Remember when monologist Mike Daisey was forced to admit on This American Life that significant parts of his popular show about worker abuses at Apple contractor Foxconn’s Shenzen, China plant were fabricated?
Well sensitivities around that issue are running high today, as Daisey took offense at a dig aimed at him by tech journalist Kara Swisher at AllThingsD’s d10 conference during an interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook.
The feud started when a live blog of the interview reported this:
6:43 pm: On China, Kara notes, you have many critics, and not just fictional ones (a reference to Mike Daisey). Why doesn’t Apple have its own factories in China?
This morning, Daisey wrote “An Open Letter to AllThingsD” on his blog. From that post:
Kara and Walt—do you really think you asked hard questions tonight? Goodness, you got Cook to admit… that Ping was a failure! That’s amazing. If only you had another hour, so you could get him to tell us who he liked best on Dawson’s Creek and what kind of ice cream is best: vanilla or cookies and cream. (Trick question: it’s always cookies and cream.)
Daisey then goes on to criticize Swisher and Mossberg in particular and tech journalists in general for fumbling the ball on the Foxconn story and functioning as cheerleaders for the industry.
Swisher and Daisey, naturally, have taken offense, and KQED’s Ian Hill has Storified the online feud, below.
While the exchanges do read a little like an online food fight, they also evoke some interesting issues. There’s no doubt Daisey’s theatrical monologue, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, along with media appearances he made criticizing Apple for its relationship with Foxconn, contributed to awareness about a real issue. But his piece — which he presented as the literal truth on stage, in media appearances, and on This American Life — turned out to be a hyperbolic narrative about labor conditions at Foxconn that used significant fictional elements, when in fact the story was more nuanced.
After This American Life, which had aired the piece in its entirety, ran an excruciatingly uncomfortable segment confronting Daisey on the fabrications, Daisey struck back in a blog post:
Especially galling is how many are gleefully eager to dance on my grave expressly so they can return to ignoring everything about the circumstances under which their devices are made. Given the tone, you would think I had fabulated an elaborate hoax, filled with astonishing horrors that no one had ever seen before. Except that we all know that isn’t true.
So is Apple getting a free pass now, because one of its leading critics was found to have misrepresented relevant information? And does Daisey have any credibility left as a critic of the company or the press? And did he ultimately do more harm than good by taking liberties with the story, as a Tweet by another AllThingsD journalist suggests?
Here’s how Cook responded to Kara Swisher’s question about the criticism on China, from the AllThingsD live blog:
“Cook: We decided a decade ago there were things Apple could do best, and that there were other things that somebody else can do as well or better.
“‘Manufacturing was one of those,’ Cook says, adding later, ‘I think that’s still true.’
“As for China, Cook notes that Apple has been working to reduce overtime. That, he says, is tricky.
“’Some people want to work a lot. They want to move and work for a year or two, and then move back to their village and bring back as much money as they can.’
“Apple, he says, now has 95 percent compliance, and is tracking 700,000 workers in China.
“’I don’t know anyone else [that] is doing this,’ Cook says. ‘We’re micromanaging this.’
In January, Apple joined the Fabor Labor Association, a watchdog group that aims to protect workers’ rights around the world. In March, the group issued a report that found “significant” issues with Foxconn’s China operations, including more than 50 violations at three factories. “Thousands of workers weren’t properly compensated for overtime, and 43 percent of workers reported either experiencing or witnessing an accident,” KQED’s Caitlin Esch reported.
A couple of days ago, a Taiwanese business publication reported that Foxconn’s chairman and president said the company will “double the minimum monthly salary of its workers in mainland China by the end of next year.” The pay hike would come on top of earlier increases.