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Monday, March 19, 2012

Mike Daisey on the Aftermath

Posted by on Mon, Mar 19, 2012 at 1:11 PM

Via Alison Hallett at Blogtown, PDX comes this link to Mike Daisey's latest blog post, in which he responds to his TAL appearance and bemoans that people are using the fact that he fabricated parts of his story about the work conditions at Apple's suppliers in China—and then lied about those fabrications—so that they can "return to ignoring everything about the circumstances under which their devices are made."

His post is infuriating in a thousand ways, but to begin with, if it's true (and that's a BIG if) that the story of the labor conditions in Chinese electronics factories is fading from the headlines in favor of the story of how he made a lot of it up, IT'S HIS OWN DAMN FAULT. If he wanted to shine a light on these practices and effect change, he could have done it without lying about it, and then this distraction wouldn't exist.

If people want to use me as an excuse to return to denialism about the state of our manufacturing, about the shape of our world, they are doing that to themselves.

No. They are not. YOU are doing it. YOU did it.

People don't "want to use" this as an excuse. All of the good reporting on this issue has been undercut because of what he did. The story has changed because Daisey wasn't honest about it, and that has undermined the credibility of the story elsewhere. What's "especially galling" is deflecting the blame onto others for this hopefully temporary change in focus.

Hopefully people will continue to care, and things will continue to change, but it will be IN SPITE OF what Daisey has done here, not because of it. The truth now has to overcome the lies, and that's nobody's fault but his.


Comments (30) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
I'm a huge Daisey fan, I've seen five of his shows, but his reaction to this is bad, bad, bad. He's going into Martyrdom mode. He should've have said, look this made me famous and acclaimed and that was exhilirating and I didn't put the breaks on when I should. I understand how this could happen to someone, I do. People exaggerate in story-telling. But it's on him.
Posted by Hosono on March 19, 2012 at 1:17 PM · Report this
Anthony Hecht 3
@1 - I completely agree. I've seen many of his shows, which makes it all the more frustrating that he's not seeing the damage this causes to his own cause.
Posted by Anthony Hecht on March 19, 2012 at 1:23 PM · Report this
Amen. If you listen to the This American Life followup, Ira Glass proves in the last segment that you don't have to lie about conditions to make people concerned about them. Daisey's argument, that he needed to fabricate elements to make a point, is dangerous and just wrong. (Republicans fabricate facts to prove a point all the time, and look what's happening to their party's credibility!)
Posted by mitten on March 19, 2012 at 1:33 PM · Report this
Hear hear, to everyone. It was really frustrating to hear him be so weaselly and disingenuous on TAL - he was totally unwilling to admit that he made serious mistakes not just in allowing his show to be on TAL, but in eighty gajillion other things that undermined his own credibility regardless of his TAL appearance. Let's count them, shall we?

-- Using Cathy as a main character in his story without obtaining her prior consent (Am I the only one who thought this was creepy and exploitative and, I dunno, Orientalist?)
-- Lying about many little details of his story and some really huge ones
-- Refusing to acknowledge that his lies were lies, not "artistic license"
-- Refusing to acknowledge that Ira was right - that most reasonable people would assume that his story was true if he did not offer any disclaimers, especially since he did use this piece as a kind of investigative journalism in all but name
-- Repeatedly doubling down on his lies when confronted by many kinds of media
-- Rendering the truth of this story voiceless - not actually granting an authentic voice to the actual victims of what exploitation DOES exist - by distorting it to this extent; in effect, exploiting the victims of these problems yet again by using them for his own personal gain as opposed to demonstrating an actual commitment to the truth of human suffering.

