Did Mike Daisey Catfish TAL?


The issue at hand in the Mike Daisey and This American Life conflict is not uncommon today. The act of lying is nothing new, but seems to happen more and more in our world. Do we just have more access to resources and discover lies more frequently, or has truth really lost value in our society? We all tell “little white lies” from time to time, but never expect them to cause an enormous backlash, even if someone finds out the truth. We almost expect to see exaggerations and half-truths in advertising, political campaigns, tabloids, sales pitches, Wikipedia, and dating websites, yet we hold journalists to a higher standard of representing facts?Picture 1

Although there is such a thing as objective truth, it is almost impossible to convey it as such. Our account of the truth is automatically colored by our experiences, biases, and desired outcome. Mike Daisey wanted people to remember the conditions in these factories and share the feelings he experienced firsthand. He may not have seen everything exactly as he portrayed it, but the meaning of his story was memorable. He lied about observing specifics that were almost common knowledge, such as meeting workers exposed to n-hexane, but the message he conveyed about working in these factories was true. I agree with Daisey that his account should not be labelled as fiction when a great majority is true, but should have a disclaimer within stating that some artistic liberties were taken.

As I listened to Mike Daisey defending himself, I couldn’t help but think of Catfish: The TV Show. The show has been topping cable TV ratings each week, as another “hopeful romantic partner goes on an emotional journey to discover the truth about their significant other” (MTV Website) and usually finds out they have been lied to. Sometimes the lies are justified, but most of the time they are meant to deceive, which is where the definition of catfish comes from: For some reason or another, we have become obsessed with finding the “truth” out about everything and everyone in pop culture, but our “news” is filled so many rumors and suspicions that it is hard to pick out what is real. It is always a good idea to question the source of your supposed knowledge because it is so easy to be deceived in this digital age. I do not think Mike Daisey was acting unethically in his presentation of the Foxconn story, but to cite it as an investigative report would be wrong. He did not catfish his audiences or the public, but Daisey did lead TAL astray.

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