Mike Daisey, This American Life, and NCPR

Mike Daisey, performer/storyteller

By now, many of you know about  the piece Mike Daisey did for This American Life, during which he provided alleged “examples” or “proof” of worker mistreatment and workplace hazards at Chinese plants producing Apple products. As you also probably know, it turns out Daisey took a lot of “artistic license” with the story–a story that was presented as fact-based, rather than theatrical or fictionalized.

Brian Mann blogged about this. As did Sarah Harris. Many of you commented on these essays.

Ira Glass, This American Life host

Then, Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, produced an hour-long This American Life which NCPR aired on Sunday.

Today, a really interesting personal reflection on Mike Daisey’s work from columnist Jason Zinoman.

The most important part of the retraction program, for me, was the final segment during which Ira talked with a reporter who co-authored a story for the NY Times on working conditions in Chinese plants producing Apple products. Finding out that Daisey’s piece was inaccurate is one thing; hearing what the known facts are in this story is the important follow up.

Too often, news outlets make mistakes and then offer some brief retraction or correction–usually in an obscure location and usually taking up considerably less space than the original incorrect version occupied. Ira Glass acted well in this episode–not only admitting to his own mistake (insufficient vetting of the Daisey story), but then giving as much time and attention to the retraction and correction as the original piece was given.

I’ve been a fan of Daisey’s work, but his conversation with Ira made me squirm. I kept thinking of politicians who try to avoid saying a simple “yes” or “no,” who ultimately will not take the first step of making amends by saying, “I was wrong.” While Daisey says he shouldn’t have offered his piece to This American Life as “journalism,” he defends his “artistic” truth-telling. He doesn’t convince me.

If you’ve listened to the retraction program, what was your reaction?

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2 Comments on “Mike Daisey, This American Life, and NCPR”

  1. Ask Somebody who has been to China says:

    The saddest thing for me is that anybody who has spent any time in China would have known he was lying. Factory workers in Starbucks? WHAT WAS NPR THINKING? A college graduate in China is lucky to make $300 a month. I am pretty sure factory workers making minimum wage aren’t buying $4 cups of coffee. Armed security guards at FoxConn? Wow. I am not a China expert in any way, but I’ve been there a few times and knew his story was nonsense within a few minutes of listening.

  2. Paul says:

    This story was very interesting. Why the guy would agree to the interview had me amazed.

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