If there’s one thing I love it’s the weekly radio program “This American Life,” which is why when I listened to one of the show’s new podcasts a few months ago with guest Mike Daisey, I was completely engulfed. As a monologist, he performs a theater show called “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in which he talks about Apple’s factory chain in China and the exploitation of some of its workers.
As I trudged home from school through the pouring rain of Eugene I listened to the episode on my headphones and was completely disturbed by the story of a factory worker whose manufacturing of the iPad left him with a deformed hand and stories of twelve and thirteen-year-old employees. I recommended the episode to my friends, but pushed it to the back of my mind until I listened to a newer hour-long podcast on “This American Life” – Retraction.
As it turns out, Daisey has an honesty problem. He fabricated a significant portion of the details included in the episode, entitled “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” therefore infuriating host Ira Glass. I was heartbroken and I took my frustration to Twitter (probably not the best place to take one’s frustration), by comparing Daisey to the infamous pseudo-journalist and sociopath liar Stephen Glass.
What I was expecting was a lonely “favorite” by some random college student (which did happen). What I wasn’t expecting: a reply from Mike Daisey himself.
After a snarky reply to my Tweet, he graced me with a link to his personal blog (thanks, but no thanks) and since April 4th Daisey has continued to post pages and pages of equally snarky replies to other people angered by his dishonesty.
Maybe the reason I can’t get Daisey’s dupe out of my mind is that he robbed a tiny piece of my journalistic trust. Daisey was believed by thousands of listeners as to be a presenter of news. Although he claims his stories were compositions of things that he has seen to be common, it is not the job of journalists to make people care.
I wasn’t the only one bothered by the incident; articles popped up on most main news websites. “I’m more concerned about the suggestion that you have to cheat to come up with remarkable journalism that tilts the rink,” wrote David Carr in a New York Times article about the scandal.
Unfortunately, Daisey’s original apologies sounded more like excuses. “Well, I don’t know that I would say in a theatrical context that it isn’t true. I believe that when I perform it in a theatrical context in the theater that when people hear the story in those terms that we have different languages for what the truth means,” he said in the Retraction. Since then, he’s apologized in more responsible terms on his blog.
I don’t know how many different languages of truth Daisey has in mind, but hopefully in the future journalism will be left to journalists and I can resume listening to “This American Life” without having to accept guests as actors.
Photo taken by Sara Krulwich from the New York Times