Daisey's lying will hurt the Western press and international worker-rights groups. When they get all huffy, Chinese nationalists love to present the Western press as being irremediably biased against Chinese achievements and ambitions, and willing to pass along the most outrageous slanders about China without checking them for accuracy or even plausibility. A site called Anti-CNN is a well-known outlet for such views. This is a constant nuisance when you try to write critical assessments. Worse, it gives ammo to those inside China who want to pooh-pooh complaints about safety, pollution, working conditions, and so on. Daisey is everything they warned against, come to life.
Felix Salmon compares the scandal to another one in the news right now:
[O]ne of the reasons why Daisey’s show has proved so popular — his This American Life episode was the most downloaded in the show’s history, even more than the squirrel cop — is that it combined great storytelling with a feeling that this is happening now and we should do something about it. It’s exactly the same formula used by Kony 2012, a project which is equally problematic. … The fact is that the chief beneficiary of the success of Daisey’s monologue has been Mike Daisey, much more than any group of factory workers or underground trades unionists in China. Similarly, the chief beneficiary of the success of Kony 2012 has been Invisible Children, a US non-profit which spends its money mostly on making movies.
Jack Shafer sizes up fabulists:
I have my theory: 1) They lie because they don’t have the time or talent to tell the truth, 2) they lie because they think they can get away with it, and 3) they lie because they have no respect for the audience they claim to want to enlighten. That would be an ideal subject for a one-man theatrical performance.
Freddie DeBoer wants to keep the focus on the workers:
I just have to say, the glee that has erupted over the revelation that Mike Daisy fabricated large parts of his case against Apple says an awful lot; it just doesn't say what people think it does. The fact that Daisy lied (and it certainly appeared he did) doesn't mean that Foxconn's factories and other parts of Apple's supply chain are good places for workers. On the contrary, the facts still tell us that these are hellish, despicable conditions and that Apple's enormous financial success is predicated on enormous human suffering.
Yglesias points out that Apple's Chinese factories are better than most:
You don't read articles about working conditions in factories making socks destined for export to Kazakhstan, and you don't read articles about working conditions on the rice farms that people eagerly leave to go toil in the sock factory. That rice and those socks are invisible to us and so too are the workers. What we need to see and hear about are bad conditions wherever they may be, not just the ones that provide the appealing news hook. When you read something bad about a Foxconn factory and then see that thousands of people line up for the chance of a job at one of them, that really ought to make you wonder. What were those guys doing the day before they decided to stand in line?
Josh Barro seconds him:
China, like many countries, is much poorer than the United States, and so many things that are improvements by Chinese standards will look terrible from our perspective. The best way to narrow that gap is continued industrialization and economic development in China—a process that is hindered if we shame people out of buying Chinese products. Meanwhile, Americans should concern themselves with the plight of poor people around the world, but not especially with the plight of poor people around the world who happen to make products for the U.S. market.
Tim Warstall mounts a rare defense of Daisey:
I think it’s just fine to manipulate an audience, to tell them half truths, even to make up events entirely in order to get at those emotions. No one really thinks that Romeo and Juliet went down just like Shakespeare said (nor even the Leonard Bernstein or Mark Knopfler versions) but we’ve been queueing up for centuries to be so lied to. Even when The Bard was obviously correct as to the righteous course of action (“First, we kill all the lawyers” has always appeared pretty sound to me) we know that it’s something said by a character to contribute to the overall truthiness of the entire experience.
Brad Plumer counters:
Daisey’s statement defending himself — in which he claims that he’s a performer, not a journalist — doesn’t really hold up, since it appears that he actively misled “This American Life”’s fact-checkers.
Evan Osnos, who reports from China, provides the perspective of a local reporter:
Daisey’s fiction was predicated on the notion that China is essentially unknowable, that reporters never go to factory gates, that highways exit to nowhere. And he might have gotten away with it twenty years ago. But these days, it’s no longer so far away at all. It’s close enough to make an iPhone today and have it on a U.S. store shelf next week. And it’s closer in another important way as well—in overestimating his own ability, Daisey underestimated a lot of other people. He didn’t realize that podcasts are often followed by listeners with real knowledge on his subject: American expats who probably rely even more on podcasts than other people because it’s so difficult to get books and magazines and radio stories over here.
Walker Frost celebrates this development:
[I]n so far as Western journalists have more credibility as being more truthful, it’s because their ideas and perspectives must stand more on their own merits against unfettered public scrutiny. Remove the environment of debate and you destroy the means for determining credibility. As Richard Rorty put so nicely: take care of freedom and truth will take care of itself.