One Big Mess


The retraction episode of This American Life slightly angered me. I felt uncomfortable as I listened to Ira Glass and Rob Schmitz tear apart Mike Daisey’s story and constantly apologize to their viewers for their failure at fact checking Mike Daisey’s story. In my blog post on This American Life’s “Mr. Daisey and Apple” I wrote that Mike Daisey should have been up front about the parts of his story that were misrepresented. However, I saw the reasons for why he chose to incorporate some details into his story that he had not personally experienced. Mike Daisey is a writer and actor and his purpose is to tell a story and make people care. In this task, he greatly succeeded.

I have a problem with Mike Daisey’s intentions. He intended to deceive Ira Glass and the entire This American Life Team. Mike Daisey admits to purposefully deceiving these people and worrying whether these actions were ethical and if he would get caught. The second he attempted to deceive the public he lost my vote. He should have been clear with his viewers both on This American Life and of the live performances of his show. I believe that if he had been truthful at the outset, people would have still seen his show and cared about what he had to say. Now that it has come out that Mike Daisey knowingly deceived viewers, people are less likely to appreciate his work. If he had done an interview after his first show and explained the five details that he added to the show for effect, he would have had a successful response to his show.

In my last blog post I spoke mostly about Mike Daisey and the entertainment factor he was going for. In this post I will not forget to touch upon the complete failure of This American Life and National Public Radio to fact check Mike Daisey’s story. Mike Daisey was not a journalist and did not have the same responsibility to have factual information. He did make a contract that meant he should have disclosed all deceiving information. This American Life is a journalistic enterprise and the primary responsibility of a journalist is to tell the facts. The moment that they were unable to corroborate Mike Daisey’s story they should have killed the story. However, they chose to run the story anyway, which hurt their reputation. I do not think that this conundrum has negatively affected This American Life’s relationship with viewers. They did a nice job in the retraction show to put the blame on Mike Daisey. Of course, they apologized to their viewers, saying they did not do their normal level of due diligence before releasing this story. They then proceeded to bash Mike Daisey for the rest of the show until they brought in a “true” journalist to tell “the real facts”.  The whole situation was one big mess.

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5 thoughts on “One Big Mess”

  1. I completely agree with your statement, “If he had done an interview after his first show and explained the five details that he added to the show for effect, he would have had a successful response to his show” (I actually said something similar in my post this week). However, I’m sure it’s much easier to see what one should have done after a mistake has been made, than to plan well beforehand. The interview would have helped his credibility for his monologue show and interviews thereafter, but I still don’t think Daisey should have gone on This American Life. With or without this interview, if he is claiming his story is “based on a true story”, in a sense, it still should not go in any publication or show that is committed to journalism rather than art.

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  2. THey did have other options for dealing with the problems once they found them. I am always struck that they say they are retracting the whole story. Whoa? Why?

    They themselves bring on several experts who corroborate the general conditions in China.

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  3. Max, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you had a problem with Mike Daisey’s intentions. He made up a story (for purposes unclear to me) and as you said, people are less appreciative of his work. The controversy about the story takes attention away from the actual condition of workers in China, which was his main goal.

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  4. “One Big Mess”– a very aptly titled blog post. The uncomfortable back and forth between Ira and Mike was almost like listening to dissonant music that is meant to make the listener feel uncomfortable. I almost wondered why they even invited Mike back on to the show until the utilitarianism of the decision making process of Ira and the rest of the producers hit me: It’d be one thing for Ira to apologize for this story on his own and share his own opinion in a less sloppy manner, but more people would listen if he invited Mike back for the mess of a retraction that we listened to.

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