Search for Truth

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?

5 thoughts on “Search for Truth”

  1. I thought what you said about how you would continue to believe Apple mistreats Chinese employees had the retraction never been issued was interesting. While TAL’s retraction didn’t change my opinion on the ethicality of inhumane working conditions, it did create an element of doubt on the extent of what was actually happening. That being said, overall I still believe that Foxconn and factories like it are mistreating employees. Do you think the idea of confirmation bias comes into play here? I think that because I read and heard negatives about Apple’s treatment of Chinese employees before anything positive (or retractions of the negatives), I will be more likely to hold my initial opinion going forward.


  2. Interesting your final conclusion. Others, following a similar consequentialist logic, found that it did more good then harm. So, we have a good case study here of how the same approach can lead to different outcomes.


  3. Details also matter. I saw the playbill of the show after two friends went to see it (and before the first podcast). It says it was a work of “non-fiction.” They context of his play was to present it as facts. But even then, the whole play is full of Mike Daisey’s story of being an Apple lover. And in that sense, he is himself, but also, all of us who love what the technology enables while cringing at how it was made. So, that part is real. In fact, the play made it real.

    But that is not the context of the radio show…


  4. Caleb, I definitely agree that this whole story did more harm than good, and nobody really came out on top. However, I didn’t find the journalistic integrity of NPR quite as compromised as you did. In my mind, they took someone who performed in public quite often and hosted him on their show. They fact checked everything they possibly could, but were unable to get everything verified only because Daisey was intentionally lying and misdirecting them so the truth could never be uncovered. Do you think they shouldn’t have run the story at all just because they couldn’t find that one person? I almost think they overdid their apology and that there was only so much NPR could do when the lies were being intentionally covered up.


  5. I came up with a similar conclusion that Mike Daisey did not allow anyone to win. He did next to nothing to change Foxconn practices since he made it all up, and hurt the reputation of NPR, This American Life, Apple and himself.


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