The performer continued to mix apologies with defenses of his fact-based but not factual work.
Last night, at a long-scheduled appearance at Georgetown University, Mike Daisey gave his first public talk since the news broke last Friday that This American Life was retracting the now-infamous episode featuring his work. Daisey is a complicated and conflicted figure, and, it's hard not to feel complicated and conflicted about him and about his work. His talk last night, which I've transcribed below as best I could, provides a new dimension to the story that is now at the center of a scandal.
This is my first scandal. (Laughter)
I haven't had another one like it.
And, as they say, if you're going to go, go big.
And so, I was on the train down here today, and I was keenly aware that I was coming down to talk about "Art and the Human Voice in the Global Labor Struggle," and I was keenly aware of the situation that I have been embroiled in, that I embroiled myself in.
And, I was very conflicted. I've been conflicted for days and days. Because, you know, most people who get embroiled in a struggle, a story that they have written, write it. Most people don't actually tell it, orally, without a script, over and over again, in front of audiences each night, while the scandal is ongoing. This makes it somewhat difficult. (Laughter) I don't advise it. (Laughter) (Inaudible) If you are experiencing a scandal, that's not the best way to go about it.
So coming down here today, and I'll level with you, I had gone through all sorts of feelings in the previous 24, 36 hours. I've never been so ... unstable.* I mean, I really thought about canceling this, I thought about not coming, I thought about coming and then running away (Laughter) I though of everything; I considered everything. I'm sure a lot of you thought maybe this wasn't even going to happen. You probably all called in, just to make sure you didn't waste your time coming here today.
And of course, on the way down, on the train, I was thinking about strategy. Because that's what you do in these sort of things, you know, you think about, well, who is going to be listening, and will the press be there. (Stage whisper) Well of course the press will be there. (Laughter)
And I'm not used to feeling about the press that way, I'm not used to any of the shape of these sort of things. And the intensity of it is so hot and bright, and so quick. I never really fully imagined that I would become James Frey, in four or five hours, really, after the press release dropped, even before the show had aired. James Frey ... is an asshole.
And now, apparently, I am his friend. We're going to get together, me, him, Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, we're all going to hang out together, talk about fantastic things we thought we'd do together. I'm a parachutist! I'm a balloonist! We won't believe each other at all. Because we all make up crazy, fucking stories. (Laughter)
I don't belong to any corporation. I have no one's ass to cover. And I am not afraid.
And I was really thinking about strategy. I was really thinking about the whole thing strategically, you know, what should I save for later,* what should I say now. And when I was coming down, I was so grateful to my partner, who is my director and my wife, Jean Michele Gregory, who is everything that is smart about this collaboration. And everything that you're going to hear about that is stupid, that would be me. She gave me some very great advice. We were talking through all the different strategies, like (inaudible) talk about this, don't talk about that, and what if people ask difficult questions, and then, something just opened up inside of me. She talked about this really core idea which is that, if I am naked, then I am free. Because I am actually an independent artist. I don't belong to any corporation. I have no one's ass to cover. And I am not afraid.
So. I am just going to tell you everything that I think there is to tell that fits into a nice framework that we can all listen to. And there will be parts in it about the global labor struggle. Because I felt bad for the 25 percent of the audience who is just like, I don't know what's going on. (Laughter) Because we like to believe, if you're inside the NPR bubble, that like everyone has actually heard this*, oh my, how could we be thinking about anything else? But I feel certain that there's some people out there who are like "this really sounds insular, and I don't have any idea what we're getting at, and I didn't listen to the opening remarks, and now it's really getting confusing." I feel for you, I do, because I'm a performer, and I listen to audiences* and that is actually my job, so I literally do feel for you. I'm sorry. It's not my best performance in that sense, but it's important.
It's important to me. And it's actually important to lots of other people who heard these stories and were touched by them, and now feel like they don't know what to think. And so what I'm going to do, is sort of go through the whole thing, give it a shape and a context, and I'm just going to try to be really open. That's my plan.
So. Where I'd like to start is at the beginning, which is how I came to make this piece. I'm a monologist. I'm an autobiographical, extemporaneous monologist. I create stories the way that I'm creating this story right now, and tell them to people, out loud, in front of them. I don't script in any way. I don't take notes. I don't write down anything. I tell stories. In front of people. Just like you're listening to right now.
