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?