“The Narrative Doesn’t End:” Mike Daisey, Truth, Art, and a Phone Call


Almost no one calls me in my office.  90% of the calls are my wife or a textbooks ales representative (poor souls- they are ever-optimistic.).

So, when the phone rang two weeks ago, I answered it very informally.  “Unh, hello?”

“Is this Jordi?”  I didn’t have time to realize I should have recognized the voice.  “This is Mike Daisey.”

Mike Daisey Performing

Now, some of my students doubted this phone call happened.  I can assure you it did.  Maybe Mike (Mr.Daisey?  Etiquette fails me) is even reading this as he assured me he read all 64 blog posts by 32 of you over two weeks.  And 100 last semester, I presume.  I wished he would have commented for their sake, but I also understand that engaging in 164 individualized exchanges in 2 semesters is a lot to sign up for (I get paid for it!).

The highlights of the conversation.

1) He wanted me to let my students know he did read their posts.  And he liked Gil’s use of a picture of Mike to “prove’ he is a “big, fat liar.”  I think Mike was sincere in being amused.

2) He wanted me to make it clearer that he issue an apology to his audiences and other stakeholders (theater people, journalists and human rights activists, especially).  You can read it here.  The LA Times, at least. noticed it.

He writes about “loosing his grounding.”

Here is the end of it:


I speak about truth because it is what I aspire to. All my stories, even when I’ve fallen short, have been attempts to experience the truth with my audiences.

I am sorry for where I have failed. I will look closer, be more patient, and listen more clearly.

I will be humble before the work.

I think some of you wanted more of a mea culpa from him then he offered (or was included) in the “Retraction” podcast.

3) I thanked him for both the the quality and the strength of the original The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and for making that work available under a Creative Commons license.  For those who think he may have wanted somehow to get “more fame” from TAESJ to line his pockets, you need to know that he makes no money from others performing that work.

From his website:

In a groundbreaking move, after over 200 performances in 18 cities over 19 months, a transcript version of THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS was made available for free download in February 2012, and has been released under an open license so that it may be performed by anyoneanywhereroyalty free. It was a phenomenon, downloaded more than 100,000 in its first week, and to date has had over 35 productions, and been translated into six languages.

4) He offered to send me some links to other coverage of TAESJ and his apology. Still hoping to get it! 🙂

5) We discussed how Ira Glass and the other people at This American Life made their own choices about how to handle the problems with the original podcast.  I shared that I am frustrated by the attempt to equate Daisey’s problems (lies, exaggerations, or appropriation of 3rd party material as his own experiences) with the overall truth of the issues in the play, which include of course our own love affairs with Apple technology and also the lesser known history of Apple and Jobs.

6) I explained that the tech/no performance of “un/real and un/true: The agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was a polyvocal performance.  We added various “interruptions” to the original script to bring many different viewpoints into  the performance including other reporting about Foxconn and Apple, an interview where Steve Jobs dismisses concerns at the factories (“They have swimming pools” he says, I think), a fragment from an 19th century mill girl in America with similarities to the problems in China, a Chinese scholar’s reaction, and so on.

Do I Agree with Ira Glass?

I think part of Mike’s concern was also that the way the student posts ended with “Retraction” podcast implies that it is the end of the story.  “The narrative doesn’t end there.”  I agree with him.

There are so many other issues and changes in the overall “story” of technology (all companies!), Apple, China, globalization, capitalism, consumers, and development and justice.  I won’t outline it all here, but just this week, I heard that Foxconn was going to open up its labor unions to freer elections.  Is everything “fine” now?  I don’t think so.  Progress is not an excuse for complacency.

Mike did not say directly, but I wondered if part of his concern was that the nature of the assignment (from his viewpoint, reading these blog posts) was that perhaps I sided completely with Ira Glass and the TAL producers.

Here is the short answer: no.

I was one of the people who worked hard to see the play still performed here last fall when there were understandable concerns about having it all (especially after dealing with Greg Mortensen).  But full credit to Pete Mackey, our VP of communications, who imagined that the original monologue AND the controversy around its truths and lies could be performed in a way that acknowledged it all.  Technology, justice, globalization, China, Apple in an engaging play AND the issues of truth, art, knowledge, and journalism all in one moment!  Yes, please!

