Theater or Journalism?


Listening to the “Retraction” podcast on This American Life, I was extremely angered by Mike Daisey. Why did he need to fabricate, exaggerate and twist stories of his accounts at Foxconn? He claims he is an actor and he was trying to impact the audience and bring notice to a often ignored issue. I disagree. If he wanted it to be all about impact and sending a message, than he should have gotten his facts straight and not gone on This American Life with a perceived journalism story. People, like myself, might be so dumb as to actually believe what he was saying was true!! Then on the retraction Mr. Daisey has the audacity to shuffle around the issue of his lies and exaggerations. He tries to justify every fabrication he made. Whether it be the fabrications of the guards with guns, or the time of when his business man approach method was introduced, or the 12 year old workers that he claimed he spoke too; he can’t seem to just admit he exaggerated or lied. Furthermore, he did not go to 10 factories as he originally stated, but rather 5 (as he later claimed) or 3 (if you listen to Cathy). The biggest and most infuriating lie that I would like to focus on is the claim that he spoke to workers who suffered from exposure to n-hexane from Foxconn. This fabrication and Mr. Daisey’s willingness to just “cut and paste” this story from its original occurrence to where it could be helpful to his story, not only is wrong but discredits the impact he is trying to make.

Mr. Daisey originally stated in his work that he spoke to workers who had been exposed to n-hexane which is a potent nuerotoxin used to clean the screens of Ipads. He claimed that he saw the aftermath of such a  toxin as some of the workers could not even move their hands. However the truth, which took him about 5 minutes to tip toe around and then actually admit, was that he did not meet these workers at all. He had heard other workers in Hong Kong talking about the incident that occurred in another part of China. Mr. Daisey felt that if he could have a voice in his story telling those horrors, that it would really be impactful.

The real incident occurred in Suzhou, a city near Shanghai in a factory called Wintek. Wintek is a Foxconn subtractor and started using n-hexane to replace alcohol when cleaning the Ipad screens. . Apple admits to this mishap in their 2011 Supplier responsibility report (page 20). Apple claims that in 2010 they learned of 137 workers at Wintek who had suffered health affects from n-hexane. Apple then states it prohibited the subcontractor from using this toxin and also made the company fix their ventilation system. According to the New York Times, n-hexane began being used at Wintek as early as 2009 and many workers began feeling the effects by the end of that year. Many workers complained of sore limbs, headaches, fatigue and vertigo. These were all caused by n-hexane which can interfere with the central nervous system and cause these issues. Apple claims they have taken responsibility for these actions, stopped the use of the drug at their subcontractors, and are keeping track of the medical conditions of the affected workers.

What really bothers me about Mike Daisey, besides his long pauses and delays in which he refuses to just admit he lied and exaggerated, is that the main purpose and impact of all his work is totally discredited to many listeners. Had he just stuck to the truth and inserted stories like the Wintek plant as support to his story, listeners would have still felt moved by the piece and his true goal would have been accomplished. However, now many are angry with his fabrications and feel that his whole story is tainted. Focusing on his lies distracts listeners, including myself, from the real point of the story. Corrupt working conditions do exist and many workers are suffering from this brutal and taxing work-life regardless of what plant they are at. Unfortunately, when the story is introduced as journalism, theater just doesn’t cut it.

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4 responses to “Theater or Journalism?

  1. I too was hesitant about the n-hexane story described in Daisey’s story. The research you were able to find reinforces that if Daisey had been honest about these encounters, his story would have been more impactful. The New York Times article that you include in your post is equally horrendous as the encounter Daisey describes, but it’s truthful. If Daisey took this information and included it in his monologue, as well as the other honest encounters he had, then the story would still be a strong theatrical piece documenting the mistreatment of Chinese factory workers. Now, you can only associate this monologue with fabrications and lies.

  2. I too was affected by the n-hexane story and fell for Daisey’s ruse. I was able to find articles similar to the one you cited from the New York Times. What I also looked at was the potency of n-hexane and the effects it has on the human body. As it turns out, even that was a lie a la Daisey. N-hexane is indeed a neurotoxin, but it doesn’t cause uncontrollable shaking. It causes laziness, headaches, pain in hands and feet, and numbness. Because I think a little more scientifically about stories, I thought this information was interesting!

  3. I think that the title of your blog really says it all. Mike Daisy was performing a theatrical story rather than practicing good journalism. He wasn’t a journalist, but I agree with you that he should not have gone on TAL, which is perceived as a journalism story, if he was not going to get his fact straight. I thought it was really interesting how much information you found on the n-hexane story. Daisy should have given credit to the sources he heard this story from rather than tip-toeing around the situation during The Retraction. It would make him seem more credible if he had properly and professionally acknowledged where this information came from, rather than fabricrating his lies with another lie.

  4. Maybe I sound like a psychologist, but i can’t help but wonder why it was so easy for listeners to gloss over all the exaggerations. Why are we always looking for a “sad story” to aaww about. Please don’t get me wrong, harsh working conditions especially in foreign factories are huge forgotten problems. But i am curious about the political/ social back ground of this play. To me, it seems like we are not willing to care about things until the really affect us.

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