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March 16, 2012

TT: About Mike Daisey and Steve Jobs

ED-AO414_jobs_D_20111017174458.jpgThis American Life ran an episode about Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs in January. Today TAL announced that Daisey's account of how Apple products are made was "partially fabricated" and that it was "retracting" the episode. The next episode of TAL will be devoted to "detailing the errors" in "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory." Says Ira Glass: "We'll be posting the audio of the program and the transcript on Friday night this week, instead of waiting till Sunday."

The TAL announcement, which describes the fabrications, is here.

Rob Schmitz, who checked out the story and discovered the fabrications, discusses them in detail here.

Here is a complete transcript of "Retraction," the latest episode of This American Life, in which Ira Glass and Rob Schmitz interview Mike Daisey about how and why he misrepresented the facts in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

The Wall Street Journal story on the retraction is here.

Says Daisey on his blog:

I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out.

What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic--not a theatrical--enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret. I am proud that my work seems to have sparked a growing storm of attention and concern over the often appalling conditions under which many of the high-tech products we love so much are assembled in China.

For the record, I broached the possibility that Mike Daisey might have been fudging the facts in my original Wall Street Journal review of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, published last October:

Here's what I wrote:

Mr. Daisey's new monologue is first and foremost a work of theatrical art, just as Mr. Daisey himself, though he is not an actor in the ordinary sense of the word, is an awesomely gifted stage performer. Indeed, it is so strong a piece of theater that you can't help but wonder about its journalistic soundness....

The trouble with "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," as with all theatrical journalism, is that Mr. Daisey is in essence asking us to take his word for it. He hasn't brought back pictures or named names, and the artful anger with which he tells his tale inevitably makes it still more suspect. You don't have to be a puritan to prefer that facts be served straight up.

I'll have more to say about all this a little later in the evening.

UPDATE: Edward Champion reports on how theaters who are presenting or plan to present Daisey's show have responded to his fabrications. So far, they're mostly looking the other way.

Mark Kennedy's Associated Press story about the Daisey scandal.

An audio recording of the new prologue added by Daisey to Saturday's performance of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. (Daisey posted this recording on his blog.)

George Hunka reacts to the scandal, and provides links to further reactions in this country and elsewhere, here and here.

Josh Ong of AppleInsider summarizes the scandal to date.

* * *

Here are my own final thoughts on Mike Daisey.

Posted March 16, 2012 2:05 PM

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