It's actually the same process people use everywhere in speaking to one another. It's actually the same performance technique used by teachers everywhere when they teach classes. When lawyers speak in front of boards and the jury. When preachers speak to their congregations. This is the technique that's used. It's rare, in the traditional American theater. It's actually more common in scripted work, if you take a very wide view.
That's my form. I've been doing it my entire adult life, a storyteller. I've been working this way since 1997. I've told 16 or 17 what you might call full-length monologues. I do a wide variety of work. Some of it is very strange, like a 24-hour monologue, and some of it is more traditional, like a two-hour monologue. And the monologue that we're going to be talking about is this monologue, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs."
And what happened here, is that I have always wanted to do a monologue about Steve Jobs and Apple. Because I'm obsessed with Apple. My whole life, I've always loved their devices, I've loved their technology, I grew up with Apple. And it's my only hobby, is technology. I just really love the devices.
Just because I'm obsessed with something, doesn't mean that that's worth talking about on the stage. That's why there isn't a Game of Thrones monologue.
So I've wanted to talk about it forever, but I never had an entry point. Because just because I'm obsessed with something, doesn't mean that that's worth talking about on the stage. That's why there isn't a Game of Thrones monologue. (Laughter)
So, instead, I look for places where my culture is in collision. I look for things where I think something about something and it's colliding with something else; it creates dissonance and meaning. I'm especially excited when I find something where it's actually ... my culture isn't talking about it. That interests me more than anything else.
And so, I (inaudible) wasn't really researching the Apple show at all, there wasn't an Apple show. Instead I was just doing what I normally do, which is I read Macintosh forum boards. This is how I would relax before going to sleep, because I'm really, really a ridiculous person.
And so I would read these forum boards about gossip about Apple. And I saw these pictures that had been taken on an iPhone. Because every once in a while an iPhone, its firmware doesn't get erased, and there are pictures taken in testing, and then the phone gets out into the wild. And most of the time when this happens, it doesn't ... nothing happens. Because normal people, when they get that iPhone, they then erase it, and put their normal things on it.
But every once in a while, a geeky person collides with one of those iPhones with the firmware. And when that happens, boom. Somebody gets the some of the test pictures and they put them up on the net.
And I became really obsessed with these test pictures. There was something about them I found really* beautiful and really enchanting. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I just really loved them. I would download them from the forum boards and I would put them in a folder on my desktop and kind of obsessively look at them.
And right around this period I started researching where my devices came from. I started googling. We call it research, right? But the first level of research is you google the name of something. And it really didn't take long to figure out that most Apple devices are made at Foxconn, which is something I actually knew the name because I read these forum boards, and people were always talking about (inaudible) the plastics were made at Foxconn. They would talk about where things came from.
And so I went to ... I started reading about Foxconn. And it wasn't long after that that I started reading human-rights reports from organizations like SACOM [Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior] about Foxconn and other companies in the special economic zone. And that is when things really started to shift for me. Because the reports of the conditions were so at odds with the rest of my world. I remember sitting in front of my computer, reading these reports, and just feeling this massive disconnect. Like I could not reconcile what I was reading about with the world I was actually sitting on, maybe I couldn't reconcile it with the machine that I was seeing it on. I remember that there was this incredible chasm between the two.
And it was somewhere in this period. I think I had done the research already, somewhere around here that Sun Danyong came to the attention of uh, there was a brief flare of news. This one worker at Foxconn who, long before the suicides became more well known, he had an iPhone prototype and he lost it. He had 12 of them; he misplaced one; something happened and no one knows. It goes missing and Foxconn security beats him for 12 hours and then he either throws himself off a building or was thrown. It's not actually ever clear what happened.
But before he dies, he posts to the net about his experience of being beaten and it sort of picks up in the West. And there's this small little flurry of information. New Yorker does a story. There's a little bit of coverage. And I read all of this. And I remember being really fascinated about the idea that there's this guy over there who has this experience because he's lost an iPhone prototype. And then not that long afterward really, a worker in Cupertino loses an iPhone prototype. And he has a very different experience, now, there's not so much the beating or the falling off of the building.
And so I really, really became obsessed with this idea of China and of Shenzhen and of Foxconn and of where all of our devices come from. And it became clearer and clearer to me that I needed to go. I needed to go, to China, to Foxconn. I needed to go and witness this. I thought of it that way: I need to go witness this. I didn't actually think of it as though I was* investigating, because I am not an investigator.
