“Fake, but accurate” redux

Your editor had resisted writing about the Apple/Mike Daisey kerfuffle because he had guessed that something like this would happen soon enough.

Mike Daisey, an actor, had concocted a monologue, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” fourteen months ago, in which he claimed that Apple’s manufacturing facility in the People’s Republic of China was using child labor, with some workers as young as 11, under slave-labor conditions. Then he foisted it on Ira Glass of National Public Radio. His work was also carried by The New York Times, The Associated Press, MSNBC and HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” The “This American Life” story has now been retracted, but the site notes:

NOTE: This American Life has retracted this story because we learned that many of Mike Daisey’s experiences in China were fabricated. We have removed the audio from our site, and have left this transcript up only for reference. We produced an entire new episode about the retraction, featuring Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz, who interviewed Mike’s translator Cathy and discovered discrepancies between her account and Mike’s, and New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, who has reported extensively on Apple. Ira also re-interviewed Mike Daisey to learn why he misled us.

THE FIRST STREET JOURNAL commends This American Life for leaving up the retracted story for reference; they did not have to do that, but did so anyway.

Regrettably, the great Andrew Breitbart has gone to his eternal reward, but his organization’s work continues. Larry O’Connor wrote, on the late Mr Breitbart’s Big Journalism:

The media outlets were all too willing to publish and broadcast Daisey’s lies because it fit perfectly into their narrative of evil American corporations (even one headed by liberal champion Steve Jobs) exploiting the downtrodden and vulnerable of the world (especially people of a non-caucasian race) for the benefit of Wall Street and Wal-Mart.  Daisey’s story had everything the American media is looking for.  So fact-checking was left on the back-burner.

Compare that lazy attitude with the scrutiny and skepticism heaped on conservative news outlets when stories break about a liberal congressman’s Twitter activity or a liberal President’s law school hero.  There is a stunning double standard that is revealed by the Daisey story that can’t be overlooked.  If a report matches with the template, the dogmatic narrative instilled in year one in Journalism School, it receives the benefit of the doubt.  If a story challenges what “everyone knows to be true” from the left’s perspective, it is held up to the highest level of scrutiny, if acknowledged at all.

But, the Mike Daisey affair has more levels to it than that.  You see, Daisey is not a reporter or journalist in the traditional sense.  He is, what’s the word… oh yeah: He’s an ACTOR!  His profession is to lie and lie well.  If Mike Daisey were a bad liar, he would never have been able to make a living as an actor.  So, when he presented his monologue presentation about Apple manufacturing conditions, one would think NPR and the AP would stop for a moment and question the sourcing.  After all, the guy was probably doing dinner theatre in Poughkeepsie last week, right?

But, sadly, with the advent of Hollywood activism in the form of Clooney, Pitt, Sarandon, Moore, Hanks, et al, Daisey’s Thespian credentials actually helped his cause with America’s journalism elite.  We have reached the point where Rosie O’Donnell’s moronic ramblings about the temperature at which steel will melt is treated like a dissertation from St. Thomas Aquinas, so why shouldn’t we honor the research of a portly monologuist who was probably the understudy for Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Summer stock?

More at the link; hat tip to Gretchen for the reference.

I was reading about this story, I kept thinking back to CBS News’ “Rathergate” story, in which a known political opponent of President George W Bush brought to CBS News documents which purported to show that a superior officer of then First Lieutenant Bush complained, on paper, that Lt Bush was receiving favored treatment. It turned out that the documents were forgeries, and were obvious enough forgeries that both Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs and John Hinderaker of Powerline spotted them as forgeries, not with the original copies in hand, but on screen-caps of the Sixty Minutes show on which they were broadcast. After standing behind the story for eleven days, CBS finally admitted that the incriminating documents used might not have been genuine. Nevertheless, many persisted with the meme that, yes, the story was based on forged documents, but it was accurate nevertheless; it was The New York Times which came up with the famous “fake but accurate” line in a headline.

And thus is was unsurprising to your editor to see the same “defense” put up concerning Mr Daisey’s story:

Executives at Apple, who spend a lot of time in Chinese factories, must have known that Daisey was passing fiction off as fact. And yet for more than a year — while Daisey performed his monologue in cities around country, spoke to reporters, wrote editorials, launched petitions and letter-writing campaigns — the company kept its silence.

