Thursday, March 22, 2012


Here's an open letter to Mike Daisey, the performance artist who appeared on my favorite radio show, This American Life, and lied to their producers about fabricating parts of a dramatic story about visiting an Apple manufacturing plant in China. (Full story here.)


I listened to your performance on This American Life this weekend and I was sickened and disgusted by your behavior. After all of the evidence they had against you, you still couldn't bring yourself to admit that you LIED. You lied to Ira, to his fact-checkers, to his listeners, and to every one of your audience members. Even after they gave you a chance to correct yourself, you lied. And you still won't take responsibility for it.

I believe lying is wrong. Once a lie gets out there ("Obama is a Muslim", "Jews eat Christian babies") it takes forever to eradicate it. I know you believe you lied for a good cause. But that only weakens your cause. Because from now on, whenever an Apple supporter hears stories about Apple factories, they can point to your fabrications as proof that it's not really bad as people say. "People make stuff up!" And they're talking about YOU. Your disregard for truth and accuracy has only hurt your cause.

But what really baffles and infuriates me is how you appear to take little responsibility for what you've done. Your defensive posture has been sickening. You say, "If you think this story [the one of you lying] is bigger than that story [the working conditions in a Chinese factory], something is wrong with your priorities." No, I think something is wrong with your priorities. Truth IS more important than winning people to your perspective, regardless of how noble your cause is. Because once you start to stretch the truth, you lose all credibility. Human rights are impossible without truth and accuracy. It wasn't a bunch of lies that led to abolition, women's suffrage, and civil rights. It was the truth. A truth that you pissed all over just so you could gain notoriety, make money, and further your agenda.

I don't own any Apple products, so I have no dog in this fight. I value my priorities-- those of telling the truth, accepting responsibility, and admitting when I'm wrong-- over that of any single business practice that I oppose. I wish you shared my priorities.
Mike Daisey: Lying Piece of Shit (as Dan Savage would say)

Although the majority of the interwebs are similarly flaying Daisey for his dubious respect for the truth (my favorite uses the wonderful phrase, "counterfeit truth":, there are some people who come to his defense. They say that greater truths are more important than niggling details, and theatrical performances can take dramatic license with the truth. That's all well and good, and I have no problem with fictional accounts of true life. As long as they're labeled that way.

But when you insist that something really happened, and sell it as such, it better damn well be true. I remember during the whole James Frey fiasco I had a discussion with someone who said, "Who cares if it's true? It's just a story." Well, EVERYONE cares if it's true.

Whether or not something really happened is an integral part of every story. When people tell urban legends, why do they always insist that it "really happened!" They will swear up and down that they know it happened to their cousin's babysitter's neighbor. If truth doesn't matter, then why are people so insistent that something really happened? Because a story that really happened has a much lower bar than one that didn't happen. People pay much more attention to true stories.

James Frey knew this, which is why, when he tried to sell his book as fiction, no one bought it. It was only after he changed it to non-fiction that a publisher bought it. Mike Daisey knows this as well, which is why he fabricated scenes that he personally never witnessed. Everyone agrees that he tells a great story-- but the quality of any story changes depending on whether or not it really happened.


Totally unrelated to the Daisey story is something else that has captured my attention this week: The shooting of an unarmed teenager in Florida by a neighborhood watch captain who pursued him because he looked "suspicious."

Trayvon Martin: Murdered for looking suspicious

This story disgusts and enrages me. Because George Zimmerman, the shooter, claimed "self-defense," the law in Florida prevents him from being arrested. So apparently I can go up to anyone in Florida, pick a fight with them, and then shoot them and get away with it?

The lies in this story are of an altogether different nature. In a letter that was written by Zimmerman's father after the shooting, he claims that the media coverage is "cruel and misleading" toward his son. He also claims,
At no time did George follow or confront Mr. Martin. When the true details of the event become public, and I hope that will be soon, everyone should be outraged by the treatment of George Zimmerman in the media.
Knowing what we now know about the case-- that Zimmerman called 911 and said there was a suspicious man in his neighborhood and he was going to follow him, because "they always get away,"-- it's hard to reconcile his father's assertion that George never followed Martin. Are we to believe Martin
(armed with a bag of skittles and a jar of tea) just attacked Zimmerman, without provocation, in order to steal a bullet out his gun with his chest?

Obviously, someone is lying. The question is, does Zimmerman's dad really believe the account as he told it, or is he intentionally lying? I'm tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt that he believes the lie himself. He just doesn't want to believe his son is a killer. Who would?

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