The Simplicity of Truth and the Complexity of Lies

Listening to Mike Daisey’s responses in “Retraction” made me cringe.  His long pauses followed by short answers made listening to the interview with This American Life uncomfortable.  The problem with Daisey’s monologue is simple (at least in my mind) – he mixed truth with lies.  I’m a firm believer that people know when they are telling the truth and when they are telling a lie.  When Ira Glass asks Dasiey to clarify shady parts of his monologue, such as the ages of workers he interviewed or whether the guards carried guns, his long pauses and seemingly voided answers made the interview process exhausting, as Glass would describe during the show.  

Some might argue that Daisey just took his time to answer the critical questions that Glass asked him, however I firmly disagree.  Have you ever been accused of lying but known deep in your heart that you told the truth?  I have – and there’s no way I, or anyone else in their right mind for that matter, would respond the way Daisey does.  His answers make the story even more difficult to believe because he lacks simplicity.  Truth is simple and well-understood.  Lies are complex and difficult to understand.

So, was Mike Daisey an unethical liar?  Ironically, this is a difficult question to answer.  Personally, I believe Daisey when he says that his monologue was his best work, and that is why it was so hard for him to answer some of the questions that Glass asked him.  I believe that he did indeed experience and witness some of the things that were in his monologue, but that he also drew from other articles and instances that had nothing to do with Foxconn and put them into his elaborate story.  Therefore, I think the right thing to do would’ve been to explain to his audience that it’s a fictitious story BASED on true events – not non-fiction like he initially described it.  He could have even done this after the fact, with his interview on “Retraction” and I think he would’ve been fine.  Instead, he chose to give shady answers and not fully come clean with what happened, resulting in unethical behavior.  

You’re Only In Trouble If You Get Caught

What do you think of this question?

175210-aladdin_super As I was writing my post for this week, the phrase, “You’re only in trouble if you get caught,” popped into my mind.  It seemed fitting.  To jazz up my blog this week, I tried to google this phrase and see if I could find a cartoon or clip that I could present to all of you.  I figured I had heard this phrase several times before, so it had to come from somewhere. That’s when I discovered it.  This quote is from Aladdin, my favorite Disney movie of all time, making this even more perfect for my blog.

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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.

The Art of Lying


If I told you lying was good for you, you probably wouldn’t believe me. But in my personal experience, lying is an appropriate response to particular conflicts – I’m not lying. Simply put, we lie because it works. This contradicts pretty much everything I was told by my parents growing up. It was always “tell the truth” and “never lie.” However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to learn that lying serves me better than telling the truth. Now, before anyone judges me, it is necessary to clarify what I consider lying or in what situations I might lie to someone. I’ve lied most often by omitting the truth, embellishing stories, or agreeing with someone when I really don’t.  A simple example is telling my parents I got home from a night out a couple hours earlier than I actually did. The reasons for this lie include avoiding punishment (for my sake) and reducing my parents’ stress (for their sake). So is lying wrong? Most people would probably say that lying is always wrong, except when there’s a good reason for it – which means that it’s not always wrong. Although it may not sound good, we all lie to some extent in our lives. When we do it well, we get what we want. We lie to avoid awkwardness or punishment. We lie to maintain relationships and please others.

Mike Daisey’s “Retraction” episode is a unique case because he clearly embellished facts and made up a story in which he intentionally duped his audiences into believing. His reasoning/excuse/retraction is that he is an artist, not a journalist and so he shouldn’t be held to the same standards as a reporter. Throughout his “Retraction,” he constantly denies having “lied” but regrets not informing his audiences of his fictional work, which is billed as “nonfiction” on the program. It is clear to me that Mike Daisey lied despite his denials. The question now is whether he is an unethical liar. Does he fit into the category above where it is okay to lie? This may sound strange but if he had not been caught it would have been okay for him to lie. Bear with my reasoning. His monologues were beneficial to society. They exposed wrongdoing on Apple’s part even if the specific facts were embellished or made up. People were made aware of a serious problem and appropriate responses were made. But then when it was revealed that Daisey lied, it partially undid what he had set out to accomplish. As a result, society did not benefit from Daisey’s work.

Obviously, Daisey should never have allowed his work to be represented as journalism. Surely, he could have insisted it be represented as theatre, or parody, or exaggeration. But he did not do this. However, the fact remains that Apple still has poor working conditions that are unacceptable. The retraction is about what Daisy said he personally witnessed and has nothing to do at all with what actually happens in the factories. It really is important that we forget all about Daisey’s exaggerations when it comes to Apple’s factories. Daisey’s retraction should tell something about Daisey and not Apple.