It was an extraordinary feat of public relations forbearance.

Why didn’t Apple blow the whistle on Daisey a year ago? I can think of two reasons.

  1. The company didn’t want to give him an even broader stage by engaging with him in a public debate. They knew that if the world’s most valuable public company attacked a one-man show it would draw even more attention to Daisey and his message and tend to elevate him in the public’s eye to their level. (Note that it was only after the New York Times — a national newspaper — did its series on Apple that CEO Tim Cook spoke out.)
  2. Apple knew that the thrust of Daisey’s message was true. Working conditions in Chinese factories are harsh by Western standards. Apple’s overtime rules are routinely ignored. Workers have been poisoned by N-hexane. Factories have blown up.

One of the best things about This American Life‘s follow-up broadcast is that after Ira Glass confronts Daisey on the air — the silence as Daisey feels his credibility evaporating is painful — Glass returns to the underlying issue in an interview with the New York Times‘ Charles Duhigg:

You can continue on to read at the original; it’s under copyright, so your editor can only reproduce a small portion under fair use guidelines. But he can tell you this much: the article continues with a conversation between Messrs Glass and Duhigg which assumes, as its underlying basis, that Mr Daisey’s characterization of working conditions at Apple’s plants in the People’s Republic are wholly accurate.

Nor is the “fake but accurate” defense limited just to Mr Dailey’s claims about Apple. It seems that our global warming advocates have done the same thing:

“Fake But Accurate” Science

By Robert Tracinski

For years, we’ve been lectured at by the global warming establishment about how anyone who doubts them is an enemy of science. One of them in particular, a fellow named Peter Gleick who was the chair of the American Geophysical Union’s Task Force on Scientific Ethics, kept lecturing us about how much more scientific integrity the warmists have compared to us unscrupulous skeptics.

Well, now we know what the “scientific ethics” of this global warming establishment actually amounts to. It’s not just that Gleick has confessed to stealing internal documents from the Heartland Institute, a think tank that supports global warming skepticism, or that he is suspected of forging another document in an attempt to defame Heartland. It’s the fact that a whole section of the scientific establishment is defending Gleick on the grounds that it’s OK to lie to promote their cause.

It should go without saying — it doesn’t, apparently, but it should — that this is a complete inversion of genuine scientific ethics, in which there is no value higher than the truth. But that is how deeply the global warming dogma has corrupted the scientific establishment.

It starts with science journalists and commentators. In Britain’s leftist newspaper The Guardian, for example, James Garvey writes that Gleick’s lie was “justified by the wider good.” The “wider good” is defined as suppressing any opposition to the global warming establishment. “What Heartland is doing is harmful, because it gets in the way of public consensus and action,” Garvey writes. So, “If Gleick frustrates the efforts of Heartland, isn’t his lie justified by the good that it does?”

Much more at the link. But it gets right back to what Mr O’Connor said:

If a report matches with the (liberal) template, the dogmatic narrative instilled in year one in Journalism School, it receives the benefit of the doubt. If a story challenges what “everyone knows to be true” from the left’s perspective, it is held up to the highest level of scrutiny, if acknowledged at all.

After the dust had settled from the Rathergate scandal, several people at CBS News lost their jobs. One, producer Mary Mapes, was just plain fired, while three others were allowed to resign.1 Long-time anchorman Dan Rather moved up his planned retirement by a year, giving him a just-barely-decently long enough interval between the scandal and his retirement that it could be claimed2 he wasn’t forced out. The earlier lessons of Stephen Glass, Janet Cooke, Jason Leopold,3 and Jayson Blair ought to be a clear warning for journalists, and their editors: faking it catches up to you, and you should check and double check your sources.

Mike Daisey, of course, isn’t a reporter, but an actor, and he can’t get fired . . . though this episode might just affect whether he gets any more roles. And the “scientists” who lie, cheat and steal to support the theories on global warming may be embarrassed, but they, too, will probably survive in their tenured positions. The real lesson is: if it comes from a source with a liberal record, check it again before you believe it!


  1. CBS News demanded their resignations.
  2. The concept is known as “plausible deniability.”
  3. Your editor did a fairly extensive series on the “work” of Jason Leopold

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