And he has the nerve to complain that it's other people's fault that this story will potentially have done more harm than good in raising awareness?
Posted by daftgiraffe on March 19, 2012 at 1:43 PM · Report this
Sorry that he chose to lie, but as with James Frey, I think the reaction to this is over the top when you consider bigger lies in recent American history and their impact. I would take 10,000 lies like Mike Daisey put forth if we could take back the lies that lead to the Iraq War, the extremes of the War on Terror, the recent financial services scandals, and on and on. Lying is wrong, but the magnitude and the impact of the lie should dictate the amount of judgement we heap on those speaking the lies.
Posted by Sterno on March 19, 2012 at 1:44 PM · Report this
@4 China's suicide rate, according to wikipedia, is actually 22.23 per 100,000 per year... which only shows much dramatically lower Foxconn's suicide rate is. Although I would suspect that being employed reduces suicide rates across the board.
Posted by noodleslayer on March 19, 2012 at 1:45 PM · Report this
Ryan in the sky 9
I think we should spend a little more time looking at the "news" organizations that need to learn to check their facts before putting things like this on the air.
Posted by Ryan in the sky on March 19, 2012 at 1:46 PM · Report this
#7 is spot on.
Posted by RVPMB on March 19, 2012 at 1:49 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 11
@ 7 is a moral relativist.
Posted by Matt from Denver on March 19, 2012 at 1:51 PM · Report this
@11: The Stranger's response to this story has been fairly histrionic, relatively speaking, and moral relativism or no, it does not change the fact that this is a tiny scandal compared to the issues #7 shared.
Posted by RVPMB on March 19, 2012 at 2:02 PM · Report this
@4, and @8, where do you get these numbers? The chinese government is as interested as the factories in making sure it looks like there are no problems at the factories. You don't string suicide nets around buildings and stairwells if there isn't an underlying problem.

The issues here are that daisey lied about first hand experiences, nobody disputes the issues he raises are serious problems in china.
Posted by MyNameWhere? on March 19, 2012 at 2:10 PM · Report this
There are many people who want to use this as an excuse to deny that their behavior as a consumer is creating these horrible conditions.

US consumers, you aren't the victims in this, you are the cause.
Posted by snapfin on March 19, 2012 at 2:23 PM · Report this
Foxcon isn't the evil here. We are. We are the ones demanding new smart phones each year without giving a damn what is required to make them. We won't even acknowledge that if it weren't for our greed and priorities children wouldn't be working 60 hour weeks in factories for just enough money to keep from starving to death in china...and being born to starve to death in other parts of the world.
Posted by snapfin on March 19, 2012 at 2:48 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 19
@1: "but his reaction to this is bad, bad, bad. He's going into Martyrdom mode."

Which can't possibly be unexpected considering his theatrics. I hope he continues crashing and burning so someone more credible could take the manufacturing/fabrication industry up on this.
Posted by undead ayn rand on March 19, 2012 at 2:53 PM · Report this
Anthony Hecht 20
@7 - Entirely irrelevant. Yes, there are bigger lies. So what? There are bigger lies than those too. Are we only allowed to talk about the biggest thing? One has nothing to do with the other.

@12 - This post and the others are about this issue. Should all posts point out that there are other, bigger, and completely unrelated issues out there, to place the issue in proper context? "I hated this film, but it wasn't as bad as Stalingrad."

@14 - People (Daisey among them) keep saying this, but I don't see any evidence of it. Can you show me how the attention on this story has caused people to stop caring about labor practices in China, in the past 3 days?

All this meta analysis is annoying. This is about this one thing. It doesn't have any affect on the amount of attention being paid to other things.
Posted by Anthony Hecht on March 19, 2012 at 3:05 PM · Report this
Josh Bis 21
Daisey's major problem here was not noticing that stepping off the stage and onto the news turned him from a monologuist to a self-destructive liar. Prefacing his show with a disclaimer that he was playing a character and amalgamating first-hand experiences and well-sourced reporting would've damaged only his ego and not the power of the important story he was trying to sell.
Posted by Josh Bis on March 19, 2012 at 3:09 PM · Report this
He continually told people -- many people, publicly -- that he saw things and heard things that he did not, and he knew he did not. He wasn't delusional; he did this because he wanted attention, and putting on a show gave him attention.

