Facts can undermine a good story pretty quickly, especially if the story is presented as the truth and the facts prove otherwise.
In January, after the PRI program This American Life aired a lengthy excerpt of writer-actor Mike Daisey’s monologue “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” uneasiness about details of Daisey’s story, which focuses on labor practices at a factory in China operated by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) manufacturing partner Foxconn, prompted further fact checking by Rob Schmitz, a China correspondent for American Public Media’s business program Marketplace.
Key elements of Daisey’s narrative were proven false, and both Marketplace and This American Life, which is produced by WBEZ in Chicago, devoted substantial air time to offering retractions, highlighting the lies in Daisey’s story, and interviewing the actor, who confessed to fabricating information as a way to dramatize human rights violations he said he witnessed while in Shenzhen, China, where Foxconn makes iPhones and other Apple products.
What may have worked as theater and a radio — “The Agony and Ecstasy” ended a successful run in New York City last week as news broke about his fabrications, and Daisey’s This American Life episode attracted a record number of listeners — ended up ruining Daisey’s credibility.
The retraction episode featured This American Life host Ira Glass seeking explanations from Daisey regarding his lies, which were uncovered in part through interviews with the translator he hired while in China. In the increasingly awkward exchange, Daisey hedged, saying he operated from a theatrical or dramatic form of the truth. “[E]verything I have done in making this monologue for the theater has been toward that end – to make people care,” Daisey said. “I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work.”
Critics have largely agreed that while Daisey’s lies damage the cause he claims to hold dear, the overall message imbedded is still valid. The New York Times published a series of investigative articles concerning Foxconn that resulted in Apple sending a team of investigators to audit the labor practices of its manufacturing partners. Apple also released its first full list of suppliers last month as media attention continued to focus on Foxconn.
In the end, the manufacturing controversies certainly aren’t great PR for Apple, although it’s doubtful they’ll hurt the company’s bottom line.
For its part, Foxconn has said that Daisey’s monologue and many interviews have damaged Foxconn’s reputation, but that the company won’t pursue litigation. Foxconn spokesman Simon Hsing told Reuters, “Our corporate image has been totally ruined. The point is whatever media that cited the program should not have reported it without confirming (with us)…We hope nothing similar will happen again.”