The Agony and Ecstacy of Mike Daisey

I was one of those people who were affected by This American Life Episode #454, Mike Daisey and the Apple Factory, adapted from his show, “The Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs.” It was enough that it gave me mild pause over acquiring the new iPad3. If the device is made in slave-labor-like conditions, regardless what Apple says, do I really want to get one?

It turns out most of the report was fabricated. Listening to the Retraction this morning was heart wrenching. It’s always been clear This American Life holds itself to the highest journalistic standards. It’s one of the few places to go for interesting and non-biased stories across the spectrum. So when they ran Mike Daisey’s piece, they gave it a vetting but they gave him the benefit of the doubt. And he lied.

When Ira Glass calls Daisey out on his lies, the dead airspace tells more than ten thousand words of excuses.

Is it okay to tell a lie to get at a greater truth? No. It’s not. Daisey tarnished the reputation of TAL for his own greed and his own ego. He’s set back worker rights movements in China. He has set ground to dismiss all sorts of worker abuse stories — because, if this one was fabricated, all others must be, too. It’s unclear if there are any abuses at FOXCONN or, if there are, what Apple’s role in correcting them should be. It’s become a horrific muddle.

Ink spilled all weekend on this topic, so there are people better than I to pontificate on what fabricating journalism and passing it off as fact means. It’s all a massive disappointment. One thing for certain: some reputations have been destroyed and others severely tarnished for one big display of hubris.

(I’d like to several Atlantic pieces on this but the Atlantic seems to be down.)

  • I just listened to it, too, and you’re right about the silence–it’s agonizing. His inability to just come clean reveals real insecurity, valuing his own sense of self more than the importance of the story. Ira Glass’ sense of betrayal is just as agonizing; it’s so obvious that he’s assumed a ton of guilt over not following his journalistic instincts, and you can just imagine the double- and triple-checking that they’ll be doing in the months to come. I wish someone had done this kind of interview with Greg Mortenson in the wake of that house of cards collapsing.