This American Slippery Slope
March 17, 2012 § 10 Comments
Numerous folks have pointed out how This American Life‘s retraction of Mike Daisey’s “reporting” on Apple resembles in some ways the recent rumbles and complaints toward John D’Agata’s fabrications and fact-shifting in About a Mountain and The Lifespan of a Fact. Daisey, it seems, in making a claim to personal contacts and conversations that did not actually occur, agrees with John D’Agata that facts can be reshaped in order to make a nonfiction work more artful.
Here is part of an account from The New York Times:
… after hearing the radio story, Rob Schmitz, a China correspondent for another radio program, found holes in the stories Mr. Daisey told and worked with “This American Life” to disprove certain parts. The results will be broadcast by “This American Life” this weekend, as part of a full hour devoted to the retraction and the explanation.
In a report for “Marketplace” on Friday, Mr. Schmitz acknowledged that other people actually had witnessed harsh conditions at the factories that supplied Apple. “What makes this a little complicated,” he said, “is that the things Daisey lied about are things that have actually happened in China: Workers making Apple products have been poisoned by hexane. Apple’s own audits show the company has caught underage workers at a handful of its suppliers. These things are rare, but together, they form an easy-to-understand narrative about Apple.”
… By being tarred as a fabulist, Mr. Daisey risks hurting the cause he is championing. For instance, in his theatrical show and on the radio, Mr. Daisey had described meeting mistreated Foxconn workers in southern China, relying on a translator to carry on the conversations. But in a later interview with Mr. Schmitz, the translator disputed some of the details of the meetings — like a worker whose hand was injured at a Foxconn plant seeing an iPad for the first time and calling it “magic” — and suggested that Mr. Daisey did not witness what he said he did.
When interviewed by Mr. Schmitz and Mr. Glass for this weekend’s program, Mr. Daisey said, “I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work.”
Daisey’s liberties may in the end harm the case for improving conditions in China’s factories, because it gives cover to those who want to claim “none of this is real.” This, we think here at Brevity, is the danger of D’Agata and Daisey’s slippery slope.