What Constitutes the Truth?


What do you think that it means to be ethical?  This is the issue that is being called into question in regards to the Mike Daisey scandal.  Mike Daisey, a well-known author and performer, who has been publically ostracized by many because of his intent to deceive the American public with his monologue, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.  In this one-man show Daisey performs a monologue based on his thoughts and experiences after visiting Foxconn, one of the main suppliers of Apple, based in China.  Daisey performed this monologue all over the country, in different theaters, to sold out audiences.  His story became a sensation and brought the issue of poor working conditions in sweatshops to the forefront of the American public’s mind.  And, why wouldn’t it?—Daisey’s performance is supposed to be a true account of his experience.  It even says in the program, underneath the title of the show, in all caps, ‘THIS IS A WORK OF NONFICTION’ (Huffington Post Article).  This, the world has come to discover, is false.  In fact, most of the monologue never happened.

This controversy began when Mike Daisey agreed to have his monologue aired on the popular radio show, This American Life.  Up until this point everything seemed to be going well for Daisey, as the entire American public was happily digesting every one of his lies.  However, he should have realized that his lies would eventually catch up with him, now that they were out in the world for anyone to fact check and disprove.  Well, that is exactly what happened.  After hearing Mike Daisey’s monologue on the radio, Rob Smitz—an American journalist living China, reporting for the popular radio show, Marketplace—began to question the validity of a lot of Daisey’s claims.  Because Smitz was a reporter living in China at the time, he knew what the actual Chinese culture and customs were like.  It is this knowledge that allowed Smitz to catch Daisey’s lies.

Most of the lies Daisey fabricated were not in fact, “fact” lies, but more “experience” lies.  In an effort to clarify his suspicions, Smitz, went out and found “Cathy”, Daisey’s translator for the duration of his visit, in an effort to clarify things.  After Smitz found Cathy, Daisey’s entire story began to unravel.  While Cathy, herself, was unaware of Daisey’s monologue, Smitz soon filled her in on exactly what Mike Daisey had claimed happened during his trip.  The first thing he asked her was whether or not Daisey’s claim that the security guards were carrying guns when they approached the gates of Foxconn was true.  Cathy tells him that there is no way that, that is accurate because it is illegal for security guards to carry guns in China.  Then he starts checking other basic statistic Daisey used with Cathy, such as how many factories they visited and how many workers they talked to.  All of Daisey number differed drastically from Cathy’s.  After realizing that his sneaking suspicion that Daisey was lying about some of the facts of his trip was in fact true, Smitz wondered what else was he lying about?  This was when the truth finally came out.

After questioning Cathy it became clear that most of the events Daisey claimed actually happened were exaggerated or completely made up.  Some of the most prominent lies were made in regards to the secret union of workers Daisey claims to have talked to; his conversations with workers who had suffered injuries from a dangerous chemical, n-hexane; and even arguably the most powerful moment of the whole monologue, Daisey’s encounter with the man whose hand had been crushed while on the job.

So where does this put us now?  This was not Daisey’s first publically performed monologue.  So what do you do when you discover that someone you thought you could trust, someone who was well known for his “honest” monologues, is caught lying?  Was Daisey’s behavior completely unethical or did he do what had to be done to bring this issue to the forefront of American conscious?  Personally, I think Mike Daisey is, to quote the prompt for this blog, “an unethical liar”.  I apologize to anyone that supports him, but there are better ways to get your voice heard then duping the entire country, and world for that matter.  I agree, sweatshops are an enormous issue that should and must be addressed.  It is logical that any behavior not condoned by U.S. values and laws, by U.S. companies, should not be condoned; however, I do not believe that this excuses Daisey’s lying.

