After listening to the retraction of Mike Daisey’s story on This American Life about Apple and Foxconn, I didn’t really know what to think. It made me question every little part of his story, and assume nothing he said was credible, but at the same time, I still have a lingering doubt in my mind that some of what he said could have been true. In this regard, I think Mike Daisey accomplished what he set out to do. His goal in performing his monologue was to cause people to question what Apple and other American companies manufacturing goods in China are really doing, and whether or not their actions were ethical. Though most of what he said was eventually discovered to be false, some people may not have heard the retraction, and those who did will still be thinking about workers in China making iPhones, and whether or not what they are doing is truly legal. Mike Daisey lost all journalistic credibility when the retraction came out, but I don’t think he really cared about his journalistic integrity or he never would have allowed his work to air in such a public and official capacity. I also don’t agree with his argument that his “play” was completely acceptable for theatrical purposes because he presented it as the truth. Had the retraction never been released, I would have continued believing Apple mistreats Chinese workers, and would have had a negative view. I think he misrepresents what he does in theaters because he doesn’t claim to be making artistic interpretations of a situation, he presents something that never happened as the truth. The two NPR fact checkers say they saw him perform his works and viewed it as an actual representation of what happened on his trip to China, not an exaggeration designed to prove a point. I believe what Mike Daisey did was wrong, but he achieved his goal of bringing attention to Apple and Chinese labor conditions.
In my opinion, the real loser in this unfortunate situation is NPR and This American Life. They expressed a lot of anger and embarrassment over allowing the story to air, and apologize profusely for allowing it to happen without adequately fact checking. I thought they handled the retraction as well as they could, and was impressed with how they handled it. However, it doesn’t change that they never sufficiently fact-checked the story before allowing it to be presented to the public. Once something is released, it is out there forever, particularly in this internet age. It severely damaged their journalistic integrity and sadly makes me question every other story on This American Life. I’m sure they typically do an outstanding job of fact-checking pretty much every program now, but there will always be a lingering doubt whenever I hear something on NPR.
Ultimately, this story did a lot more harm than good. It unfairly damaged the reputations of Apple and Foxconn, painted Mike Daisey as a liar, and tarnished the journalistic integrity of NPR. It raised important questions, but at what expense? Was it really worth it?