Mike Daisey’s guest appearance on the podcast on This American Life, regarding his story about Apple and FoxConn working conditions, and the resulting follow-up “Retraction,” stands out to me as significant wake-up call to the trust placed in those preaching altruistic goals. Mike Daisey wanted to make a difference, and change peoples views about a situation halfway around the world, far removed from America, and the consumers, of the products being made there. By stretching the truth, adding in emotional scenes and providing a compelling narrative about his journey, Mike Daisey’s story seems awfully familiar to another recent scandal, surrounding Greg Mortenson and his novel, Three Cups of Tea. Both men, willing to lie about their experience and fabricate a story directed at first-world citizens, to generate an emotional response for the ‘need to uphold modern values in other countries.’ While Mortenson had his novel put under scrutiny by writer, and former supporter, John Krakauer, in Three Cups of Deceit, undermining his story and calling out claims, Mike Daisey actually came back to This American Life to talk out the issues and explain himself for his misrepresentations.
Daisey stands by his story, the work of theater, and never comes clean about the inconsistencies in his story, and the people he lied about meeting. It is troubling to know that he understood the full weight of his actions, and seemed to hope that the consequences would never catch up to him. While it may have been an error to run the show originally, the intent of having Daisey on This American Life was clear to all parties, and yet Daisey held no regard for the professionalism and truth expected of him. In my opinion this makes him a liar, and an unethical one.
While his show may help provide awareness, and the expectation surrounding a performance at a theater may not be that of journalistic integrity, answering a reporter and detailing parts of the story meant for emotional response in a performance as fact is the ethical equivalent of the people he criticizes. Raising awareness or promoting a cause is an honorable notion, however, lying and selling a story about things that he didn’t experience doesn’t qualify for opinion, or even leave room for interpretation. I almost felt bad for the guy, as he returned again and still tried to defend himself, but he either has convinced himself that the story is true, or has just decided to play Mike Daisey vs the world. He described many events and created many experiences to fit news stories about the subject, and regards his fictional recreation of them as valid experiences, and brings up the question that Mortenson’s debacle did, as to whether or not lying to promote awareness is unethical or simply misguided, and in this case, I believe Mr. Daisy hurt his own cause with his story. He did not experience anything as sensationalist as he claims, and with resources to explore the truth behind the issues in large factories, journalists already exploring any information they can, and companies themselves providing reports, Daisey’s story falls flat. Seeing Mike Daisey as anything more than an actor, or a character, seems to be futile, as he stands behind his actions and insists that from his view, everything’s good, and the rest of us are left to trust in credible sources, and filter out unreliable ones who are stuck in their views, taking everything we hear with a grain of salt, from amateur reporters like Mike Daisey, to large news outlets as well.