But, not all American’s agree with me. In fact, Justin Snider, a reporter for the Huffington Post, suggests, “Were it not for Daisey, we—the general American public—wouldn’t be talking about Foxconn.” (Huffington Post Article).  This is true in some ways, although, other well-publicized cases, such as the Nike case, were already beginning to educate the American public on the horrors of third-world sweatshops.  It is not the fact that Daisey lied that really bothers me, it is how Daisey behaved after he was caught lying that made me question his motives.  What Daisey should never have done in the first place was to claim that his show was, without a doubt, nonfiction.  Yet, what was really the icing on the cake for me, was that even when he was caught blatantly lying, he tried to deny it.  This completely destroys his credibility in my mind, period.  He completely discredited himself and made himself look like a pathological liar when he was unwilling to come out and admit he lied.  It is not ethical to lie to society just to get the public to react the way you want them to.

One of the other questions raised by this scandal, is what constitutes art, journalism, or truth?  And who gets to decide this?  As a society we have created cultural norms that individuals reference when making decisions.  For example, truth in our society is defined as  the events that actually transpired and nothing more.  This does not include anything that has not happened.  Truth is absolute and irrefutable.  There is nothing that can change true events.  The study of journalism is based on this concept of truth.  Journalists, in the United States, are expected to only report actual, truthful events.  If they didn’t then how would the public know when they were exaggerating or telling the truth?  While this does not mean that journalism is completely void of biases, as biases are a part of human nature.  But journalists are expected to only report the facts, not an embellished version of what actually happened.  Therefore for Daisey to claim that his show was a work of nonfiction is ludicrous, and only makes every other reporter associated with him look bad.  Art, on the other hand, could be defined as one’s own interpretation of the truth.  Art is a form of self-expression, and does not prescribe to the same strict guidelines that both journalism and the truth do.  Daisey is an artists, not a journalist.  However, this does not change the fact that it was unethical for Daisey to claim that what he wrote/performed was true.  Just because he is an artist does not excuse his lying.  If he had been smart he would have appropriately cited his story as “based on true events”, not as a work of nonfiction.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/justin-snider/why-mike-daisey_b_1361270.html

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10 thoughts on “What Constitutes the Truth?

    • I think that that can definitely play a role in who actually ends up physically controlling the behind the scenes of what is our “society” or societal life. However, I also think that there needs to be some kind of common standards, goals, and values that a society stands behind. This includes honesty. Perhaps, I am too optimistic about humanity but I think that if you are truly trying to do the right thing you would at least be able to admit that what you did was wrong even if it was for a good cause.

  1. You say that Daisey was well known for his “honest” monologues, but I would disagree with that after reading what the New York Times says: “What distinguishes him from most solo performers is how elegantly he blends personal stories, historical digressions and philosophical ruminations. He has the curiosity of a highly literate dilettante and a preoccupation with alternative histories, secrets large and small, and the fuzzy line where truth and fiction blur. Mr. Daisey’s greatest subject is himself.” I think his audience generally acknowledged a blur of truth and fiction in his work, and that the minute fictional details did not take away from the story that he was telling, but rather they supported a call to action from the public as he intended.

    • I admit Daisey is an artist and that the work of artists are not always based in actual fact. But I don’t agree with the following:
      “I think his audience generally acknowledged a blur of truth and fiction in his work.”
      I would agree with this statement if he hadn’t blatantly put “THIS IS A WORK OF NONFICTION” under the title of his play in the actual playbill programs. I agree with what he was trying to do, really. I don’t agree with the treatment of other human beings in sweatshops overseas but I still don’t agree with his methods. Yes, there are some overall societal truths that need to be brought to the forefront of peoples minds in order to be addressed, but that doesn’t mean that someone can do whatever they want to achieve this. I just mean that we live in a society that prides itself on honesty and integrity so how can we justify rewarding someone who won’t even admit when they are wrong. If he had just come out and admitted what he had done things could have gone so much easier for him, but he got so caught up in his own lie that he believed it was the “truth”. I don’t think someone can preach about being ethical when they use unethical means to get their point across. There were many ways he could have got the same point across without blatantly lying. For example he could have just said that his monologue was “based on a true story” not that the entire thing was a work of nonfiction. I mean don’t we need some kind of standards to stand behind otherwise how can you believe anything you hear?

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