This American Life caves to Apple Corp, swaps Mike Daisey Chinese factory horror story for Marketplace puff spin

PlaybillThis American Life host Ira Glass tried to pull an Oprah on playwright Mike Daisey, to dress him down on creative license Daisey took with an excerpt of a monolog aired on TAL titled Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory. The debunking came courtesy of American Public Media’s laughable “Marketplace” Wall Street PR engine, which Glass pretended were reliable experts on the subject of China’s apparently resolved labor abuses. That’s not even funny. This “retraction” reeks even upwind, and Apple’s having become the most highly valued corporation probably explains Glass’s uncharacteristically virulent condemnation. Shameful is what it was, and I hold it unforgivable, for the pretend-affable Glass, so-called folk archivist, to scuttle someone else’s too successful artistic quest for fundamental truth.

Let’s be clear. Mike Daisey was “debunked” based on his Chinese translator contradicting his version of events, and Marketplace finding Hong Kong based activists ready to give Chinese labor problems the all-clear signal. Both sources no longer protected by anonymity are under duress in China, and it’s not mentioned under whose employ they are now.

The Apple Factory story was the first best thing TAL had aired since pioneering post-sardonic navel gazing, but this week Glass issued a full retraction, removed the episode from the archive, and aired a blistering character assassination complete with manipulatively edited confrontations with Daisey, loaded with the expectation he’d buckle like fictional-confession memoir author James Frey. Except Frey’s lies unraveled because they contrived to propagate untruth. Daisey’s truths were undisputed, but the liberties he took to weave a personal narrative were “debunked” to cast doubt on his every word. It was a shameful moment for This American Life, and I’m hoping this time Glass has overestimated the vapidity of his listeners.

For example, when Mike Daisey explained his rationale for not wanting to “unpack the complexity” of his narrative, Ira Glass responded that he didn’t know what that meant. To what kind of reporter, editor, producer, or storyteller would that concept be foreign?

APM’s Marketplace
This was not the first collaboration between Marketplace and TAL. As the Occupy Wall Street protests grew, Ira Glass commissioned folksy research pieces from a Marketplace team to explain world banking and derivatives trading in terms sufficiently lazy to not disturb the usual NPR stupor. It was bunk coiffed in TAL’s typical carefree je ne care pas.

So this time, Marketplace’s man in China was consulted to fact-check Mike Daisey’s account. ACTUALLY, Glass reveals that he was approached by Marketplace AFTER they’d looked into Daisey’s sources. Glass thanked Marketplace for offering the story to TAL, instead of exploiting the exposé themselves. That’s Glass pretending he doesn’t know PR is about getting someone else to say it for you. Absolving Apple required more than one media property criticizing another. Somebody probably wanted a full retraction.

To foul Mike Daisey’s story required one phone call to the translator and guide he’d used in China, whose contact information he tried hide from Glass and co. No mention that this might have been to protect her from angry Chinese authorities, or from Apple and its supplier Foxconn and the inevitable underworld that rides herd on its victim laborers.

Marketplace’s feat consisted of tracking down his translator, breaking her cover, and putting her on the spot for the harsh criticisms which Daisey laid on Apple, Foxconn and their Chinese hosts. Especially as the popularity of Mike Daisey’s performance piece grew, and after its airing on TAL and his many media interviews, the anonymity of his Chinese translator would remain of paramount concern, but once exposed by Marketplace, what choice might she have had but to denounce Daisey’s heresies?

Could Apple’s being the world’s most high valued company have had anything to do with this kill-the-messenger hit piece? Apple has scheduled a press conference Monday morning to announce what it plans to do with its now famous $100 Billion cash holdings.

Storytelling
Isn’t it rich that TAL suddenly wants to hold its stories to journalistic standards? Imagine if someone had called them on the Christmas elven adventures of David Sedaris. Was that fact-checked? Or what of the elementary Christmas play Sedaris so gloriously skewered? IF YOU Criticize TAL for its too-often neglect of difficult subjects and you’re scolded that the show is about culture and storytelling.

Mike Daisey’s TAL recording is now offline, although the transcript remains. In it you’ll find an indictment that Ira Glass perhaps lacks the temerity to redact as well. It’s his introduction to the segment, and I’ll reprint it here, because Glass praises exactly Daisey’s storytelling technique, separate from the facts he recounts.

A couple weeks ago I saw this one-man show where this guy did something on stage I thought was really kind of amazing. He took this fact that we all already know, right, this fact that our stuff is made overseas in maybe not the greatest working conditions, and he made the audience actually feel something about that fact. Which is really quite a trick. You really have to know how to tell a story to be able to pull something like that off.

In his own words, Glass concedes what his show’s retraction is all about. He’s not retracting the facts, these “we all already know”. Glass and Apple are trying to retract Mike Daisey’s effect, that “he made the audience actually feel something about that fact.”

TO BE CONTINUED

3 thoughts on “This American Life caves to Apple Corp, swaps Mike Daisey Chinese factory horror story for Marketplace puff spin

  1. Avatarlapsedlawyer

    According to Daisey, the full “debriefing” of him took around 4 hours of grilling from Glass and the Wall Street lapdog (I listen to Marketplace, and they are so in the tank for China’s Dickensian economic “miracle” that nary a discouraging word escapes to offend the ears of their generous funders). Shades of Torquemada and Gitmo!

    This was followed up with a NYT reporter who downplayed the worst abuses, while conceding they exist.

    Shameful. Cements what “journalism” means these days: The manufacture of consent to keep the people from knowing the truth about the corruption of their philosopher kings.

  2. AvatarJim C.

    Great piece.

    It’s been obvious from the beginning that this is a manufactured scandal. The big problem for Daisey? He apparently did not personally witness some of the things that he said he did. Even though they indeed did happen.

    Big whoop. Glass’ “retraction,” and the fact that all the other news stories on this (but yours) are treating him like Benedict Arnold, only shows how corrupt our corporate media really is.

    Plus– it’s a g-d PLAY !!!!

    I’ve never seen anything this phony. I’ve lost all respect now for Ira Glass– who’s apparently much more of a bottom-feeder than we’ve known.

    And I love the idea that Marketplace — MARKETPLACE– is considered to be an unbiased show about business. My God, they’re a corporate cheering squad– and that’s been the whole point of the show since its beginnings at USC!

  3. AvatarMichael C.

    Let’s not pretend that TAL’s character assassination of Mike Daisey was journalism. It was so repugnant and made me so ill that I can never listen to the show again.

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