Here is the longer answer:

Me, Teaching, Truth, and Social Construction

Look, when I teach, I try to be careful to leave plenty of “space” for student voices to come forth and express themselves.  I balance this with some healthy amounts of my challenging or engaging a student to develop their ideas more in speech and writing, to go deeper, to be more sophisticated, and to ask hard questions.  Sometimes, I reveal what I “really think” if I think it will provide new insight or will model a way of thinking.  Maybe I am too careful not to make my views clear.  Maybe I reveal too much of what I think.  Bucknell students like to know the right answer.  This is an ethics class after all.  Maybe I should be arguing for what is clearly ethical or unethical.

So maybe Mike thought, based on how I structure the blog posts, that I fully agree with “Retraction.”  Understandable.  But I do not.  My choices for how I structure the materials and assignments are about creating student experiences.

To have the full impact of the first podcast, followed by the impact of the retraction, followed by having to make one’s own decisions about what matters, about what is right or wrong in facts and in ethics, followed by having to grapple with who controls the narrative, followed by some uneasy reconciliation with this whole nexus of issues is a series of I think irreplaceable learning moments.

But I believe truth is situational and contextual.  This was the origin of the other poll question that many of you answered.   I am a dyed-in-the-wool social constructivist meaning that what we usually call “facts” are never universal and always have a history.  All knowledge is socially constructed.  This can perhaps make me seem like a naive relativist to some.  The Opus Dei priest who was an ethics teacher for one higher education class certainly thought so and so failed me on an ethics exam.  But I argued then and now that social constructionism does not mean “anything goes.”  Knowledge and facts still must meet criteria of accuracy or worthiness before they are accepted by that knowledge community.  The knowledge AND the criteria are themselves always a result of a social process of interested actors.  There is no position from which to step outside of our constructed existence and objectively measure facts as “true”or not.   But criteria and knowledge is the best we can do.  And we should always try to make them better, whatever our field is.

One result of this approach to epistemology is an inherent pluralism in knowledge.  Since there are many kinds of knowledge and many sets of criteria, what is good knowledge in one area may or may not be in another.  How we judge “correct” literary theory is different from “correct” civil engineering from “correct” sociology.

So did Mike lie in parts of his monologue?  Die he make mistakes or exaggerations  (yes, yes).  But did he LIE where lying is a deliberate act of  deception?  By the standards of journalism, yes.  By the standards of theater, no.  By the standards of utilitarianism, no if the amount of visibility raised far outweigh the cost of the lies.  By the standards of a social movement to humanize the global economy, no.

Is there an easy answer to the question? No.

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Blog 6 Prompt: Where are they now?


Prompt 6: Where are they now?

For this week’s blog prompt you will be taking a second look at one of the companies or people we have already covered in class or one related to one we have studied.   In the past we looked at these companies from a historical perspective; however, what we want you to do this week is to look at where these companies or executives are now.  Did they learn from their mistakes or are they still engaged in unethical activities?  Has there been any initiatives taken so that previous mistakes are not repeated?  Or was their situation so dire that they are considered obsolete?

From the society and values side of the class, you can look at whether laws have changed, or social pressure, or media representations, or some other element of what we call social change.

In essence we want you to choose a company or a specific manager who had a major impact at the firm.   Then using your own ethical standards assess how this company or their executives have adjusted after they were accused for immoral practices.  Please use your blogging “muscle” to support your conclusions, such as rating, pics, and polls!

Be sure to use GOOD sources.  For examples, there is this page of news and blog resources on our blog.  This includes Global Issues in Context, an excellent resource you can ONLY GET through Bucknell.  It combines news, blogs, academic articles and so on.  Try putting your chosen case or organization in and see what you get.

Here are some examples to get the ball rolling… you can add to these.  If you do, please be sure to tell us how your example is linked to the original case or example we looked into.

  • Apple: Apple, Foxconn, Mike Diasey, This American Life
  • Nike: Michael Moore, Phil Knight, Jeremy Ballinger, Fair Labor Association, Reebok, adidas, the Aspen Institute
  • Enron: Arthur Anersen (and its partners), Skilling, Richard Causey, SOX law
  • Weekend: Goldman Sachs, Lehman Employees, Tim Geithner, Hank Paulson, Bernanke, Fannie Mae or Freddy Mac
  • Occupy or Tea Party
  • Housing Bubble: Mortgage originators.  Countrywide Financial.  Anything that has been done around trying to either be fairer about foreclosures or to help people avoid foreclosures (I think there may be some class action lawsuits…).
  • AIG: Hank Greenberg, Willumstad, AIG Financial Products Group, Office of thrift Supervision, Ratings Agencies
  • Dodd-Frank, the Volcker Rule, or the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau

Title and Tag Line Contest!

