The decline of American manufacturing employment is an important topic. The nature of America’s trade relationship with China should receive serious discussion. The conditions faced by the workers who make our iPhones and iPads matter immensely.
They deserve rigorous inquiry. They do not deserve Mike Daisey.
A quick recap for those readers who may have missed the story: This American Life, a weekly public-radio show, ran a story by the monologist Mike Daisey who claimed to have visited Apple factories in China and uncovered grievous abuses of its workers. However, it turns out that Daisey fabricated large portions of his segment—details like scary security guards carrying guns (only the military and the police are allowed firearms in China); meeting with workers as young as 12; interviewing workers who claimed to be poisoned by an iPhone screen cleaner; and much more. This American Life recently apologized for not fact-checking the work properly and retracted the story.
Daisey has rightfully faced a hailstorm of criticism for his shoddy work. He has responded to this criticism, not surprisingly, in a manner both shallow and self-serving; he still contends that ”there is nothing in this controversy that contests the facts in my work about the nature of Chinese manufacturing.”
Daisey appears to have learned little from this saga. In his “apology” he denounced his critics as vile, compared himself grandiosely to Mark Twain, and struck the pose of a martyr. Via Meadia think this is truly pathetic. What Daisey misses is that when you are writing about abuses, the more serious the abuses are (and the more urgent the fight against them), the more serious and accurate you have to be about the facts. By stretching the truth the way he did, Daisey betrayed precisely the people he claimed to be helping.
A lot of people think it is easy to do good. It is actually very difficult, and a great deal of harm is done by people who rush into the do-gooding business without understanding themselves or the world very well. Sadly, Mike Daisey doesn’t seem to be learning from his mistakes — yet. Via Meadia will hope for the best.