A Few Lies Hide the Bigger Truth About Apple

Much of the credit Mike Daisey earned for exposing the horrible working conditions at the Foxconn factory in China was lost when it was recently determined that he was not being entirely truthful.

The conditions at the factory, which makes many Apple products, were a central part of Daisey’s one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” named after the late founder of Apple. Daisey traveled to China to visit the factory, and with the help of an interpreter, interviewed many of the factory’s workers. He used the information he gathered as the basis for a monologue he performed in a New York City theater.

As the conditions at the factory gained more attention, Daisey became a popular guest on dozens of television and radio news shows. It was after one of these appearances, on the radio show “This American Life,” that it was discovered that he had fabricated some of his information.

Daisey claimed that he saw armed guards at the gates to the factory, that he met underage workers, and that he spoke with people who had been poisoned by N-hexane gas. All these things, and others, were discovered to be false when fact-checkers with “This American Life” spoke with his Chinese interpreter.

When confronted by the producers of “This American Life,” Daisey admitted to lying, but claimed he did so in order to make people care about a situation that they easily could have ignored. “And, everything I have done in making this monologue for the theater has been toward that end—to make people care,” he said. “I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But, I stand behind the work.”

Despite his intentions, the fact that Daisey made up some of the information he was presenting as the truth has led to doubts about the rest of his story, even those things that are factual. Fact-checkers have reviewed the entirety of Daisey’s monologue and determined that most of what he said was indeed true. But, his fabrications have caused writers from the Washington Post and the New York Times, among others, to accuse him of using the Apple scandal as a way to make himself famous, rather than trying to bring light to the very real suffering of the workers in the Foxconn factory.

But, Daisey did succeed in shining a very bright light on the conditions in the factories where many Apple products are made, and that light uncovered some terrible things. Workers are forced to work long hours doing repetitive work, causing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other muscular ailments. Many suffer from severe depression, leading to a large number of suicides. There is prolonged exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals and materials, and there have been numerous fires and explosions within the factory. All these risks come with the added insult of workers being underpaid.

Daisey wanted Americans to know how their products were being made, and he wanted to help the workers that suffer to make those products. But, by fabricating some of his story, he may have done more harm than good. Investors are already forgetting the scandal surrounding Apple, and the price of its stock continues to rise.

The Distraction of Hero Worship

The big news today in the world of business was the announcement that Steve Jobs is resigning as the CEO of Apple.  Fanboys and investors alike erupted in cries of disbelief, and the price of Apple stock fell more than five percent immediately following the announcement.

News of Jobs’ decision spread quickly on Twitter as well, with most treating it like a blow from which Apple (and their loyal iFollowers) would not be able to recover.  But, let’s be honest.  Jobs has led Apple to the pinnacle of the tech world, and he would not be resigning if he had any doubts that the company would carry on just fine without him (even though he will remain as Chairman of the Board).  But, there was one voice of reason among the crowd (there may have been others, but none that I saw).  Mike Elk (@MikeElk), a writer for The Nation and In These Times expressed his concern that one man leaving his job was garnering a far greater amount of attention than the thousands that are forced out of their jobs every day without the safety net of massive adulation and billions of dollars.

Elk released a series of tweets reminding people of Apple’s poor worker’s rights record, outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, and the suicide of many workers in Apple’s Chinese factories.

A few tweets from @MikeElk

But, people don’t want to hear about such things, preferring to treat Jobs as a deity of the tech world, the almighty creator of the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad.  And, they refused to tarnish their perception of Jobs by peaking behind the curtain at the byproducts of Apple’s rise to power.

I must make a confession here.  I do own an iPhone, as well as a Mac laptop.  But, a company can simultaneously make good products and treat their workers horribly.  As much as Jobs and Apple should be celebrated, they should also be criticized, as their good works do not erase the evils they have done.

This isn’t to say that Jobs is not a newsworthy figure, or that his resignation won’t have an impact on both Apple and the financial community.  But, it is nice to have a reminder that there are other things that matter, that there are other people whose jobs (or lack thereof) are equally as important.  Jobs has been plagued by bad health, and I wish him well, but again, at least he has the ability to get the best medical care that money can buy.  Others are not nearly so fortunate, and it’s important that we remember them.  Thanks to Mike Elk for reminding people of what truly matters.