Mike Daisey and a tough question


If you haven’t heard of Mike Daisey let me give you a quick synopsis. He is an author, actor and play write. He has been in the news lately for a monologue that he wrote and performs called The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. You can download the entire monologue from his blog here. The monologue talks about his love of Apple products and about where these wonderful devices come from: the Foxconn factories in China. In 2010 Mike went to Chine to learn more about these factories and part of his show is about his experiences. He recounts his conversations he has had with workers (young and old) about the terrible conditions in the factories, how they hire children to work and how the work can cause serious health risks.

There is a problem though folks. Read on past the break to learn what ethical issues Mike has stepped into here.

Mike’s show has received critical acclaim and drawn a lot of attention to Apple and other companies that use these factories to produce their products. I’ve heard some the excerpts from his shows and they are certainly humorous and poignant. The transcript is a great read and you should definitely check it out (link above).

OK, I’m sure by now you smell that something is amiss. The problem with Mike’s show is that not everything he talks about experiencing actually happened. I’m not talking about minor details either – some of his most dramatic points like talking with an older man whose hand was crushed did not happen. Read below (taken from The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs – page 56). Cathy is his translator in China during the trip.


Dramatic? Yes. Did Mike actually talk to this guy? No. How do I know? This American Life is a radio show based out of Chicago and they interviewed Mike Daisey on January 6, 2012 about his show and the conditions in the Foxconn factory. Recently This American Life, retracted that show and published an apology and follow up interview with Daisey where they confront him about some of his story. Mike agrees that parts of his story is fiction but defends his work overall as theater not journalism. Here is his defense from his website.

However, on the last page of the transcript Mike writes this: This is a monologue–a single voice telling a story of a single experience (page 62 from The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs). Yet, this is not true. Mike fabricates this part of his experience and others to elicit a deeper emotional connection and response.

Mike’s goal was to raise awareness and start a movement for better working conditions in China. It seems it is working and this is a good thing, but do the ends justify Mike’s means? Does it excuse the fact that he lied to a large audience to get his point across? Does it excuse the fact that he went on TV (other shows, news shows) and radio to promote his show and lie to the listeners and viewers?

I say no.

He lied. His show is about his single experience and what makes it so amazing is that we accept this experience to be true. His lie naturally weakens his credibility and his message. The same is true if a person (student, colleague, anyone) were to lie to me to my face. I would be weary of what they were saying later on-even if it was 100% correct. It would take a long time for that wound to heal and for that trust to be renewed.

As a person earning the trust of anyone is a fragile, difficult and important process. Mike seems like a very intelligent person and I’m sure he understands this. I am just sad and wonder what his real motives were. I’m sure he wants better conditions for those workers. At the same time I am sure he wants to perform for a packed house every night and a boring story probably wouldn’t bring those people in.

As a teacher I worry that Mike’s actions will be interpreted as something that is OK by students. My students can feel very impassioned about a number of topics. If they feel the ends always justify their means, then this could lead to some serious trouble in their immediate future. I think Mike justifying his actions is a dangerous message he sends to people.

What do you think? Read the articles linked and listen to the interview and let us know. Can honesty be sacrificed to achieve one’s goal (even if that goal is for the greater good)?

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