Daisey’s Failed Shot at Redemption

After listening to This American Life’s Retraction episode, I was still severely unsatisfied with Mike Daisey’s justification. After all, Ira Glass and the TAL staff made it abundantly clear to him the purpose of their show, and that everything he said “must live up to journalistic standards.” Yet through his own twisted moral compass and complete disregard for integrity Daisey chose to lie to millions of people anyway. Last week, I claimed that Mike Daisey did more harm that good to his cause by lying about what he saw at Foxconn. He discredited himself and everything he was trying to raise awareness about. I also could not bring myself to blame Apple or hold anything against them for the alleged conditions at some of their suppliers. This week, not only do I stand by both of these statements but the Retraction episode only strengthens by belief in them. 

Mike Daisey’s justification for his lies was incredibly weak. It seemed clear to me that the first time he went on the show in “Retraction,” he had no idea what to say. It seemed like he was still lying, but trying to lie less and classify lies as “exaggerations.” I think Ira’s anger at Daisey is therefore entirely justified. He was very clear about what TAL was, and the standards of reporting Daisey had to live up to. As a result, his own reputation was tarnished and his trust was broken. Then, when given the opportunity to come clean about everything, he didn’t really take it. I don’t think there is any defense for these actions.

I also didn’t buy Daisey’s questionable explanation about how his monologue was theater and he simply hosted it on the wrong forum of a journalistic show. When he called back into the studio a second time, it was clear he had a few days to formulate a better response, claiming he did it at a time when coverage of the issue had just stopped, and as a result nobody seemed to care anymore. He wanted to just keep the conversation going and show people that they should still care. However, this logic didn’t make sense to me either. Perhaps the coverage stopped because Apple finally addressed some serious issues in their supply chain. After all, even Ira Glass agrees that harsh conditions in Chinese factories shouldn’t necessarily live up to American standards. Furthermore, the two instances of harsh conditions versus life threatening instances are drastically different.

9 thoughts on “Daisey’s Failed Shot at Redemption”

  1. While I agree that Mike Daisey’s return appearance on TAL in the Retraction episode was very disappointing, are Ira Glass and TAL immune from blame here? In my opinion, Rob Schmitz pointed out a lot of obvious red flags that should have been spotted before they aired Daisey’s performance. What do you think?


    1. I feel as though Ira Glass and those at TAL are just as accountable, if not more so than Daisey. Glass and others who run TAL are responsible for giving Daisey that platform and gave it their seal of approval. But really, for me the kicker was that Glass claimed intensive fact checking of Daisey’s stories and gave him credibility. I don’t think that Daisey is faultless, but I don’t think that Daisey would argue with the exposure for a cause he believed in. Do you agree that it was Glass and TAL’s responsibility to properly fact check the story before giving their endorsement?


  2. While I agree that Daisey probably did more harm than good for his cause overall, I don’t think that Apple and the suppliers they choose to do business with should be blameless in the matter. Daisey may not have actually seen many of the “experiences” he reported, but he was not wrong in acknowledging their existence. Flatly ignoring those issues and the perpetrators is the last thing Daisey or anyone at TAL would have wanted. I’m curious what your justification is, outside of Daisey’s dishonesty, in not blaming Apple/ their suppliers at all for the inhumane working conditions they subjected thousands of people to.


  3. I definitely think Glass and TAL were responsible for fact checking Daisy’s story, especially since the show’s intention is to be journalistic and truthful. While Daisy shouldn’t have fabricated his story after they told him they wanted a truthful representation of his experience, it was up to them to ensure that he followed their requirements. Do you think this affected the audience’s trust in TAL to cover stories, or do you think TAL’s response in the retraction restored trust in their podcast?


  4. Glass and TAL definitely had a responsibility to fact check the story, but at the same time, they did look up as much information as they possibly could. The fact that Daisey was directly lying to them and purposely blocking and misdirecting their search to find his translator makes them a little bit less to blame in my book. It’s not as though Daisey gave his story and TAL ran it after a brief background check. It kind of reminds me of fraud and accounting firms we talked about a few weeks ago. Sure, audit teams have a duty to find fraud just as TAL and Ira have a duty to verify validity. But when the fraud and lies are being intentionally covered up and masked in a very direct way so as to not be uncovered, how much blame can we really disperse?


  5. Will, for me the issue comes back to when Ira was talking about the two pools of conditions. The first was just harsh working conditions- living in cramped dorms, working in backless chairs, working 12 hour shifts, etc. The second is life threatening: not cleaning up the dust that causes explosions. It’s widely acknowledged that harsh working conditions exist. Life threatening conditions exist, but they are much more rare and Apple has documented their intent and steps they’ve taken to combat them. I agree that this should not be allowed, and Apple deserves some criticism for not doing more. However, as far as harsh working conditions go, I don’t see this as Apple’s fault. Did you disagree with TAL when they were talking about how China’s emerging economy often required this type of labor, and for Chinese families usually chose to work these jobs rather than be forced into working? Keep in mind that when the US economy was rapidly expanding during our industrial revolution, similar working conditions were considered normal. However, our government stepped in to set standards for corporations to follow, not the corporations themselves. Similarly, I see the standards of working conditions to be the Chinese government’s responsibility.


  6. I definitely agree with your statements about Mike Daisy not taking the opportunity to come clean. His weak attempt at justifying his lies both aggravated me and made me feel sorry for him. It is evident that he doesn’t realize the negative effects he has created. It is interesting that you bring up his questionable moral compass. I had not considering morality or ethics during this retraction, but now it is obvious to me that these factors come into play. It is clear he thinks his show and lies are ethical and maybe under some theories they are ethical.


  7. “I definitely agree with your statements about Mike Daisy not taking the opportunity to come clean.”

    If you believe that TAL was my opportunity to “come clean”, you’re hideously naive about how the world works.

    I apologized within a week, in my own time and space, which you can read here:


    You’re really dreaming if you think that TAL was a safe space in which to “come clean”. Given how they edited my responses it’s obvious that isn’t the case.

    This doesn’t mean I wish I hadn’t done a better job in the Retraction episode. I do. But if I got to choose which of the four hours of testimony I gave would be used for my fifteen minute segment, it would look quite different—and then many of you would be favoring me over Ira.

    I guess that’s what’s alarming—the point of this exercise is to really think critically. Sometimes that feels like it is in short supply everywhere in our world.


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