Like if you look at the monologues that I do, they often involve putting myself into unusual situations, and sort of living through them, and seeing what there is to see. The whole goal is to have a human experience, to be there, to see what there is to see. And then to come back and to recount it in a way that connects us to it. And that was my goal. Was to go and see what there was to see.
And it was very far out of my comfort zone. I had never been to China before. I never had a life dream of going to China. In fact, I felt very compelled. Like I didn't actually really want to go to China, I just felt like I needed to, if I'm going to tell this story.
And so I went. And I was there in May and June of 2010. Late May to the middle of June. And while I was there on the ground, something happened to me, and it's something that informs everything about this monologue. And what happened was that when we arrived -- my director came with me -- when we arrived there, the suicides were peaking. Because there had been clusters of suicides over and over again, people had been throwing themselves off the roofs at Foxconn. It had reached sort of a crisis point. And the media had picked up on it. And all that was happening just as we arrived, purely by serendipity. We had set up our plans months before, and we arrived just as this was peaking.
And I remember in Hong Kong on the news every night, we would watch the coverage of the suicides at Foxconn, as we were getting ready to go into the mainland, into Shenzhen. And watching how everyone was paying attention and thinking* how crazy it was to actually be there, at this moment.
What it became a story about, for me, was watching the story die. Because it died, it totally died.
But what it became a story about, for me, was watching the story die. Because it died, it totally died. And you can see how it died, actually really clearly. The fixer I was working with in Hong Kong sent me an email with a link to one of those memos from what they call the Ministry of Truth, which is the group in Beijing from the government that tells the media what it can and can't report on, and there was a memo saying, "We're done with these stories."
Because, China has an interesting relationship with labor stories, which is, you know, the labor situation is the responsibility of corporations, so they don't actually crack down on stories about labor situations, because they actually, you know, want the labor situation to be better, they just don't care as much perhaps as they could. So the story goes out from the Ministry of Truth and the story vanishes in the mainland. It vanishes overnight. Suddenly, no more talk about labor. It's gone.
And as soon as it dies there, on the ground, you can actually see it, I used Google Analytics, you can actually see it die in the West. Because of course. We all have foreign bureaus over there, but not as many as we used to, right? So, if a story stops coming from the mainland, if there's nothing there stirring us, the news cycle moves on. It's not because anyone intentionally doesn't care, it's just that the world is omnivorous and it moves on.
This had a big effect on me. I couldn't believe it on some level. Or rather, I totally could believe it, of course, this is the way the world works. But I could not stop thinking about the fact that there was a moment when the hands were around part of the problem, when we might have actually lifted it up and looked at it but we just didn't lift far enough.
And it was in that crucible that I started designing this monologue. Because the way that monologues are built*, they are not scripted in any way, so literally, there was a night, it was actually in DC, at Woolly Mammoth, a month and a half to two months later, when I birthed the monologue, when I did the entire monologue complete and whole, in one huge lump after outlining it. That's why I know that that story is the heart of the monologue. Because that story informs everything about its structure. None of my other monologues are like it. They're all different. This one? This one was driven. It wanted to change things. It wanted very badly to break out of the theater and change things. It wanted very badly to see change happen in the world. It was like that Brecht quote, "Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it."
That's what it felt like.
And I always visualized the monologue, for good or for bad, I always thought of it as a weapon. I always saw it that way. Balanced. Well built. Intended to try to get into people, to change us. To fundamentally* connect us to our circumstances. Because that's what I thought. I thought, we all have these iPhones and other phones. We all have these devices right now. This change happened in just the last couple of years. There's actually a moment here. We actually own something that we are so intimate with -- I sleep with mine. It sits right next to my bed. It's the first thing I reach for. Before I reach for my wife, I reach for my phone. It lives with us, in that way.
And I thought, this is the first moment we've had with smart phones like that. We have a window here, and we've changed our relationships to the device, to such an intimate place we're practically cyborgs. We could* talk about these things in a way we never could before. That was the idea.
If we can see the world in a new way, if we actually see it differently, that is what makes change happen. ... It does not come from money or guns or power.