In addition, we are also hosting a competition to see who can come up with the best new title and tag line for the blog!  The winner will be exempt from doing one question from the next weekly homework.  If you wish to participate, please post your suggestion as a comment on this post.  Best of luck!

Believe nothing that you hear, and half of what you see.


 

A teacher in high school once told me, “Believe nothing that you hear, and half of what you see.” Although this is an extraordinarily cynical way to go about life, I feel it’s an important rule of thumb. I think the first word I would use to describe Mike Daisey’s account of Apple would not be “falsified” but “sensationalized”. Daisey pads his somewhat true story with untrue happenings not in order to mislead people but in an effort to sensationalize his story for people. These added happenings certainly have this effect; they make his story far more interesting and his points far more conveying. To make an analogy out of this, Daisy sensationalizing a supposedly true spoken-word story would be like a professional athlete taking performance-enhancing drugs. His story remains in our mind but it’s looked back upon with a hint of skepticism. There was a certain amount of cheating going on behind his story.

In the film Scarface, Tony Montana says, “All I have in this world is my balls and my word, and I don’t break them for no one.” Montana is surprisingly poignant with this statement; all anyone has in this world are their balls and their word (so to speak), and they’re each very difficult to fix if broken. This little catchphrase of Montana’s applies especially to Daisey and those of his profession. Daisey’s career as a spoken-word artist who speaks about his own opinions and experiences is entirely dependent on whether or not his audience can trust him. The slow, inviting delivery of his material would lead one to believe Daisey is aware of how much weighs on his audience’s ability to buy into what he’s saying.  Perhaps after such a storied career Daisey thought that he had gained enough trust from the general public to pad his story with a fair amount of sensationalism. Unfortunately, Daisey failed to realize that having a storied career, and having gained the trust of his audience means nothing if he breaks the latter of the two things he has in this world.

At the end of the day, Daisey lied. He presented sensationalized truths to an impressionable audience. In the United States court of law one swears before testimony to deliver “nothing but the truth.” I wonder if Apple considered suing Daisey for slander. Daisey never gave any impression that his story was falsified in any sense, and although this may have taken away from the effect to the audience it is lying and cheating to do otherwise. Daisey’s journalistic venture into China embodied the yellow journalism of the 1920s. Daisey, as Tony Montana would say, “broke his word” with his piece on Apple. The end result of Daisey’s hurt credibility is fair more relevant than toiling over what of his piece was truth and what was lies.

Stop bullying “Lil” Daisey


While listening to the “hot debates” between Mike Daisey, on one side, and Ira Glass with Rob Schmitz, on the other, I caught myself creating an image, kind of like a video, of what was going in the studio. The whole conversation reminded me of a child talking to his parents, trying to justify his “little” lies. It was a public beating of Mr. Daisey, who himself did not even make an attempt to behave maturely. Perhaps it, the Retraction, was theater all along. I cannot say for sure.

“Lying is bad” – our parents said. Subconsciously we do know that, however, when it comes to justification, it is hard to determine, even for those who taught us, what exactly is bad about lies. The most common argument that I have heard against any forms of “not telling the truth”: “Would you want to be deceived yourself?” I wouldn’t say no to that in any case. As you might yourself come up with an example of a “lie for good”, and therefore successfully achieve contradiction.

So, why is lying bad? I think that the problem associated with lies is the confusion it creates. By deceiving other people one becomes unpredictable and therefore less trustworthy. “What to expect from this person?” “What to believe in?” By lying, especially to the public, one creates instability in information delivery chain and impairs society’s perception of that information. Today, data is the most valuable thing. At the end of the day, millions of lives depend on reliable information. Hence, all the knowledge received is not reliable, due to the uncertainty, and therefore can be neglected, which is simply stupid in the Information Age. Chaos awaits us, once lying becomes publicly acknowledged to be acceptable.

So, how is Mike Daisey even related to what I was writing about? Mr. Daisey has not admitted to lying, because “it is inaccurate to say so”. Couple of questions asked, and he desperately starts to alter his story, just like a little child before his parents. This reminds me of myself at the age of 15: once I came back home late at 1am and was altering the story, adding some details hoping that I would not be punished as much. What is even worse – everybody knew Daisey was lying.Lie to me I would like to paraphrase Ira Glass: “Mike came to explain his story, rather than to admit his lies”. Mike Daisey turned the radio show of journalistic format into a theatrical performance – farce. “Must let the show go on”.

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