"In the theater, our job is to create fictions that reveal truth—that's what a storyteller does, that's what a dramatist does." You can be excused if you mistake this for a quote from George Orwell's 1984. Unfortunately, it is a real statement released by the Public Theater in New York City to defend the lies behind Mike Daisey's accusations against Apple Inc.'s working conditions in China.
Daisey is a performer who put together a fictional piece about Steve Jobs. However, he somehow convinced a prominent member of the media that his story was really true. Ira Glass, a highly respected journalist who hosts the radio show This American Life, devoted an entire episode to Daisey and his lies against Apple. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International and airs on National Public Radio affiliate stations.
Daisey made up lies about the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China. For example, he said he met workers who were just 12-years old, and he said he met workers who were exposed to chemicals that were so toxic, it left their hands shaking "uncontrollably." Apple took a lot of heat for what was supposedly going on at this factory. Now we know they were lies.
The unfortunate truth is that Foxconn has a history of treating workers badly. Indeed, a number of Foxconn employees have committed suicide. As a result, it is not difficult to understand how someone (even a respected journalist) could be duped into believing the worst. Furthermore, because NPR has long been accused of having a liberal, anti-business bias, it is easy to imagine the folks putting together the show champing at the bit. They no doubt knew this story would be big. It turned out to be one of the most popular episodes in the program's history.
But journalists are supposed to be skeptical, and they are supposed to check out the facts. Thanks to Rob Schmitz who works for another show that airs on NPR, Marketplace, we now know the truth. To Mr. Glass's credit, he and Public Radio International have retracted the story. That's more than what some others may have done. Better late than never, yet the damage is already done.
As for Mr. Daisey, he remains defiant. He thinks his only sin was not making it clear to Mr. Glass that he was putting on an act. But he has been selling his fiction as truth to other media outlets as well. Unfortunately, Daisey has victimized the very workers he claims to be protecting. Employee abuse is a real problem in China, but due to Daisey's lies, the next person who comes along with a real story about worker abuse will get a much less receptive hearing.