And the two halves of the show talk to one another, because I talk about Steve Jobs throughout the monologue, in terms specifically of the metaphor shifts that happened in his life, connected to the idea of computing. The idea that when you see a graphical-user interface for the first time, it fundamentally changes your relationship to computing, because now you see the world in a new way. And then when you see touch computing* for the first time, it changes it again, and the story of computing is fundamentally the story of metaphor shifts. And what I'm trying to bring together in the piece is the idea that our whole story is the story of metaphor shifts. And if we can see the world in a new way, if we actually see it differently, that is what makes change happen. There is nothing else that makes change happen. It does not come from money or guns or power. It comes from the change, and when people's minds change, that's what pushes forward.
And I believe that's what art can do, is affect that kind of change, create bonds of empathy between us and people on the other side of the world, because frankly before I worked on this, before I went there, I did not care about labor. Because I did not think about labor in any kind of way, any kind of deep way. I didn't have a background in activism. I felt politically aware, more politically aware each year, each monologue, but I had never really been a person who was active in that way. And now, I see them as being so inseparable now: I am in some sense an actor, and it makes sense that I am also an activist. I mean, the central verb is to do, to actually act upon the world, to actually make things happen. I feel like, I don't know how I never thought that we should change things. But sometimes, in the arts*, we feel that way. We feel like the job of the arts* is instead to be this pristine place, pulled back, maybe that is partially the story of our world, because it's been a long time since The Jungle, and when The Jungle existed, it got into trouble, like you heard, but even then, when you called something fiction, it meant something very different than it does now. When you say something is fiction now, what you really sort of mean is that it is fictional, that it will not touch you, so do not worry. There's this sense of toothlessness, I think. I don't know. I don't know what this means. But I do know that there is power in labels. There's power in what we call things. There's power in the shapes of things. And the job of art often* is to blur the lines between things.
I'm going to be talking about all the things I did. I want to be clear, that's not an excuse. I'm just telling you and warning you that that is actually what art does. When you see art wandering into new spaces and making things dissolve, that does not mean that is ... bad. It means that it is on the precepts of what it essentially is. The people who employ it are responsible for what it has done, but it does not mean that it is flawed. It does not mean it was supposed to stay in its (inaudible).
So I began doing the show. It got born. I started taking it from city to city to city. And I think this is one of the things people don't really understand about the situation, is that I performed it for 18 or 19 months before it broke into any kind of national sense here in 2012. I performed it everywhere. Large, good theaters. I have a good reputation in the American theater. Which a lot of you, I'm sure, are like, "I've never heard of you before", and it's like, "well, there you go." This is the fate of the American theater. You'll have to take my word for it. I was doing all right. (Laughter)
I had all these theaters, and I would bring the show there and I brought a number of shows and so, it did well. But honestly, of course, it didn't do well because it was about Chinese labor. It did well because it was about Steve Jobs, this person I was obsessed with. And so, not only was it something that people could connect with, but something that actually I could connect with, in talking about this person. And then the circumstances or devices became this sort of, what we call it in the show, a virus, that weaves its way so that it slowly seduces you as you watch it, it gets inside of you, and makes you begin to think about the fact that so many things you own and possess are made by hand. Fundamentally, that is all it does. It's actually a very simple show. It just tries very, very hard to make you care about where your shit came from. It's actually far more simple than most of the work I've ever made.
But I'm doing the show, and I'm doing it in silence. I would perform it in city after city after city. When I say silence, what I mean is, that furor over Foxconn had died away, of course, in mid 2010, completely off the radar. No one is talking about any of these issues, at all. The silence is so overwhelming and complete and I would go, from city to city, and I would do interviews, and I would do so many interviews, more later of course, but even early on, because people were drawn in by the talk about Steve Jobs. And so I would meet with people, I would meet with journalists, and I would actually go and meet journalists separately from doing interviews just to talk to them, because I was looking for people. I was trying to recruit people. We picked* cities, like the Bay Area, we tried to pick specific cities to take the show to, because I was looking for people. And I actually had a stump speech I would say: There is a Pulitzer waiting for someone at the gates of Foxconn. Go, go. I don't know what I'm doing and ... I can feel it. Just go. Go. Tell the story. Go. I would talk to so many tech journalists. I cannot tell you how many tech journalists I talked to about this. I made it clear to them, I said, "Go, it's your story! Go and pick it up!"
I was naive. I've learned a lot about how media works, how things actually work. I was naive, but hopefully you only really need one, right? You really only need one, who's determined. And so, I went doing this and talking about this and talking to all these journalists and I'm talking about the show all the time. This thing started that was very subtle at first, but increasingly insistent, which was, I felt pulled by journalism*. Not that I was a journalist, but I felt as though I was being pulled into the role of being a journalist. Because people would have interviews with me.