Lying to get attention is something we try to train children they should not do. Grownups who do it, and make money doing it, don't get a free pass.
Posted by sarah70 on March 19, 2012 at 3:13 PM · Report this
Fnarf 23
@18, um, no, the fact is there is NO "evil" here at all. Mike Daisey and his fans are confused because Shenzen doesn't look like Kirkland, but the truth is, Daisey doesn't know anything at all about China, or manufacturing, or consumerism, and neither do many of the commenters here.

What you are seeing is a tiny corner of the struggle of several billion people to move from the unabated horrors of peasantry into the urban middle class. Yes, there are stumbling blocks and dead ends and failures, but there are also successes. None of this is happening in barnwood nightclubs on Capitol Hill or the cul-de-sacs of Cupertino, so you may have missed it.

The frustrations of people in Shenzhen stem, in part, from the abysmal policy reaction of the authorities there to their new situation. They, like a lot of people, believe that they can will the middle class into being in the planned way the Communist Party is accustomed to, by building apartment blocks and factory precincts on the Le Corbusier model (aka in these parts as the Will in Seattle model: towers in parks). Shenzhen's approach is a failure; it's not surprising that Daisey was able to find some dissatisfied people there.

If you look at other parts of China, however, you will see different things happening; in the far outskirts of Chongqing, for instance, where the chaotic shantytowns of the unlicensed immigrants are allowed to stay, and grow, and metamorphose into proper working "suburbs" (quotes because we wouldn't recognize a suburb with mass manufacturing). These people, though "illegal" (does that word sound familiar?) are making it happen, bringing the village into the city and converting it into a new urban phenomenon, partly because so far the city has held back from bulldozing those communities as they have in Shenzhen.

Is there discontent and suicide? Yes, of course. But there is also a new world beginning there.

"China" is not a monolithic thing. Different places operate differently. And the transformations that are happening there are just beginning; if you made predictions on what the west coast of the US was going to look like in 2012 based on a six-day visit to San Francisco in 1851, you'd miss a few things.

This is a new world that the likes of Mike Daisey, or most critics of Apple, couldn't see if they spent twenty years there. And it's not a world that anyone like us is going to decide on; it's going to happen, whether we get out of the way or not.

In the meantime, Foxconn itself is ironically going to be replacing almost its entire workforce with robots in the next couple of years, rendering Daisey even more irrelevant:

Because that's what Daisey is, and was long before he got caught lying: irrelevant. His argument, even if it wasn't faked, was never part of the discussion. He did not and does not know anything at all about the world he thinks he's reporting from.

If you would like more information on what is going on, I suggest you read Arrival City by Doug Saunders -- it's the most important book on cities since Jane Jacobs came on the scene fifty years ago, and is a pretty authoritative Jacobean riposte to Mike Davis's City of Slums.
Posted by Fnarf on March 19, 2012 at 3:19 PM · Report this

You're just embarrassed because you were a Mike Daisey groupie and now you look like an asshole. Pretty much sums up your whole reaction to this thing. I'm not impressed.
Posted by Confluence on March 19, 2012 at 3:23 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 25
@ 12, calling this a "tiny issue" supposes that the issues @ 7 raised are scandalous. The fact is that the war in Iraq, the war on terror, AND the economic anarchy that resulted in the economic meltdown were all popular with millions of Americans. They will minimize the lies behind them (as well as the negative outcomes) in exactly the same fashion @ 7 minimizes Daisey's lies - not to mention the likely negative outcome, namely that the next person to cover this issue will be treated like the boy who cried wolf, and the Chinese workers will continue to suffer.

