March 22, 2012
Not a lot of tech-specific news in this week after the launch of the new iPad. However, there is one major Apple-related story that you may have heard about.
Performer Mike Daisey, who has been performing a one-man show about the conditions at factories owned by Apple's Chinese manufacturing partner, Foxconn, and who had the large bulk of a This American Life episode dedicated to his "reporting" on the conditions there, has been outed as a liar. The most sensational details from his reporting, the ones that helped spur a fresh round of media and oversight interest in the subject have been exposed as, and admitted by Daisey to be, fabrications.
This American Life has a lengthy and worth-reading press release explaining its decision to completely retract the original story. TAL also devoted its most recent show, which can be heard here, to the matter.
I saw Daisey perform once in Philadelphia, doing a show other than his current one on Apple. He's a good performer, engaging. But, apparently, also a liar.
The real problem here is not that Daisey got such a large stage to spread his garbage (not just This American Life, but also a number of mainstream media outlets; others built off his "reporting" for their stories), but that it can obscure the real problems plaguing factory conditions in China.
Daisey may have concocted things, but there are still real problems there. The worker suicides were real. The explosions were real. The chemical exposure was real. Apple is clearly taking the matter seriously and working hard to improve conditions (now, if only every other company that manufactures in China got the same scrutiny, maybe we'd really start getting somewhere). I hope good comes of those efforts. But it will be tempting for some to look at Daisey's fabrications and conclude that the problems were all untrue.
That's wrong. Daisey's story wasn't real. The problems are. We can't stop pointing out the need for all companies working in China to improve work and safety conditions for the employees of their contractors. Let's not let one set of lies obscure the truth.