It actually went literally like this: I would have an interview. I would sit down. The person was, you know, briefed ahead of time, they would have read some press release very, very quickly. We'd sit down and they would start the interview on camera or something or radio and they would say something like, "Mike Daisey, now, you've gone to China and you've done X, Y, and Z," and they would say something that was a little hyperbolic, not quite exactly correct, and I would feel awkward about actually saying, no, no, no, don't say that, that's not true. Or they'd say, "You've gone inside of Foxconn." And I'd be like ... I didn't go inside of Foxconn, but I was outside of Foxconn. And I would find myself not interrupting them because we're in interview situations. And it was in small ways, that it started like that, you get pulled over because then people report things and then people when they are doing the research for the next story, they refer to those stories, and then you try to clear up some of them*, maybe you draw lines in the sand, and you decide, no, every time they say that I've gone into Foxconn, I'll be clear that I have never gone into Foxconn. I am clear about that in the work*.
But it's insidious. It's insidious and I am part of it too, because I am telling the story on stage, and in the story on stage, I play the role of a bad reporter. That's actually my job. I actually portray myself, and I think it's fairly accurate, as not a very good reporter, as sort of hapless. It's fairly accurate. I'm fairly hapless in the ways that are described in the monologue. I am sometimes savvier than it appears, you know, but not often, and sometimes I'm even dumber than I look in the monologue. But it's fairly accurate. Because I didn't know what I was doing over there. I never did. And if it felt to people like I was trying to pretend to be some amazing journalist, it's just because I was using the tropes of the form, I was just using the format, you know? I mean I literally thought up the idea to make up business cards to go into factories, because I actually literally thought, what's, like, the dumbest thing I can think of, that, like, a reporter, and I mean, like, a made-up a reporter in my mind, a sort-of mythological, archetypal reporter would do? They might do that. And that's how I came up with the idea.
So much of the show was built that way.So I feel like that informs it too. Through the interviews, sometimes the journalists, I think, felt like I was a journalist. They would say flattering things like, you've been quite a journalist. Maybe that was attractive to me. But I don't think it's that simple. Because I've never wanted to be a journalist. I had an opportunity in the early 2000s. I almost got out of monologuing, 'cause if you don't know, not a huge moneymaker. I actually had this opportunity where I sort of started writing for some magazines. I actually thought about switching over. (Inaudible) Looking at what happened to the publishing industry, not such a bad decision.
But I didn't do it because I'm not called to do that, I was never called to do that. I never wanted to do that. I wanted to tell stories to connect people to the truth, to the emotional heart of what's going on. That has always been my goal.
And I would do these interviews, and I would say things, and they would just. be. wrong. And often I would know they were wrong when they came out of my mouth. Small things, always small things because, I mean, I had the fundamentals down. And in the monologue itself where things were more stable, always very, very careful. But it was the hundreds and hundreds of interviews over time that made it really difficult. Like statistics, they would say a number, and you would be like, is that the right number? I can't remember if that's the right number. And the numbers? For me? Tend to swell over time. In fact, I've figured out now that my number multiplier appears to be about 2.2. Which means if I say a number, it seems to be, and I've only deduced this now in recent, you know, last couple of weeks, under duress, that I seem to multiply things by about 2.2. So if you divide everything by 2.2, that's approximate.
On the other hand, many of the numbers in the show, I hasten to point out, are very accurate. Because the show, of course, what my concern was, where I needed the show to be exact on labor statistics. So so much of the show is this amalgam of my experience on the ground right next to really hard research done by wonderful other groups like SACOM. For instance, you know, when I talk about the workers and how long they work, and I say that people I talked to had never even heard about an eight-hour day, that's true. I asked about eight-hour days. I thought it was a great, resonant detail. They think instead in terms of overall overtime, they think of it in terms of weeks. Because the idea of an actual eight-hour day isn't actually, you know, part of the psychology, which I think makes* a great, dramatic detail. But then the detail is exactly how long hours can possibly get, it comes from SACOM, it comes from their research. You know why? Because they do a better job of research than I ever would. And those sort of unions* are everywhere in the piece, and they're intended to create a format so that you get a human representation. But when there are numbers, ones that lead toward your feelings of the scale and shape of thing, that they have grounding. It's very, very conscious.
