Daisey’s Noble Deed

In the words of Mike Daisey, the “Retraction” episode of TAL is “excruciating.” The prolonged silences and razor sharp questions posed by Ira Glass seem to cut right through Daisey’s final shred of dignity and validity. Yet, was Daisey’s deception really that bad? Are we missing the more essential issue at hand? While Glass harps on Daisey for misleading him in a journalistic sense, we as the audience should not be so irate. On March 19, right after the “Retraction” episode aired, Daisey writes an intriguing blog post that changed my mind about his actions. He writes:

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…But understand that if you felt something that connected you with where your devices come from—that is not a lie. That is art. That is human empathy, and it is real, and even if you curse my name I hope you’ll recognize that and continue reading, caring, and thinking. 


Daisey is trying to convey that if his story had been entirely factual, the emotional response would not have been as powerful. Thus, we would be less likely to respond and act on the terrible nature of Chinese manufacturing. I believe what Daisey did was justifiable. Of course, it wasn’t exactly journalism–Glass should have recognized that. Daisey just wanted a bigger stage to broadcast his message.

But, Daisey did lie. This leads to an even bigger question: who gets to lie and who doesn’t? Does it matter what the liar’s motives are? We have discussed in class that companies like Apple with shareholders  deserve to know about pertinent news like an executive’s illness. Daisey does not really have any “shareholders,” so should he be held to the same standard? I would say not. Daisey’s cause was noble, and not one of pure deception. The overall message of Daisey’s monologue is what matters: somebody needs to do something about Chinese manufacturing. That is undeniable.



8 responses to “Daisey’s Noble Deed

  1. I appreciate your inclusion of Daisey’s blog post as I think it’s important to hear his reactions, too. It was evident in his “Retraction” interview that Daisey felt cornered by Ira Glass’s heated questions and could not come up with complete responses. Although his monologue was revealed to be not entirely truthful, its intentions are still clear – to draw attention to the abundance of labor issues in Chinese production. Maybe more important than the misleading details of his story is its connection to “human empathy,” its ability to inspire interest and concern in its audience. Would the response be lesser or different if Daisey had not exaggerated his experience?


  2. I really like the questions raised in this post. They bring an interesting and different perspective. However, Daisey’s utilitarian approach to solving this problem still does not sit well with me. Even through the most optimistic lens, Daisey took liberties he did not have by prioritizing our societal values for us.

    For a second let’s all be optimists and say that Daisey was acting “for the greater good,” sacrificing his reputation to bring awareness to the situation. Even if this was the case, in doing so Daisey decided that as a society we should value the working conditions in China more that we should value the truth. While both are extremely important, this was not Daisey’s decision to make. This is the fundamental problem.


    • I like the assertions that you lay out for us here. This is what makes this philosophical discussion so interesting–you can take so many different angles. I want to focus on your last point about society valuing working conditions in China versus valuing the truth. If Daisey cannot make the decision about which is more important, who can? Can we ever arrive at a solution? This reminds me of the idiom “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” meaning that no matter which one you choose to value, you could be considered in the wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The role of the artist may be exactly this: to risk damnation to challenge normal ways of speaking, thinking, and representing.

        The beauty and clean design of the Apple brand is its own lie, isn’t it?


  3. I understand your point that Daisey’s act could actually be considered “noble” in its attempt to garner human empathy towards such blatant and tragic mistreatment of humans. However, his exaggeration still does not sit well with me. I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t be moved by the true story of his trip and the conditions in China. I think we would still have reacted emotionally if he had shared the Hexane situation, for example, in its honest context- even if that meant relaying a story from someone else’s account rather than fabricating that he was a first-hand witness, especially if he still presented that information with the vibrancy he embedded throughout his performance. Honestly, I think the fact that he felt compelled to dramatize certain elements of the story is a disservice to those workers and their struggle, as if the truth isn’t sad or dramatic enough to elicit our sympathy. There are certainly ways to integrate theatrics into a story with the end goal of resonating emotionally and powerfully with the audience while still maintaining its factual and journalistic integrity.


  4. I really appreciate your opinions and the segment you inserted from Daisey’s blog. I agree with you that Daisey’s overall message that somebody needs to do something about the issues in Chinese manufacturing is what ultimately matters in this situation. I disagree, however, that his lies are justifiable in terms of eliciting an emotional response from his audience. I think that he could have called his story “based on true events” and still gotten his desired response.

    The question you pose of “does it matter what the liar’s motives are” and your response that Daisey’s lack of shareholders makes it okay for him to lie is interesting to me. While I don’t think it’s acceptable, I could maybe be moved to agree that his lies were justified in terms of the stage. However, TAL abides by the ethical standards of journalism and it was not right for him to say that his story was completely true after TAL deliberately asked him if it was.


  5. I do believe that the cause that Daisey lied for was undoubtable a good cause. Additionally the was he told the story and framed the story made it more emotionally impactful. So I do understand why he would want to tell this version of the story if he true motives where is inspire change in people’s reactions to Chinese manufacturing. However, while I understand his reasoning, I do not think that this is acceptable. In response to your question, who gets to lie and who doesn’t, I would respond that no one should get to lie. Regardless of profession it is wrong to convince people to think one way by manipulating the facts. If this is truly a problem, which I fully believe it is, I am sure Daisey could have found a way to tell his story and why Chinese manufacturing needs to change, without lying to his audience.


  6. Ah, but does he have stakeholders? And does TAL? And is part of the conflict between Daisey and TAL about how each imagines their highest responsibility to their stakeholders?

    It is not like like TAL listeners were going to sue TAL for damages.

    Does the fact that this is all in the realm of journalism, media and art make it easier to see the stakeholder dynamics?


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