Sunday, March 18, 2012

Storytelling, Journalism, Mike Daisey and 'truthyness'

"Host Ira Glass tells listeners we can no longer stand behind the reporting in the recently aired episode "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory." He explains how Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz tracked down Daisey's interpreter in China — a woman named Cathy Lee — who disputes much of Daisey's story. And Ira talks about how Mike Daisey lied to TAL during the fact-checking process, telling Ira and our producers that Cathy was not her real name and that she was unreachable. Ira also stresses that, without Cathy's corroboration of the story, This American Life never should have run the story in the first place. (5 minutes). "

Wow. Quite the brouhaha about how badly Mike Daisey lied and was able to whip up public interest and outrage with a work of art that he misrepresented as "journalism".  Lives may be saved as a result. Gotta hate that.  And the image of a corporation may have been hurt.  How awful!   Injustice and unfairness are afoot and the main perp, Mike Daisey along with his work must be thrown "under the bus" by npr.

Or must they be thrown "under the bus" at all ? And where exactly is the source of injustice and unfairness?

According to the NY Times, workers have been suffering and dying in Apple suppliers factories and Foxconn factories and this has been amply reported and documented.  Here is one scenario that comes from a recent front page NY Times article Jan 22, 2012,  blithely describing conditions that sound like something out of a concentration camp movie...

"A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day."

Wait, I think I have seen this movie... A big, machine gun toting Nazi sergeant pulls covers off and throws sleeping inmates to the floor...."Raus! Schnell! Der Furher wants more bombs and he wants them now! Get to work!" The camera pans thousands of raggedy prisoners shuffling off to get a cup of weak tea and biscuit and then "get to work". All in good fun, you know, "Arbeit macht frei,"right ?

If you have any imagination at all you will realize that a company that can wake up 8K people and feed them next to nothing and then make them work a 12 hour shift has way too much control over their workers lives.  And how about the workers who are roused even earlier to feed those workers? If you have ever actually 'laboured' for a living the deeper and oppressive meaning of this scene would be obvious.  The NY Times article continues...“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.” Yes, breathtaking is a very good word for these working conditions. And somehow, all this carefully assembled data created no outrage and posed no 'image' issues for the Apple fan base.

Then Mike Daisey does his thing on NPR and because of the way he crafts the facts into a moving story all hell breaks lose.  Now, people do care about workers in China. Now, Apple does care about working conditions.

I am sorry Mike Daisey lied to Ira Glass about the relative truth content in his telling of the Agony And Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. That was wrong. I think.  Maybe that lie was a calculated cost Daisey was willing to pay to shine light on the inherent injustice in the systems of labour that bring us all our gadgets. Perhaps it was a necessary move on Daisey's part to get a wider audience for an important deeper truth.  Perhaps Daisey threw himself  or at least his reputation, under the bus to get working conditions in China noticed by enough people to make a difference? Whatever his motivation, the good done by Mike Daisey's 'lie' far outweighs any good done by the mea-culpa-breast-beating-blather about journalism from Ira Glass and Marketplace's  Rob Schmitz.  Besides all this, since when was This American Life a news show, anyway?

I am not sorry This American Life aired the program and that Apple, as a result has started to do a few of the 'right things' for its workers.  And I do not think Mike Daisey should be sorry about it either.

More  excerpts about working conditions...

NY Times, January 25, 2012
* I think we can expect- no, we should demand that the NY Times have their truthy-ness act together. Because that is their job.
In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad 
"...the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious — sometimes deadly — safety problems."
"Foxconn, in a statement, said that at the time of the explosion (May 2011) the Chengdu plant was in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations, and “after ensuring that the families of the deceased employees were given the support they required, we ensured that all of the injured employees were given the highest quality medical care.” After the explosion, the company added, Foxconn immediately halted work in all polishing workshops, and later improved ventilation and dust disposal, and adopted technologies to enhance worker safety.

In its most recent supplier responsibility report, Apple wrote that after the explosion, the company contacted “the foremost experts in process safety” and assembled a team to investigate and make recommendations to prevent future accidents.

In December 2011, however, seven months after the blast that killed Mr. Lai, another iPad factory exploded, this one in Shanghai. Once again, aluminum dust was the cause, according to interviews and Apple’s most recent supplier responsibility report. That blast injured 59 workers, with 23 hospitalized.

“It is gross negligence, after an explosion occurs, not to realize that every factory should be inspected,” said Nicholas Ashford, the occupational safety expert, who is now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “If it were terribly difficult to deal with aluminum dust, I would understand. But do you know how easy dust is to control? It’s called ventilation. We solved this problem over a century ago.”