, the New York Times released an article around the same time Mike Daisey aired his story. This piece of true journalism was also mainly a critique on Apple and included details that seemed to support Daisey’s story. Second, according to the Washington Post, “some of the most important and honest revelations of these issues, [such as underage workers, injuries, and suicides], have come from Apple itself, which issues a supplier responsibility statement every year detailing both the improvements and problems it’s having with international partners. We just never acknowledged the details of these reports. So, perhaps Daisey was justified in choosing Apple as his main target.

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  2. I can understand that Daisey is just choosing Apple as his main target as the model example since they are one of the leading companies in with our technology industry. He chose Apple because it is just a prominent brand that we even have emotional connections with the it coming from the social benefits it provides like an Apple community or fitting in our society. I think Daisey’s goal to raise awareness was accomplished and he is moving in the direction of having Apple become the face of it, which will in turn warn other tech companies to address these problems. In our capitalistic society, businesses will follow suit in order to stay competitive and if companies see Apple becoming more socially responsible with their supply chain others would start to do the same because there are consumers who would be more involved with the brand and products. Businesses could possibly use it as PR with the ability to gain more loyal consumers who are interested in a company that is tackling these issues.

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  3. Megan, I disagree with what you wrote in your above blog. I don’t think it was right for Mike Daisey to write and perform his monologue on Apple for TAL. Most was fabricated, some was a complete lie. Was this appropriate? No. Was this acceptable? No. It disappoints me someone would stoop to this level to promote their own agenda.

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