The truth though is that doing interviews like that was really hard. And I wasn't smart enough to see it*. I didn't realize something that now seems so obvious in retrospect. It's even something you probably know, because I told it to you earlier: Giving interviews is another kind of storytelling. It's another kind of oral performance. And I was pretty good at keeping my eye on the show. Because it's important to me. But as I did more and more interviews, I forgot, that that is another form of storytelling.
And it's a dangerous form, of course, because it's viral. People read the stories, the next people ask questions based on the last story, you can let yourself be swept up by it -- not in the way you think. Not out of ego. I never needed to feel like I had met people with n-hexane poisoning. I never wanted to say that, out of some sense that I had. I don't even remember how that happened the first time. But I know it happened in an interview. I know it happened in an interview and I don't even remember. But I know the story of how it ended up in the show, which happened in an interview, and I remember I had a feeling, ohhhh, then I don't know if I said it more than once in an interview, and then, my partner, my director, who, to retain her sanity, does not read all the interviews*, was reading one, and suddenly was like, "You met people with n-hexane poisoning? You met them at that meeting?" Would have been so much wiser, to be open, to say, no, I'm a moron. I'm a moron. People ask me things sometimes and I just fucking tell them things. That's what I should have said. Instead I said, yeah, yeah. I think said something stupid like that. And the next thing you know, my director, who is very good at picking up dramatic details, saw it as a theater problem and was saying, "Well how can that not be in the show? We've been doing the show for forever and it's not in the show. That should be in the show." And then the artistic director of the theater was like, "Yes, that should be in the show." And I thought okayyyy, and I put it in the show*.
It's me though. I did it. And it's very wrong. And the worst part of it, is that it's such a rookie mistake. It is. Because the tools of storytelling are so good, you can do anything in the room that you can tell the fact that you, if you want to talk about n-hexane poisoning, you can do it, without pretending to people* in the room. I know. When we finally made the adjustments, I think we changed five words. It's very, very easy, in the art of storytelling to follow those central rules, and do things the right way*. If you're careful. If you're eyes are opened*. If you're not driven. If you're not doing interviews constantly. If you're not feeling like you're alone. Because honestly, before 2012 started, I felt like I was alone. I was doing all these interviews. I was talking about all these issues. I was not an activist with an activist background. I wasn't surrounded by a team of people. It was really just me, and I would just talk about these issues, and just try to get people to pay attention, to care.
And that's how we got in touch with This American Life. What happened is that Ira Glass, a man I deeply respect, came and saw the show. He loved it. He had seen some of the other monologues. He really, really loved it. He responded to the show, strongly. He came to me and he said, "I want to put ... I want to give you the whole show. I want to give you the entire show, we've never really even done that*, where it's not even a show about a topic we're building but, but literally, we'll take your work, and we'll just use up a whole show, for as much as we can fit in that makes sense."
I knew how good this show was. I knew it could touch people. And I believed in the show. Because I believe the show is true. I know, I perform it every night. I stand behind the words I say in the room. At the same time, after I agreed and we started talking about making it bulletproof, impervious, absolutely bulletproof. I didn't even know where to start. The chronology is completely hosed. Parts move here and there. I feel like the essential truth of the show stands up, but things are all moved around, ramps go from here to there, everything is shifted. And the n-hexane* is still sitting in it, right there in the last half.
And I felt terrible, and I felt trapped. And I was in denial too. Most of those things were working together. So, I wasn't as conscious of that. But as soon as he said we have to check everything* ... [Sigh]
I should have been wiser.
There must have been a path that would have worked. I don't know what it would have been though. I don't know what could have happened. But I wanted to get that show on the air. That's true too. That's true too. It's complicated.
I wanted it on the air, but not for me. I just really, really wanted people to hear about this. I wanted [people] to hear about this because I think that it's absurd and horrifying that today I am the news cycle, and last week, last week, NPR interviewed 25 workers at that iPad factory that caught fire in December, and they let NPR know, that the day the plant exploded, Apple did an inspection hours before, and that the inspection lasted 10 minutes, and later that day, the plant exploded.
How is that not the news cycle? I didn't knock it out of the news cycle. It was gone already. And I ... I wanted this story to live. I wanted it to reach people. I wanted it to touch them. And I wanted it to shake them awake. And I honestly believe, even here and now, that it was the right thing to do.
I didn't do the right thing, but I think having that story on the air in front of millions of people, was right.
