Who can we trust?

Although he compromised his integrity by fabricating some of the factual information in his monologue, I believe Mike Daisey had good intentions. He wanted to shed light on an important issue that had been largely ignored by both the tech industry and the public. Daisey admits to embellishing the details of his story, then states in his own defense, “Everything I have done in making this monologue for the theater has been toward that end – to make people care.” But no matter how respectable his end goal, Daisey’s monologue lost its honest impact when he made the decision to mix reality with falsity.

I don’t know if it was necessarily “unethical” for Daisey to alter his actual experience to provoke a more passionate response, but it was undeniably deceitful. “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” may have been theatrical by definition, but Daisey’s descriptive first-person dialogue led many to interpret his words as hard evidence. This piece about Apple has blurred the distinction between the expressive world of art and the truth-based world of journalism. By traveling to China and observing the Foxconn facility and its workers, collecting information to be shared in the US media, Daisey was a journalist. But in the process of transforming observations into speech, he became an artist by exaggerating perhaps the most important parts of his story to enhance his performance.

In his “Retraction” interview, Daisey admits to feeling guilty that his work has misled so many people. Ira Glass feels guilty that by promoting Daisey’s performance on his show, he misinformed his audience. And as a listener, I feel guilty that I believed all of Daisey’s words as pure fact. But is any of this guilt really necessary? It seems to me that the root of the controversy stems more from Daisey’s false positioning of his argument than from his half-truthful story. It is unclear which evidence, if any, to trust regarding Apple’s Chinese operations. If Apple filters the facts, and writers like Mike Daisey filter the facts, who are we left to believe?


8 responses to “Who can we trust?

  1. I had a totally different first reaction when I found out that Mike Daisey’s story was not factual. I found it interesting to see that you thought his actions were not necessarily “unethical”. After reading your post I thought more about Daisey and his intentions. I do see that he wanted to inform people and create emotions but I still came to the conclusion that his actions were not ethical. You propose the question, If Apple filters the facts, and writers like Mike Daisey filter the facts, who are we left to believe? I have been asking myself the same thing since hearing Mike Daisey’s story was art and not journalism. It is hard to trust anything as 100% factual now after being tricked by Daisey. It is a shame, but as I go on I will be more hesitant to trust stories like these right from the get go.


    • Your comment makes me think about what we consider to be correct ethically in this situation. Do we care about the ethics in regards to workers’ conditions? Or do we care about the ethics about lying in the media? Are all stories that we read in the news true? Are ethics lost in todays world? How do we filter out what is right and wrong?


  2. The comment above reminds me of one of the inconvenient truths of the media: not everything they relay is factual (see link, couldn’t figure out how to embed within a comment: http://journalism.about.com/od/ethicsprofessionalism/tp/journalismscandals.htm). Perhaps this is the media’s attempt at grabbing attention in a world that has become overrun with news stories, marketing messaging and social media. However, I do not mean to imply that lying for the sake of promoting a particular message is justified–I think we can agree as a society to condemn lying. I do mean to say that lying happens and we need to be cognizant of that fact.


  3. I agree that there is often a mutual ignorance involved in the media. People like Mike Daisey may be ignorant to the impact their words have on societal perspectives. Conversely, the public may be ignorant to the so-called “news” they hear, absorbing and believing all they are told to believe. It is a problem of misinformation and miscommunication, one I am afraid we are only just beginning to recognize.


  4. It’s interesting you don’t see his actions as unethical. On the stage one could argue that embellishment is part of art. But Daisey crossed a line when he presented this art as 100% factually accurate by airing it on This American Life. Lying to both NPR and the radio audience seems unethical to me.


  5. I found your take on this situation to be very interesting! You said that Daisey’s monologue lost its honest impact when it was revealed to be embellished and with that I agree! But do you think it would have had such an impact if someone had merely read a list of facts about working conditions? This situation has clearly garnered a strong reaction from the public about the working conditions at Foxconn, both before and after the “Retraction” episode. While the details may not be accurate, the desired impact was attained.

    Liked by 1 person

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