Walking Back Mr. Daisey and other short notes

As part of a longer article on manufacturing a couple months ago, I linked to This American Life’s episode on Mike Daisey, whose one-man show “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steven Jobs” told about worker abuse at the FoxConn plants in China that make iPhones and iPads.

Well, This America Life just retracted that episode. They did an entire new episode explaining what’s wrong with the old one.

Retractions are always tricky, because a listener’s reflex reaction is to forget the whole thing. Never mind. It wasn’t true. That’s not really appropriate here, because (as Ira Glass says in the new episode):

We did factcheck the story before we put it on the radio. But in factchecking, our main concern was whether the things Mike says about Apple and about its supplier Foxconn, which makes this stuff, were true. That stuff is true. It’s been corroborated by independent investigations by other journalists, studies by advocacy groups, and much of it has been corroborated by Apple itself in its own audit reports.

But what’s not true is what Mike said about his own trip to China.

In other words, Mike Daisey fictionalized the story by putting himself in the middle of it.

As best as we can tell, Mike’s monologue in reality is a mix of things that actually happened when he visited China and things that he just heard about or researched, which he then pretends that he witnessed first hand. He pretends that he just stumbled upon an array of workers who typify all kinds of harsh things somebody might face in a factory that makes iPhones and iPads.

And the most powerful and memorable moments in the story all seem to be fabricated.

So the facts you think you know about how iPhones are made — those are true. What’s false is the emotional heft of the story, the stuff that made you pay attention and take it seriously.

In Daisey’s defense, he got into this position in small steps. Fictionalization is a perfectly acceptable technique of theater, which is his monologue’s intended medium. If you understood that the actor Mike Daisey was playing a character “Mike Daisey” who dramatized what the author Mike Daisey had learned in his research — then you weren’t fooled at all.

Where Daisey went wrong was that he stayed in character when interviewed by This American Life, and let himself be presented to TAL’s audience as if he also were a journalist, and as if his story met TAL’s usual journalistic standards.

To their credit, TAL went the extra mile to correct all that. If only all journalists would do the same.


I always have a tough time deciding whether to call your attention to the crazy proposals in state legislatures. The 50 states have hundreds of legislators apiece, so there’s always some lunatic thing on the docket somewhere. Most of them amount to nothing, but you could be pointlessly outraged by them 24/7 if you wanted.

Right now, for example, bills under consideration in Arizona and Kansas would protect a doctor who intentionally lies to a pregnant woman about birth defects in her fetus. Why would a doctor do that? To prevent an abortion, of course.

So the misled woman (and possibly her husband) ends up on the hook to care for the child into the indefinite future, possibly at the cost of millions of dollars. She may or may not find this to be a rewarding life, but whatever else she had hoped to do in this incarnation is over now.

Under current law, she might get some help by suing the doctor who lied to her. But not if this bill passes.

Why do these proposals deserve your attention? Because a similar law is already on the books in Oklahoma (where I assume loco-weed sprouts through every crack in the sidewalk). That fact elevates it above the everyday-insanity level.


Watch this and explain to me why Pat Robertson is known as a family-values guy.


If your conservative relatives are telling you that ObamaCare’s cost estimate has doubled since Congress passed the ACA, they’re repeating what Fox News is telling them. Jonathan Cohn explains how they’re being misled.

Another baseless rumor that is circulating in those multiply-forwarded conservative emails: Muslims are exempt from the ACA’s insurance mandate. Nope.


So the money supply is way up and inflation is no big deal. How long does that have to stay true before Stockholm revokes Milton Friedman’s Nobel Prize?


A Goldman Sachs exec blew the whistle on his way out the door. Greg Smith wrote an op-ed: Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs in Wednesday’s NYT. His point: Goldman has lost its moral compass, and is now exploiting its clients rather than trying to make money for them.

Several people have pointed out that me-and-the-client-against-the-world wasn’t much of a moral compass to begin with. Dan Denzer parodied:

When I joined the Sith, the mission was all about bringing peace and order to the galaxy.

Robert Reich argues that loss of moral fiber isn’t why investment-bank behavior changed. It changed because government stopped looking over bankers’ shoulders.


While we’re on Robert Reich’s blog, his post on public vs. private morality nails something important.

Republicans have morality upside down. … America’s problem isn’t a breakdown in private morality. It’s a breakdown in public morality. What Americans do in their bedrooms is their own business. What corporate executives and Wall Street financiers do in boardrooms and executive suites affects all of us.

There is moral rot in America but it’s not found in the private behavior of ordinary people. It’s located in the public behavior of people who control our economy and are turning our democracy into a financial slush pump.


Rick Santorum’s statements about euthanasia in the Netherlands were way off. But when a Dutch journalist raised the issue with a campaign spokesman, he got no contrition whatsoever, just a repeated statement that Santorum is “a strong pro-life person”. Steve Benen sums up on MaddowBlog:

Santorum being ” a strong pro-life person” apparently gives him license to make up nonsense about the Netherlands.


Even though I’m an avid Kindle-user, I have fond memories of physical encyclopedias, from the World Book my parents bought when I was in second grade to the Britannica that was the first big purchase my wife and I made together.

Yeah, we reclaimed shelf space eons ago by giving those volumes away, and I contribute each year to the Wikimedia Foundation (and consider it a good deal in light of how much I use Wikipedia). But I felt a pang of nostalgic regret when I heard that Britannica will no longer publish a print edition. Kids of the future will never have the experience of sitting behind a stack of books taller than they are.

Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, however, is doing a happy-dance on Britannica’s grave. He even makes a certain amount of sense, the way unsentimental people usually do.


Ever seen a skypunch before?


Rush Limbaugh and most of the rest of conservative talk-radio is broadcast by Clear Channel Communications. Know who owns Clear Channel? Mitt Romney’s old firm, Bain Capital.

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  • By Perfectly Tragic « The Weekly Sift on March 19, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    […] Walking Back Mr. Daisy and other short notes. This American Life did a whole episode on how it was conned by Mike Daisy. (I linked the original episode, so I’d better tell you about this one too.) It’s an interesting lesson in truth and journalism. […]

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