Based on a True Story


When we watch a film that starts off with, “Based on a true story”, does that influence how we internalize the validity of the events that really took place? Often times, when we watch such a film, we use that film as the basis of our opinions about the event that was portrayed in the movie. It seems now, despite airing on a journalistic network, Mike Daisey’s dramatic account of his trip to China was indeed just based on a true story. Several of his key punch lines from the performance have been reveled to be false and exaggerated. It turns out that Mike Daisey never saw people with hands that had been destroyed from dangerous neurotoxins present in the factories. It turns out that he never officially encountered underage workers. He even lied about how many factories he visited and other logistical facts that bolstered his argument. Ira Glass and his team were clearly angered by this turn of events as it poorly reflected upon their professionalism. Is Mike Daisey a liar and a fraud or is it more complicated than that?

Sure, Mike Daisey lied about a few things, but it seems like he did this with the best intentions in mind. Would I have approached tackling this issue the same way as Mike Daisey? Absolutely not. Do I see where he is coming from? Yes. Mike Daisey is a writer and a storyteller. He is no journalist. A journalist has the job of reporting the news and allowing the audience to make opinions for themselves. Let me make it clear that I’m not trying to let Daisey off the hook, I’m simply looking at this from his perspective for a moment. Daisey wanted to create a potent narrative to capture the attention of people. As he said to Ira Glass, he was compelled that the news networks were no longer interested in some of the issues that were continuing to happen in China. Daisey took matters into his own hands by fluffing up his story to create a powerful message to Americans and all users of Apple products. Although Daisey wasn’t telling complete lies, he needed to warn people that his story was merely based on true events and was not 100% accurate. Daisey’s original story needs to be understood by audiences as a story that depicts some of the harsh realities of large factories in China. Daisey’s credibility is certainly wounded in my mind. Had he told this story with the disclaimer that some of it was exaggerated; I believe it would still have had a lasting influence on audiences. Nowadays people gain more credibility if they have documentation and evidence to support their claims. Had Daisey filmed his escapades in China, this issue could have been avoided altogether. Daisey ultimately claims that he is proud of his work because it is a work of art that aims to gather the totality of his experience and immerse the audience in his views and ideas. In the end though, I think it was unethical to knowingly mislead the crew of TAL into airing his show because he’s too smart a man to claim that he didn’t know that his performance would be interpreted within the rules of the journalistic standard.

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5 thoughts on “Based on a True Story

  1. Maybe he was unethical in some senses of the word, but did he truly do something wrong? You stated he wanted to cover something he felt like the big news corporations were not giving enough attention to. Did he do that? Yes. He wanted to bring the level of attention on sweatshops higher, to expose more people to the practices. Did he do that? Yes. He wanted to take his whole trip in China and make it sound more appealing and engross the entire topic of sweatshops into one performance to make it easier to convey to the audience. Did he do that? Yes. He did all these things while using some lies, deceptions, illusions along the way, but still got the message across about sweatshops. Whether ‘his’ story was lies or not, the truth is these things happen today.

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  2. The issue with what your bringing up MegaSchu is that you your justifying the means with the end result. I don’t think that Mike Daisey had to falsify his experience. I think that if he had chosen to, he could have actually found some child laborers to talk to and could have viewed some of the terrible living conditions that the employees were going through. The issue is that he chose to take a shortcut and by doing so, I lost a lot of respect for him. He may not be an investigative reporter, but he did seem to believe he was when profiting from the popularity of the podcast.

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  3. I never thought about it with the film analogy and it actually helps of one of Daisey’s statements that bugged me initially. Daisey said something along the lines of he was telling the truth in context of the theater and at the time it just pissed me off. But now I can see what he is saying. He was being truthful in context of the theater, not journalism. But in the end what does it matter? If someone were to make a movie about an underaged worker that worked at Foxconn it would probably have the same/greater impact on society than Dasiey even if it wasn’t truthful.

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  4. After listening to the Retraction 2,3,4 times, I became more annoyed with Ira Galss and journalists who are having a conniption fit over Daisey’s “sins” of journalism because they are policing the legitimacy of their profession. My annoyance is because I think normal journalism has generally massively failed to be an arbiter of truth, or at least an active force to seek out multiple perspectives. I mean, for example, in all of this, how hard would it be to talk to someone from CHINA with some knowledge? And, for me, to have journalists scolding Daisey when the journalism profession let the false premise of the Iraq war be promulgated, when the profession echoed the silliness of not worrying about the housing crisis, when it continues to let climate change denial be treated as a “real” viewpoint, well that scolding seems a trifle misdirected.

    it is like the police giving you a ticket while a bank robbery is going on behind the officer.

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