This is why moral relativism is wrong, and why you're support of it is wrong.
Posted by Matt from Denver on March 19, 2012 at 3:27 PM · Report this
Anthony Hecht 27
@24 - What an odd remark.
Posted by Anthony Hecht on March 19, 2012 at 3:40 PM · Report this
pg13 28
The "cause" of Mike Daisey has always been Mike Daisey.

And the only brand that Mike Daisey has damaged has been his own.
Posted by pg13 on March 19, 2012 at 4:21 PM · Report this
@23, thanks for the recommendation. I just bought Arrival City.
Posted by gloomy gus on March 19, 2012 at 4:31 PM · Report this
Fnarf 30
@29, I just finished it. It's blown my mind. It wraps up everything I've been thinking about for the past decade or more, as my thinking on immigration and cities has evolved. He makes connections that have been staring me in the face -- between Chongqing, Istanbul, and Dhaka today and London and Paris in the past. It's not all sweetness and light; his chapter on the growth of Islamist extremism in Paris and Amsterdam is astonishing -- "a violent or threatening ethnic culture is nothing more than the temporary product of an ill-designed urban form or economic structure" -- the strongest rebuke against Le Corbusier I've read yet. A place like Les Pyramides in the outskirts of Paris or Slotervaart at the time of Theo van Gogh's murder positively DEMANDS ultraviolence. But the many counterexamples -- Tower Hamlets, Thorncliffe Park near Toronto, parts of LA, Chongqing, the "cecekondu" communities of Istanbul, etc. etc. -- are where the future is happening. It's a beautiful book.

Seattle in contrast looks more and more like an irrelevant suburban playground for rich white people's children. I think it's a problem our city is unable to even see, let alone address.
Posted by Fnarf on March 19, 2012 at 4:46 PM · Report this
@30, now home I'm just a couple pages into it and I'm caught up quite immediately. Very much looking forward to this, thanks.
Posted by gloomy gus on March 19, 2012 at 5:58 PM · Report this
I don't get this.

People more "credible" than Daisey have been talking about the blow back of outsourcing, developing world manufacturing, and supply chain issues for fucking DECADES now.

I guarantee you 90% of the people who Daisey worked up had owned half a dozen computers with parts and strategic minerals sourced from dozens of abusive foreign companies and never gave it a thought. And as long as it doen't have an Apple logo on it I bet they STILL don't.

What Daisey did differently was frame his all these problems that have existed for a long time by focusing in on a sacred cow of a particular demographic that thought of Apple as one of the good guys. And exactly at a time when people were just poised for a big social media backlash against Apple because the once underdog Apple went "mainstream."

The irony is the same cynical "We Want The Righteous To Fall" reflex that fueled Daisey's fame is what is also brining him down.
Posted by tkc on March 19, 2012 at 6:10 PM · Report this
DOUG. 34
Apple stock when Daisy's show premiered in 2010: $250
Apple stock today: $601
Posted by DOUG. on March 19, 2012 at 6:54 PM · Report this
Fnarf @23: +1
Posted by David Wright on March 19, 2012 at 10:33 PM · Report this
undead ayn rand 36
@27: "What an odd remark."

Hah, right? How dare you change your opinion of the story after facts come to light!

@32: "And as long as it doen't have an Apple logo on it I bet they STILL don't.

What Daisey did differently was frame his all these problems that have existed for a long time by focusing in on a sacred cow of a particular demographic that thought of Apple as one of the good guys."

And the first sentence is why the rest doesn't matter. Focusing on the pseudohippies/hipsters as if EVERYBODY doesn't have the same problems with scale of manufacturing is a mistake.

Why not try to focus on what isn't terrible? Nokia manufacturing their phones in Finland, I suppose. But singling one company out doesn't speak for the immense scale and vastness of it all, it just lets people snark at Apple while the rest continue exploiting labor/resources.
Posted by undead ayn rand on March 20, 2012 at 10:03 AM · Report this
Aaron 37
Denialism? Denialists?
Posted by Aaron on March 20, 2012 at 12:10 PM · Report this

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