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?
Did it succeed in getting a conversation started, even if it did turn into a semi-controversy?
Should he have created this story and performed it?
Featured image credit: Source: AP