The fact and fiction of Mike Daisey

Summary:Over the weekend, This American Life revealed inaccuracies in the story of Mike Daisey, who visited Foxconn in China to expose the manufacturing practices behind Apple products. Daisey spoke to Nerdcam last year about his show and it's now time to set the record straight.

Over the weekend, This American Life revealed inaccuracies in the story of Mike Daisey, who visited Foxconn in China to expose the manufacturing practices behind Apple products. Daisey spoke to Nerdcam last year about his show and it's now time to set the record straight.

Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey
(Credit: Luke Hopewell/ZDNet Australia)

Daisey brought his show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" to the Sydney Opera House last October during the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. Before the show hit the Sydney stage, the Sydney Opera House got in touch, asking if Nerdcam would be interested in speaking with Daisey. Naturally, we leapt at the opportunity.

Daisey told ZDNet Australia that his show presents two interwoven stories; one being the rise of Steve Jobs, his expulsion from the company and eventual return to lead it to new heights, while the other was a recounting of his trip to China, where he went to the factories of Foxconn and spoke to the workers who make Apple products in what he declared were truly third-world conditions.

During our interview, Daisey described the himself as a monologist and described his performance as "kind of storytelling and kind of journalism".

It seems that statement revealed more than we originally thought.

Last week, This American Life (which had featured Daisey on a show aired in January of this year) exposed the monologist as having fabricated much of his story, thanks to the work of Rob Schmitz, a radio correspondent working in China who tracked down and interviewed Daisey's translator.

Host of This American Life, Ira Glass, brought Daisey back onto the program and challenged the facts aired not only in Daisey's stage show, but also what he broadcast to This American Life's hundreds of thousands of listeners. Daisey apologised for his misrepresentation, saying only that he had worked hard to meld together a carefully constructed blend of fact and fiction to make people feel something about the subject matter.

The fiction in Daisey's stage monologue included the fabrication of having spoken to a group of Foxconn workers and the fabrication of the n-Hexane poisoning incident at a Foxconn facility.

Daisey admitted taking shortcuts in his passion to be heard on the issue of workers' rights:

Everything I have done in making this monologue for the theatre has been toward that end — to make people care. I'm not going to say that I didn't take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work.

My mistake, the mistake that I truly regret, is that I had it on [This American Life] as journalism and it's not journalism. It's theatre.

I use the tools of theatre and memoir to achieve its dramatic arc and of that arc and of that work I am very proud because I think it made you care, Ira, and I think it made you want to delve. And my hope is that it makes — has made — other people delve.

Daisey said that the presentation wasn't held to rigorous journalistic standards and apologised to those who felt betrayed by his words.

As This American Life has apologised for airing Daisey's fabrications, so too do we. The original Nerdcam broadcast was not sufficiently vetted prior to publishing and we pledge to make sure this doesn't happen again.

Topics: Apple

About

A fresh recruit onto the tech journalism battlefield, Luke Hopewell is eager to see some action. After a tour of duty in the belly of the Telstra beast, he is keen to report big stories on the enterprise beat. Drawing on past experience in radio, print and magazine, he plans to ask all the tough questions you want answered.

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