AMITIAE - Monday 19 March 2012

Apple, Daisey and Bandwagon Journalism

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


There has been a considerable amount of news over the weekend concerning the performer, Mike Daisey, who based a dramatic monologue on what he said were first-hand experiences of a visit to China and meeting with workers. It now appears that he out and out lied about most of what is in the monologue and of what he wrote in a NYTimes Op-ed.

That Op-ed and several interviews may also have been a source for the NYTimes own one-sided exposé of Apple and what goes on in the Foxconn factories. That was followed fairly quickly by a number of other sources picking up on the story ands rushing into print (and online) with their own criticisms of Apple.

The points that these factories are not used solely by Apple and that Apple has for years been addressing what it sees as erroneous work practises (publishing some that are then used as ammunition against it) seems to have escaped many, despite being brought up over and over again.

We saw on Sunday evening in a report by Josh Ong on AppleInsider that despite claims that it was Art and not subject to the same rules as journalism, Daisey is to change the words used in his dramatic monologue. Without all those fabrications, I bet it will be a touch less dramatic now.

What has also been brought up when visitors reported they were distraught at seeing the suicide prevention nets at factories is that the rate of those killing themselves is less than half the usual rate in China. This is somehow ignored: "less than half, but what about the suicides there?" There was also news last week that the peak of suicides was in 2010 when Foxconn made payments to families of the dead. When they stopped, the rate went down again: dutiful sons and daughters providing for their families in extremis. I had always thought that young farm girls (and boys) coming to Bangkok, Pattaya and other places to sell themselves and in that way send money home, was sad, but suicide (anathema to me anyway) is the ultimate tragedy.

As the news unfolded I was making notes for inclusion in today's Cassandra column, but three things pushed me into writing it up yesterday as a separate online comment: Daisey, Daisey, Give us an Answer Do: Truth, Art and Apple. Those spurs were the point that there was too much information for Cassandra (this follow up confirms that); a Tweet led me to a copy of the handout that Daisey gave to audiences; and a New Yorker, Letter from China (Evan Osnos) pulled the whole thing apart from the perspective of being inside an Asian country. This added greatly to the information already out including the article I cited in Friday's Cassandra column from someone who has an office near one of the Foxconn buildings that was published on The Street -- presaging what was soon to follow -- and the article by Rob Schmitz of Marketplace who was the only one who did follow up and who found the translator that Mike Daisey said could not be traced.

In that comment alone, he was clearly misleading the producers of a TV documentary on PBS who have now issued their own retraction. Commenting on this was a remarkably docile Rik Lyslewski on The Register who normally aims for the Apple jugular. It read quite well until I reached the paragraph,

But actual -- if yellow-tinged -- journalism as practiced by the likes of The New York Times has done more to move Apple into cooperation with the Fair Labor Association in auditing conditions at its suppliers than has dramatic license as practiced by a spotlight-seeking moralist piggybacking on the fame of another.

As if he had never. . . . Then Myslewski also askes the question that had been nagging him all along: "Why, then, is Apple the only company facing fierce scrutiny, petitions, and -- yes -- "dramatic license"". Why indeed: if it had been bothering the Register reporter, why didn't the Register reporter ask the goddam question like Rob Schmitz did?

That was one of the many questions I posed when I wrote on the NYTimes Foxconn allegations back in January.

A late comment by Greg Sandoval reports that Daisey is now attacking the credibility of the translator: a mirror please, someone give Daisey a mirror. Some have wondered why Apple said nothing about Daisey's performance for a year but it seems they did. In an updated article, Philip Elmer_DeWitt on Fortune outlines the situation but adds that Apple did point out the inaccuracies and other problems concerning the performance to several. Among those warned were Ira Glass and Brian Read who were responsible for the original broadcast.

With the extra work that has had to be done by Apple to be seen to be dealing with the issues at Foxconn, and the allegations piled on allegations that may well have put some anguished customers off their Apples (and on to Dell or HP that are produced in the same factory), I also wonder how much this has cost Apple? However, a more sober look by Danny Groner on Huffington Post brings in 4 excellent observations on the whole picture.

As an aside, in yesterday's article I wrote I mentioned Naom Chomsky. I had seen a video last week in which he was interviewed and was not over-enthusiastic about the democracy and freedom that online blogs provide. The reason? Reliance on such blogs and their unchecked facts means that things get missed. There still need to be reporters on the ground for this essential task.

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