Blog Post

Why Mike Daisey isn’t done apologizing for his lies

Mike DaiseyNine days after monologist Mike Daisey was exposed as a fabulist, a man who manufactured personal stories about Apple’s supply chain in China out of thin air in hopes of selling a message and theater tickets, he finally apologized for his actions. In doing so, he once again left out a key detail.

Daisey’s infamy has grown following the decision of This American Life on March 16th to retract an earlier report after discovering that Daisey could not account for key facts in both his monologue (The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs) and in his statements to This American Life for a report on Apple(s aapl) and manufacturing that got widespread attention. Among other things, Daisey completely made up an anecdote in which he had supposedly invoked a sense of child-like wonder in a former Foxconn worker with a hand mangled on the iPad production line by showing the man a working iPad for the very first time.

After his uncomfortable performance on “Retraction,” Daisey defended his work, writing on his personal blog that “my show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity.” Given more time to think about it, he actually doubled down, attacking his critics: “Given the tenor of the condemnation, you would think I had concocted an elaborate, fanciful universe filled with furnaces in which babies are burned to make iPhone components, or that I never went to China, never stood outside the gates of Foxconn, never pretended to be a businessman to get inside of factories, never spoke to any workers.

However, it later emerged that Daisey had insisted on printing “this is a work of non-fiction” on playbills for his monologue, making it clear that he wanted audiences to walk away from the performance seeing Daisey as a courageous muckraker unafraid to tell the stories others wouldn’t touch.

Daisey’s conscience finally caught up with him over the weekend. On Sunday, he wrote the following:

When I said onstage that I had personally experienced things I in fact did not, I failed to honor the contract I’d established with my audiences over many years and many shows. In doing so, I not only violated their trust, I also made worse art. This is not the place for me to try and explain my good intentions. We all know where the road paved with good intentions leads. In fact, I think it might lead to where I’m sitting right now.  I had an acting teacher, years ago, who always taught that the calling of an artist is to be humble before the work. He knew, I think, how easy it can be to lose one’s way.

He went on to apologize to his other theater performers, human-rights advocates, and journalists that had interviewed him for stories in which he repeated all his falsehoods. “Things came out of my mouth that just weren’t true, and over time, I couldn’t even hear the difference myself,” he wrote.

But Mike Daisey forgot to apologize to the entity that was the direct target of his lies: Apple.

Original Sin

Daisey’s selection of Apple and Jobs as the centerpieces of his monologue was not a coincidence. A self-confessed Apple fanboy, he held great admiration for the work that Apple contributed to the world under Jobs’ second term as CEO as well as immense disgust for the conditions under which modern consumer electronics devices are produced. Given that Apple is the largest producer of modern mobile devices made in factories such as Foxconn’s, and given the intense scrutiny that is paid to all things Apple both inside and outside the tech industry, it’s not hard to see why Daisey chose Apple and Jobs as protagonists in his work.

But in reality, Daisey exposed nothing about Apple’s manufacturing issues that wasn’t already known. It’s not that his whole account was fabricated: workers manufacturing products for Apple have been poisoned by dangerous chemicals, killed in explosions that were preventable, and have committed suicide in groups over the last few years.

Steve Jobs Announces iPhone
Steve Jobs Announces iPhone

What Daisey did do, however, was present made-up emotional and personal stories about those issues as if they were new. He spent months on a media blitz linking Apple as the main contributor to the widespread labor and safety issues at companies like Foxconn (which builds products for an entire industry) based on fabricated accounts of his travels in China.

He implied that the company was covering up even worse violations, such as the widespread use of child labor, in one of the most dramatic scenes of his monologue. He wrote an op-ed in the New York Daily News the day before the latest iPad was released, saying “I traveled to the factories in China, spoke to dozens of workers, heard their stories firsthand and went undercover into factories and dormitories. … The company has been choosing profit over workers’ lives.”

And perhaps worst of all, on the day after Jobs died Daisey repeated the story about the Foxconn worker with the mangled hand in The New York Times, linking Jobs’ legacy to a horrific anecdote that never happened.  After This American Life published its retraction earlier this month, the Times removed that paragraph from its archived copy of the article.

The Daisey And The Damage Done

There is no doubt that the consumer electronics industry needs to do more to improve the working conditions under which its products are made, and that Apple, as the leading consumer electronics company of our time, is in a position to make an outsized impact. But Daisey’s contribution to this issue was not just to raise attention to the problem at large (which he definitely did), it was also to generate publicity for his Apple-themed show. He did that with lies that declared not only was Apple not doing as much as it could to solve the problem, but that it was actually a worse actor than its peers.

On a petition circulated by following the airing of the first episode of This American Life, over 255,000 people affixed their names to a call for Apple to do more to protect workers. They said things like “I can still make the decision to buy PC instead for the sake of my conscience and the wellbeing of other people” and “As a Mac user for 17 years, this is the first issue that could make me stop buying from Apple.” A petition to retract that petition following the exposure of Daisey’s lies has just 373 signatures.

Mike Daisey built the key parts of his monologue–and much of his current fame–on lies he told about Apple. He has one more apology to make.

20 Responses to “Why Mike Daisey isn’t done apologizing for his lies”

  1. All the creeps and cretins are piling onto Mike Daisey. That does not negate the fact that China is a fascist state where workers are treated as bad as people were in Chicago meat-packing plants in 1915, as described in the Jungle by Upton Sinclair. To gigaom, you have lost me as a reader—forever.

  2. Ian Sterne

    I think you should be talking about two apologies. One to Apple but more importantly one to the Jobs family, because Apple and what Apple does was so closely associated with Jobs.

    Yes Apple is a big company that should be able to hold their own, but if this monologue encourages people to buy ASUS or other products from manufactures that care even less about worker safety, that is counter productive.