And it goes back to that story of what the truth is, what does it mean to tell the truth. My facts are clearly fucked. You know? My facts are all fucked up. My chronology is fucked up. I can't survive fact checking. I think we all heard my horrifying, uncomfortable silence.
But the truth of that story is very real. No one contests what is happening in Chinese manufacturing*. Nobody. And that was fact checked, backwards ... (Loud applause)
I had been working under the blanket assumption that you were going to lynch me.
I had been working under the blanket assumption that you were going to lynch me. (Loud laughter)
That story was fact checked by them, those statistics are right. And you know why I know they're right? Because I went out to every labor group I could find and I read fucking thing I could, to make sure that we when you get the data in the thing, since it is a fucking weapon, to have accurate data for the things that fucking matter. That's why.
[Editor's note: Following paragraph was incredibly difficult to understand] Because with things that I fucking saw, it would actually be more hearsay to say, it'd be like actually worse, wouldn't it? Like it would actually be literally based on what I literally saw, only what I saw in the factories, and I didn't add in any statistics, that have the picture you see and then the thing around it, it actually would cloudy, more than it would clarify. Then they would mean nothing. Then they would have it much longer. Right? I'd have to do months and months of research, living in China, I'd have to be a foreign correspondent. Well there ARE foreign correspondents. Where were they?!
I know in the end that at least one of the went to the gates of Foxconn and talked to people, but I don't know that any of the other ones ever fucking did. That's fine. Everyone chooses what to do with their lives. We all choose where our allegiances are. I have a lot of respect for journalists. They go through a lot of shit. As you can (inaudible) see, it's clearly a hard racket; it's not one I'm eager to pick on. Not that anyone is calling. (Laughter)
And I mean that. I have a lot of friends who are journalists. And that's part of what's hard about this. I think a lot of them feel betrayed by me because I gave interviews where I said things that may not have been exactly true in a factual sense. I'm going to make an accounting of all those things, a lot of the today*, but I never meant to mislead them about the story and the truth. A lot of them won't accept that. But it's the truth.
I think the story is complicated also by the fact that it's This American Life. I think the story is complicated by the fact that they were clear with me that they are journalistic institution. I totally accept that. They were really clear about it. I know that. At the same time, it's storytelling, you can feel it on the show, the way it is edited, the way it hangs together, the way music comes in and out, they use the tools of art constantly. And I think one of the reasons they have felt like they had to react the way they have, is that I think they felt like they needed to draw a bright line, and I think that the size and the power of the people involved meant that I had exposed them to risk -- and I did. And it was wrong. And I've apologized to them, I've apologized on the air, but I'll apologize again. It was wrong. But I can't say it was wrong to air it. I can't. If I could, I would.
Cathy, my translator, is a charming person. I really like her a lot. And, one of the hardest parts in this was when they asked for her contact information. Because all of the excuses I've given are actually valid, like, she represented to me that she did not want to be contacted. She did not like what we were doing, she did not like it, at least when I was there with her. My memory is that she was unsettled. Maybe because she's a business translator. I don't know. I don't know. I do know that she asked a couple of time if she would be in the show, and I told her she would not be in the show. (Stage whisper) She's in the show.
And so, all those reasons are true, but I also didn't want them to talk to her because I knew my chronology was fucked. I knew that I had taken ... liberties. And so I didn't want them to talk to her for that reason too. So they're both true. So I told my producer that her name wasn't Cathy, that it was Anna. And I said that I had a cell-phone number but it didn't work. And then Ira called me. And Ira talked to me, through it. And he was like, "Really? You really don't have any contact information?" And he said, "Look, I know how things get made, things are complicated*. You can tell me. You can tell me. People are composited." And I said to him, "She's a composite, of three characters."
I did it because I'm suggestible when I feel guilty. So I just said it. In the conversation. That she was composite of three characters. That one of them was named Anna. That I did not have contact information for her. And that was the end of that.
When I went in to talk to them about everything that had done down*, we talked about that. They brought up the fact that I had emailed Brian and told him about Anna. I said yes, and I told you this was a composite of three characters. No one brought it up. But it's on the tape, from the full four hours that I talked to them, that is edited to 15 minutes that are in the episode. Which is not to say that I think somehow the full four hours would make me look a lot better. I'm not saying that. I'm just saying ... there's more tape.
