warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Mike Daisey Presents: This American Lie

Tom Dotan |
March 19, 2012 | 9:30 p.m. PDT



Ira Glass, image courtesy of Creative Commons
Ira Glass, image courtesy of Creative Commons
Ding dong, Mike Daisey's dead and true journalism reigns supreme.

Hosannas all around and Glory to David Carr in the Highest.

By now it surely must be extraneous to give a play-by-play of the great journalistic exorcism that occurred over the weekend--just listen to the clarion trumpets of truth still reverberating around the internet. 

But for those who need the reminding, or the ones in the journosphere who don't want the warm fuzzies to end yet, just know that Mike Daisey's first-hand account of a trip to Foxconn to suss out the conditions at the factories where Apple devices are made has been debunked.

It was Rob Schmitz of public radio's Marketplace who wrangled the spirit that had found purchase inside public radio's This American Life. And with dramatic flourish he cast it out shrieking from the august institution. 

Actually, Daisey's mumbling, dissembling performance on the show should hardly be described in spritely terms, but don't tell host Ira Glass, who felt positively wracked by it.

Glass was duly doleful as he put Daisey's lies up for public excoriation then begged over and over to the divine father (that's the journalistic overlords and viewers like me and you) for forgiveness. 

And, what do you know, in our infinite well of mercy we gave it to him. Hell, it even burnished his credentials and his show arose from the self-inflicted morass stronger and more truthier than ever. 

What's incredible is that he did it mere hours after the show aired--even Jesus took three days. 

The apology was, in short, that Daisey's story had the ring of truth and the emotional core of truth, and that alone made the This American Life fact-checkers gloss over the glaring incongruities in the narrative (Chinese security guards with guns? Rural, minimally paid workers meeting at Starbucks?).

Glass's attitude was the journalistic equivalent of a politician revealing his greatest weaknesses in a debate ("I care too much," "I work too hard") except when a politician says it, we call it for the self-serving copout it is.

What really would have been nice is if Glass revealed the cynical thinking that perhaps went into the wobbly show getting green-lighted. Namely, that a piece about Apple products, child workers, and self-flagellating Americans hit so squarely into This American Life's white, liberal-guilt-laden, iPad-using demographic that he knew his listeners would eat it up in record amounts. That the system they had in place could hardly be called fact-checking because a fact-checker would have tried to corroborate any of the story rather than the minimal amount that allowed it to stand. That airing a full-length public retraction of their story was equal parts a mea culpa as it was a way to get a lead on any backlash (not to mention another ratings winner).

And of the post-facto expose by Marketplace's Rob Schmitz, it would have been nice if he also copped in his piece to the fact that he was perhaps jealous of Daisey's attention on an issue he too had covered, only not as well. That Daisey's gonzo journalism, though flawed, was a braver and more effective dissemination of a reality than any of his smattering of stories he did on Foxconn that rarely went beyond repeating Apple's company line.

And of the media ethics experts who glorify This American Life and Marketplace while patting themselves on the back, wouldn't it be nice if they considered that maybe, just maybe, it's more impressive to speak quasi-truths to power than it is to speak full-truths to quasi-journalists?

And of the public, namely the denizens on the internet, wouldn't it be nice if the nuances of Daisey's fabrications (some bald-faced, others squishier) were weighed against the truth of the matter, which is far more important? That perhaps he shouldn't be written off as a guy who "made the whole thing up" and thusly thrown into journalism jail alongside Jason "that Kony weirdo" Russell and James "that memoir liar" Frey, all of whose transgressions will never be forgiven and their accomplishments cast to the wind.

Over the years, it appears Apple has become so pervasive in our society that we have not only adopted all their products, but also their former CEO's attitude. I speak of the reality distortion field that Steve Jobs so famously used to will his vision into existence, and likewise to deny the possibility of any rational alternative.

Reality distortion is certainly something Mike Daisey has borrowed from the man he pilloried.

Yet the unctuous response from the other side shows that there are plenty willing to leave the rest unexamined so long as they maintain they're on the side of truth.

And the choir sings on and on.


Reach Editor-at-Large Tom Dotan here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.