the facts from your worldview

no iPads in the Shanghai tea house

This one is going to be hard to tell without you actually going to some of the links I provide. I normally try to make my blog easy to follow without you having to go anywhere else. While telling you a story, and I try to tell you where I came up with the genesis of the idea – how I got to my way of thinking about it – but I still want you to be able to get the main idea without it being necessary to click on any of those sources.

In this case, you’ll get much more out of this if you listen to the source material.

A few months ago I heard a story on This American Life, a show which I’ve mentioned here before, and I was transfixed while listening to it. Maybe you’ve been so busy with other things and haven’t heard about Mike Daisey‘s monologue The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, in which he talks about the working conditions in Chinese factories where Apple products are assembled. You should hear the original program here, but I couldn’t embed that into the blogpost, so I’ve found footage of him stating his main points elsewhere and want you to see for yourself what he says:


It’s intriguing what he’s saying, isn’t it? Although I hear some people grousing about Apple’s success, for the most part I hear only what a great company it is and how happy their customers are. Truly happy. It’s a success story unlike the world has ever seen. Right?

But isn’t there even a little part of you that hears Mike Daisey state his case, and thinks to yourself, ‘I knew something wasn’t right. No company could be that successful and not have unfair practices.

If you didn’t actually click on the This American Life link, I’d highly recommend it. It’s compelling radio and what I want to say really relies on the emotions that one potentially has when hearing of the plight of those Chinese factory workers. It’s not nice.

Ok, did you hear it? Was I right? That was emotionally exhausting, wasn’t it?

Well, I have some uncomfortable news for you. Mike Daisey made some of the stuff up. Not all of it, and the main thrust of his point might even have some merit. It seems like it must. Nevertheless, he hemmed and hawed when confronted with it, but the truth has slowly emerged that he played fast and loose with the facts.

This is actually the part I wanted to get to. I went into all that detail, so you could hear the folks at This American Life invite him back to give him an Oprah-and-James Frey dressing down. That’s a misrepresentation. The show’s host, Ira Glass, is actually very compassionate and candid with Mike Daisey, but you can tell he’s seething. There are more pregnant pauses than William Shatner at a Star Trek Convention.

The buildup to the second episode of This American Life was intense. I read about it all the way over here in the German press. It’s news when someone fabricates such a story…even if that’s not how Mike Daisey presents it. He still disputes that it was a fabrication. A difference of worldview as he calls it at one point.

I’ll leave my own pregnant pause at the very thought of that one.


Here’s the retraction of the story. It’s admirable that the programme took such care in the way this was done. Like I say, I think you can hear the fury in Ira Glass‘s voice. It’s not as if he hides his frustration, but some people get very terse when they’re upset. Mr Glass seems to be just such a person.

And the already-mentioned lengthy and noticeable pauses. Those are excruciating.

update: I found a clip on Soundcloud that plays the most painful moments of the whole thing. Here it is:

Mike Daisey dances around the truth…avoids it with all he has, parses a few sentences that would make a contract lawyer blush, and then leaves in disgrace only to make a later appointment, in which he makes a double-fisted attempt to go back and continue perpetuating his charade.

second update: a friend who read this pointed me to one of Mike Daisey‘s most recent performances of not just The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, but a bit of Daisey’s agony when it came to this scandal, as well. He goes into detail about his career up to this point and what exactly led up to his self-created ordeal. Here that is:

Here’s the funny thing, though. His point is muddled and questionable. His method deserved to be mocked, and his ethics are not to be excused. However, he makes an important case.

That doesn’t seem right, does it? If he’s disgraced and sent packing back to his falsely-labelled stage show, how can he simultaneously be right? Those two things are mutually exclusive.  You can’t have both.

Really? You can’t? Why the hell not?

Before the retraction, when many people still thought this was a factually honourable story, I discussed this at length with several business people I know in my daily life. One in particular is the head of a production factory in a highly successful German company.

His response to the allegations in the original story was essentially, ‘Yes, so what? There is, in fact, modern slavery. Many places in the world have labour practices that’d make you cringe. Possibly even embarrass you to be a part of humanity.

