Mike Daisey’s brief guide to answering difficult questions
On the radio, Daisey tendered the non-apology apology. Yes, for his retracted episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” Daisey confessed that he had lied in the original broadcast about what he saw in China, whom he talked to there, when he talked to them, how many factories he visited, and so on. He also admitted that he lied to This American Life‘s editors in the fact-checking process. For a complete run.
Daisey has now acknowledged his lies, but has also attempted several defenses and obfuscations of them. On his blog last Friday, the day the scandal was broken, he stated that: “I stand by my work,” and “What I do is not journalism.” I leave it to the reader to figure what “I stand by my work” means when the work under discussion has been discredited. But the “not journalism” comment is very peculiar to make at this late stage because, as Craig Silverman points out, This American Life producer Brian Reed put Daisey on notice before the episode ran that they wanted it to be “totally, utterly unassailable by anyone who might hear it.”
“Utterly unassailable” strikes me as a laudable, if unreachable, goal for journalism. To the producer’s request, Daisey responded: “I totally get that.” So even if he doesn’t “do” journalism, he knew that he was being asked to “do” journalism on This American Life.
Daisey’s evasions and justifications have circled out wider in the last couple of days. Yesterday, he wrote in his blog that if you think that the story of his lies is bigger than the story of working conditions in China, then “something is wrong with your priorities.” He says this just one paragraph away from reiterating his apology to “anyone who felt betrayed” by his radio performance. “I stand by that apology,” he writes, before launching into a defense of making stories “subordinate to the truth.”
Daisey’s scrambled logic continued last night at Georgetown University. There, Daisey claimed of his Apple factory monologue, “The truth of that story is very real,” according to this account by Erik Wemple, who writes:
In sincere tones, [Daisey] repeated his apologies to This American Life executive producer Ira Glass and extended his regrets to his audiences and to journalists. He confessed to being “wrong” for having exposed the radio program to such risk. But “I can’t say it was wrong to air” the program, Daisey argued.
We shouldn’t be stunned when Daisey’s contrition equation fails to add up. He apologizes to Glass, to his audiences, and to journalists and confesses to the “wrong” of hurting the radio show. But he “can’t say it was wrong to air” the show. As Wemple reports, Daisey still maintains that he got contested facts right in his monologue. Daisey told the Georgetown crowd that he did see guards with guns at the Foxconn plant, although nobody will confirm that. He did speak to a 13-year-old outside the factory, although confirmation of that is not available, and so on.
Daisey even feeds the audience this non sequitur: “If I wanted to make it up, I wouldn’t have gone to China.” Again, we should not be stunned if Daisey made up a bunch of facts after what he found in China was not the precise story he was dying to tell.
Anybody this given to prevarication must have revealed his methods at some point in his career, and — wouldn’t you know it? — Daisey gave away his secret of how to repel questions in an extended interview in 2005, in conjunction with the performance of his monologue 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com in Portland, Oregon. The show, which also exists in book form, is based on Daisey’s three-year stint as an Amazon worker in Seattle.
When grilled, imitate Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and toss your interrogators a hall-of-mirrors response to chase, Daisey says. From the interview [emphasis added]:
I think Amazon made me the person I am today. Aside from making me very wary of corporate situations, I try to apply the marketing savvy I learned from Jeff Bezos. [laughs] I really pattern the marketing of this show and other shows after the way I saw Amazon talk about itself.
For instance, when people from the media started talking about the show and the book, they’d say, “Oh — he’s a disgruntled worker!” And I’d take a page from Jeff. In every interview about Amazon, someone would ask him a binary question: “Is Amazon x?” And he’d never say “yes” or “no” — he’d always take a middle path that opens up five more questions. So someone would say, “Why are you so angry at Amazon?,” and I’d say, “Oh, I’m not angry at Amazon. In fact, it’s more of a love story.” And it opens up conversations with the media: They’ll say, “Well, now I can’t write it in 20 words — I guess I’ll have to write a longer piece that’s more complex, or I guess I’ll actually have to be interested.”
Just when we thought Daisey had repeated every fabulist excuse in the book, maybe he’s given us something fresh: Jeff Bezos made me do it.
For those Johnny Deadlines eager to skim the published version of 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com for additional Daisey lies, don’t bother. On the acknowledgement page, he indemnifies himself as completely as possible, writing: “Some facts were injured in the telling of this story. The truth, however, remains unharmed.”
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PHOTO: A protester wearing a mask of Apple Inc founder Steve Jobs performs a street drama with a university student playing the role of a Foxconn worker during a protest in Hong Kong, May 7, 2011. REUTERS/Bobby Yip