  3. Glenn Fleishman

    “conscience finally caught up with him over the weekend”: No, the theatre community slowly started to abandon him last week after initially supporting him, as more facts came out, and his production partners (four theatre companies that worked with him on mounting Agony in 2011) realized how they were duped.

    Daisey mentions, but does not link, to the 2am Theatre site’s podcast of Truth in Theatre. It’s a great listen. And it’s preceded by the artistic director of the Public Theatre, one of Daisey’s partners, explaining how what Daisey did was specifically a violation of trust with the theatre’s audience.

  4. Daisey was told what caused the suicides early in his schedule. He was given information that would have allowed him to verify that causation. He ignored it.

    The suicides in China could be stopped for pennies with a pair of safety glasses with wide temple arms blacked out to block peripheral vision. That’s what engineers and designers did when a problem with human physiology and crowded knowledge work condition was discovered, believed to be harmless, in 1964. The cubicle was created to stop mental breaks from Subliminal Distraction exposure by 1968.

    Where true sweatshop conditions have existed, such as the garment industry in New York, there have never been suicides reported from that work. Why is this ignored.

    But at France Telecom, with 35 hour weeks and union negotiated wages, there have been 60 suicide attempts with a disputed 30 to 60 deaths. When you compare the size of the two work forces the France Telecom situation is much worse.

    In both countries TV news crews have posted video and pictures that show the problem is Subliminal Distraction exposure. When it happened to my wife she heard voices and had severe crying episodes about impossible situations she hallucinate. That’s what is happening to the suicides in China and France. The Air Force has agreed to investigate Subliminal Distraction as the cause of service member suicides. VisionAndPsychosis_Net

  5. thegeniusfiles

    I guess the reality-distortion field is a persistent phenomenon.
    The iPad is a remarkable device, to engender such loyalty while simultaneously siphoning wealth from the USA and enslaving the workers of China. It really is magic.

  6. Steve T

    Nice job Tom finally a fair assessment. Daisey was looking for headlines. He gets bailed out by people who believe he drew attention to problems that had already been identified. Apple doesn’t get a pass on these problems but they don’t deserve to have stories sensationalized by a guy using poetic license as his defense.

  7. Michael

    Yes, one dishonest performance artist versus a corporation worth over $400 billion employing the top PR and damage control firms in the world –Daisey is surely a monster for terrorizing poor defenseless Apple that way.

  8. “Given that Apple is the largest producer of modern mobile devices made in factories such as Foxconn’s, and given the intense scrutiny that is paid to all things Apple both inside and outside the tech industry, it’s not hard to see why Daisey chose Apple and Jobs as protagonists in his work.”

    The above paragraph is NOT TRUE either, Apple is not the biggest maker of mobile devices, and this doesn’t help your article in promoting the truth in journalism or true blogging for this matter.

  9. This article says what Daisey talked about was already known, but it links to the NY Times iEconomy piece that came out earlier this year. Daisey has been performing this monologue since 2010.

    • Tom Krazit

      The stories Daisey references in his monologue–the hexane poisoning, the plant explosions, underage labor–had all been acknowledged by previous media reports and Apple. The iEconomy reports, if you read them carefully, don’t actually uncover any new incidents: they just do an excellent job of aggregating and discussing the previous incidents that those tracking Foxconn have known about for years. Daisey claimed to have uncovered new incidents that solid reporting could not verify.

  10. Give me a break. The Apple obsession on this blog is irritating. Apple is a $500B company; they don’t need to be treated like a 12 year old who didn’t get invited to a birthday party.

  11. Josh Holbrook

    Can we please dispense with the righteous indignation. Daisy lied about some / much of his personal experiences while visiting the Foxconn plan while in China. Shame on him. It is an important point that deserves coverage, but the most of the hub-bub regarding Daisy bury’s the lead. The items he is accused of lying about weren’t fantastical. He simply brought life to a variety of issues that are documented by a variety of other sources. His facts are accurate, but he misled the audience about the source of those facts. Many were secondary sources rather than things experienced for himself. The Daisy story deserves attention but lets not lose sight of the fact that Apple / Foxconn has abhorrent working conditions.

    • Tom Krazit

      I disagree: the items he was accused of lying about were very fantastical, such as the man with the mangled hand seeing an iPad for the first time and the large number of 12-year-old workers outside the Foxconn gates, just to pick two.

      I do agree that I hope no one loses sight of the broader issues Daisey was trying to highlight, but the fact remains he went about spreading falsehoods about Apple: at one point in his monologue, while talking about all the child workers he saw outside Foxconn’s gates, he says: “Do you really think Apple doesn’t know?” Total lie.

    • hugoboom

      The issue is not Apple / Foxconn. The major problem with Daisy’s story was the focus on Apple. It turns out they are one of the more engaged companies on this subject (not that they should not be more engaged). The problem with Daisy’s story is that by focusing on Apple he let all the other electronics manufacturers off the hook. He encouraged the crazed fiction that buying another CE device somehow made you better when it fact the problems are systemic. HP, Microsoft, Samsung … all the products of the same supply chain with minor variations.

      Had Daisy singled out a less popular company would his story been less inflammatory? Had Daisy made up a fictional CE company and pulled material from a wider selection of manufacturing horror stories while never leaving the US would it have been harder for him to get his play in theaters?

      Did he do more of a disservice to his avowed cause by overplaying his hand?

      The real problem is the idea that this is an Apple problem … if you wrote a comment on this site (me too) you have benefited from the manufacturing boom in China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and so on. Does anyone think the second and third tier products are assembled under better conditions? Making this about Apple lets everyone else off the hook … and that is burying the lede.