/// The Failures and Fallacies of Mike Daisey’s Apple Attack and the Media

March 18, 2012  |  All Things Digital

Who in their right mind would lie to Ira Glass? That was my first reaction to the revelation that the theatrical monologuist Mike Daisey had lied or fabricated. or in his words,” taken dramatic license” with certain parts of his stage play, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” When I’ve met people at parties in recent weeks, and told them that I write about technology and that I had devoted more than a decade to covering Apple, the first question I used to get was: “Do you know Steve Jobs?” Since about January of this year, that first question has become, “What do you think of Mike Daisey?” I haven’t had a real answer. I hadn’t seen his show, which was favorably reviewed by the New York Times, nor had I heard the episode of the highly respected public radio documentary program “This American Life” titled “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” , that had been adapted from his play. The show — or shows — hit a cultural nerve at a critical moment. Apple is the biggest company in the world, sporting a market capitalization of $546 billion as of Friday, with $100 billion worth of cash and investments on its balance sheet and the most popular stable of consumer electronics products in the world, especially the iPhone and the iPad. All of them are manufactured by workers in China, who labor for wages that are low by Western standards, put in hours that by Western reckoning are long, under conditions that to Western eyes aren’t ideal, doing jobs that by any standard are incredibly tedious. Daisey’s stage show, which became a sensation among New York’s chattering classes, sought to draw attention to the plight of allegedly oppressed workers at Foxconn, Apple’s manufacturing partner in China. As New York Times reviewer Charles Isherwood put it, the play “is a mind-clouding, eye-opening exploration of the moral choices we unknowingly or unthinkingly make when we purchase nifty little gadgets like the iPhone.” The stage show had been adapted for radio on public radio’s “This American Life,” which is probably the most-respected radio documentary program in the history of broadcasting. And the Daisey episode was presented as documentary, meaning the radio show’s staff of journalists and producers were vouching for it being true. The problem: Much of it wasn’t. In the show, Daisey described a trip to China, as well as a visit to Foxconn’s outer gates and other manufacturing companies in Shenzen, where many are located. He delivers a detailed and emotionally riveting account of meeting girls as young as 12, 13 and 14 years old who claimed to work for Foxconn. This would be in violation both of local laws and of Apple policies. He also told of meeting workers poisoned by a chemical called n-Hexane, used to polish screens. And, perhaps most movingly, he related a tear-jerking scene in which he showed a working iPad to a man who said he had crippled a hand while making its parts in a Foxconn metal press, yet had never so much as seen one of the devices powered on. Seeing the iPad’s screen in action, he tells Daisey “is like a kind of magic.” The word “magic” fits oddly here, because these meetings didn’t happen as Daisey said. “This American Life” yesterday aired a lengthy episode entitled “ Retraction ,” documenting Daisey’s many liberties with the facts. To help do so, a reporter for another public radio show — Rob Schmitz of “Marketplace” — did what no one else in the media seemed to be willing to do, which was subject Daisey’s claims to scrutiny.

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The Failures and Fallacies of Mike Daisey’s Apple Attack and the Media

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