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.


It is possible to Lie to tell the Truth?

Do I think Mike Daisey is a liar? Well that is a slippy slope and I think it matters how you approach the piece. I think that if you approach the piece from a journalist point of view, you will get a totally different response than it you view it as a artful, theatrical piece. From a journalist point of view, I think Mike Daisey lied about many facts in this monologue which does make me question his piece as a whole. Continue reading

Real Eyes Realize Real Lies: Spotting a Liar

Mike Daisy is a liar.  I do not care about what his intentions were in the long run, or that some of the events that he describes happened in other places.  He told us, the public, a falsified and exaggerated version of his story in order to make us aware about a problem.  Initially he was able to get the attention of many on the situation, but once his “retraction” piece came out, it seemed like the only problem he ended up creating awareness for was his credibility problem.  Daisy lied about everything from not being able to get in touch with the translator again, to fabricating a story that he met victims of a n-hexane incident.  Now some of these things are also just exaggerations, but the fact that he sat there and told this monologue, claiming everything in the story as truth, makes him a liar, and completely defeats his own purpose of what he set out to do in the first place.  Let’s look at the effects of what he has done so far.  When he first told his story, he affected the public by revealing poor working conditions in China, specifically in Foxconn where Apple products are produced.  It created a stir. Continue reading

When is it okay to lie?

My reaction is shaped by the extent of my knowledge. For example, last week, most of my knowledge about Apple manufacturing operations came from Mike Daisey’s monologue. I accepted the story as truth and then proceeded to form an opinion. Now, my knowledge of these operations has expanded after listening to Retraction. I can now form another opinion. Personally, however, knowing the truth about Daisey’s lies and exaggerations does not change anything for me. It doesn’t really matter that his account of the facts wasn’t always first hand, or that he visited 3 factories instead of 10, or whether or not the guards were carrying guns. Those details are not important. I am mainly concerned with the story. His story, in particular, had an emotional impact on his listeners and on me.

The main issue to discuss now is the troubling question: when is it okay to lie? When is it okay to fudge the truth a little to get your point across? I believe that intentions often determine how acceptable a lie is. Mike Daisey was ticked off that people were starting to forget what was going on in the factories in China because the media craze from all the suicides had started to fade. He started his research with the good intentions of just trying to make people care. He succeeded in this endeavor. Also, everything in his monologue was built on the truth, with truthful foundations and intentions. To express this truth into a better story, he had to sequence some things differently. Why should it be so bad that we heard them a little out of order? Daisey felt conflicted. He really wanted to get his story out there and needed to tell it, but went about it in the wrong way. He regrets presenting the piece as journalism because it cannot hold up to those standards. In those regards, he made a mistake.

Mike Daisey’s monologue should be presented as a piece for theater. The interviewer, Ira, says that even as being labeled “theater”, Daisy should still express that his monologue is fiction. This is where I disagree. His story is mostly true and the effect from hearing the story is so much greater when we believe in its credibility. The exaggerations and partial fabrications were used to bring awareness to these issues. They aided him in accomplishing his goal of making people care.

iTruth: Truth. Lies, and Podcasts (Blog Prompt 3)

Blog 3 Prompt

What is truth?  Lies?  Who gets to decide?

Montage of Daisey and Jobs from New York Magazine

Now things get complicated.  You heard This American Life’s podcast focusing on Mike Daisey’s monologue-play and the issues it raises about Apple, China, worker rights, us as consumers, and globalization. Continue reading