Then he and I both turned back to our respective Apple products. Distracted by the shiny buttons and lulled into a false sense of superiority.


  1. I heard the retraction story after I viewed a story on CBS Sunday Morning about Mr. Daisy’s one man play on the subject. Subsequently CBS discussed the NPR story and didn’t retract theirs but explained when they re-fact checked they were not able to validate two statements, one about poisoning workers and the other about under aged workers.
    Much like I felt about the James Frey fiasco the bottom line is in both cases the authors traded on our believing the story to be factually accurate than they really were and when the truth comes out they fall back on this idea that the emotion arch was more important than truthyness (as Stephen Colbert would say). The audience is deceived and when that comes to light it cheapens the message which is the real travesty because these issues are so important.
    The real story is about our global economy and how we live in a society that buys cheap throw away products at the expense of peoples’ standard of living and and some cases lives. Take a look at this:

    1. Ok, the Story of Stuff is a total bummer. Really hard to watch that one Brother Michael. Wow.

      I know that’s exactly why I needed to see it, but it didn’t make it easy.

      You said, ‘The audience is deceived and when that comes to light it cheapens the message which is the real travesty because these issues are so important.‘ This is exactly my point. This is why it’s so hard, but important, to say, ‘Ok, despite the questionable methods, these topics need to be debated. We should know what we’re collectively up to.’

      I try to be measured and careful when I write here. I see something like this Story of Stuff, and I worry that it can so easily be discounted for its approach. But I have to say that the argument here is quite compelling. Very much so.

  2. So he’s doing a stage show about this. I know a lot of actors who don’t have the…um…how to say this nicely…best grip on what’s real and what’s not? It’s more about what makes for the best story. And when the lines start to blur between what’s entertaining and what’s reality, they go with the entertaining. Because that’s what gets results, not the boring day-to-day.

    I’m not making excuses. You can’t go around telling whoppers and then, when you get caught, make lame excuses. Not over the age of three or so. But I’m wondering if that’s what’s going on here. It’s more of a big-picture thing – “I’m putting on a SHOW! People are LOOKING at me! WHEE!” than a pesky-little-details “who cares what REALLY happened there, it COULD happen, I’m sure it happens SOMEWHERE” thing.

    1. That’s too easy an explanation here. It might be some of it, or even most of it. But what Mike Daisey is saying needs to be said. What we’re unwittingly doing is not easily disregarded by lampooning the messenger.

      Oh, wait. That’s exactly what’s happening. That’s why this conclusion of all of this will most likely be that Mike Daisey is vilified.

  3. Really really good post, and I’ll leave it to others to comment on modern slavery, (possibly while they sip their tea bag tea sourced from Kenya) .
    But I need to offer a high five for: “more pregnant pauses than William Shatner at a Star Trek Convention.”

    1. I have a dirty little secret (or I did until right now)…I’d probably blog about every single episode of This American Life if I thought it wasn’t too conspicuous.

      Ira Glass was a class act before all of this happened. I’m even more sure of it now.

  4. so, is ira glass the american paxo? (jeremy paxman)

    i try to buy responsibly when i can, and in circumstances like these, where so much is outsourced it’s hard to tell who sucks most/least quickly because a lot of the workers are ‘elsewhere’. it’s actually a bit of a relief when something like ‘workfare’ comes along and i can get up to date info in my twitter feed about which big businesses are getting free slaves paid for by the taxpayer. the apple fiasco is a bit of a shame, since there seems to be a core of truth there. however, i gave up apple products when i realized that they wanted the consumer to pay over and over again for things. win/tel lets you live open source for free. yes, it’s a less groovy interface. small price to pay for freedom.

  5. Good discussion everyone. Brother Ken: While the Story of Stuff might be scary it’s also a chance for people to view it to wake up a little more. Having three kids and living in our society I still buy more crap than I like too but I’m not exagerating to say I thinking about it before I buy it and more and more I choose not to buy. I look for another option . . . freecycle

    It may sound trite but every little bit counts . . . . Now, my views might slightly change if you need to buy a house in Houston . . .

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