I want to go through some of the details in the story, just a couple of them, the biggest ones. Not all of them. I don't want to bore you. So, I've got them written down this way:
Guns. I remember seeing guards with guns at the gates of Foxconn. Cathy does not. I can* tell you the gate was very far away. We were standing on an overpass, and the gates were really, it's not like they were right on top of us, but why wouldn't she see two different guards with guns? I don't know. I don't know. I do know in our extended conversation, over the four hours, Rob Schmitz offered up, that if it was a time of stress, it was a time when things were uneven, like at the height of the suicides, that it is possible that the government had called out*, and there would be people with guns there. I don't know.
I do know this: If I did not see guns, and I believe I did not see guns, I would tell you. I would tell the world. And I probably would have told them in that session, because it was excruciating.
I also say that I met an underage worker at the gates of Foxconn. We had a conversation. I took a picture of her with my camera, that she had my phone, she rubbed it on her pants, and handed it back to me. Then we talked. I asked her how old she was. She said 13. She had some friends with her. That also indicated to me that they were under-age, I didn't ask what age they were.
I remember all that. I don't know what to do about that. I understand that there are theoretically not many under-age workers at Foxconn. I've read the reports myself. I agree with you. I understand all of that. I also understand that all I have as evidence is that I saw it, I have this memory of it, and I've performed this story over and over again. But it's been in the show since it started; I remember it, and I remember coming back after it happened, and I know that Jean Michele, my partner, that I came to her, and she has a memory of me telling her that there was an under-age worker, she remembers, though, that the under-age worker was 14.
And we went through a lot of soul searching about this. Long before anything like this happened. And we were like, well, was the worker 14 or 13? 14 or 13? And I was like I think it's 13, she's like, I think you said 14. And normally it wouldn't be such a big detail, right? It was just a year. Except that the show had been transmogrifying into journalism, and people are covering the show endlessly. And so suddenly it's political. If this child's age moves one year, everything is in doubt. Right? Everything is completely invalid, the whole show, everything I say. So I left it at 13, because that's my memory. I had one corroborating witness, not even a witness of the event but afterward, who says the child is 14. I really have no idea what that means. I do know what I saw. Or at least what I remembe rbecause that's how memory works. I know that I've examined the incident thousands of times at this point. And that's what I remember.
If I was going to cave, I would have caved during that three-hour session with Ira and the producer and Rob Schmitz were all grilling me, saying, a lot of people look really young, maybe they just looked young, maybe they just looked really young, did they look really young? I bet they looked young. You know, they do look young. Everyone looks young. But I fucking remember her saying she was 13, and I cannot erase it from my mind. So I'm sticking with it, because I don't have anything else now.
We also differ on whether a man we talked to worked at Foxconn. It's been hard seeing the reports actually report this that we don't remember him at all. She agrees there was a man, that he had an injured hand. That he worked at a woodworking plant now. We just disagree about whether he used to work at Foxconn. I don't even know what to say about that. I interviewed a bunch of people that day. I interviewed people in Hong Kong. Maybe he did not work at Foxconn. I remember him saying he worked at Foxconn. I have no notes. I have no idea. Neither does Cathy, but she seems to remember that he did not. I don't know what to say. Except that that's the entirety of what I know. I remember his hand. And I remember the iPad, because I do this with lots of people, I would give them my iPad because it had just come out, just right before, and I had brought it with me. And so it acted kind of like a golden ticket. I would give it to lots of people in the course of my trip. I remember him touching it. I will tell you: It was not as dramatic as it sounds in the show.
That is actually what drama is. It is dramatizing. He played with it a little bit. And he told Cathy something. He might have said it's magical, he might have said it's awesome. I don't know what he said. I think he said something that basically turns into "It's a kind of magic." He certainly said something positive. I don't know what he said. That happened, and it is dramatized in the show, and that's where it is.
And she doesn't remember our conversation, the one where she talked about the idea that maybe these workers are mentally ill. Maybe none of this happened. This feels ironic. Because I feel like I've been losing my mind these last couple of weeks, as I've performed the show every night, and tell the story of the show, and then continually reexamine what I know about the show. I can't speak to* that either, except to say that I remember the conversation. It also is not as dramatic as portrayed.
Her English is not as good as I perform it on the stage because I don't have the ability to do that effectively in a performance. Things are shaped, hung, all of them are built, created into art. But the essential core, that we talked about, that idea, is true. And that's why it's in the show.
Because if I wanted to make shit up, I wouldn't go to China. I would stay in my apartment in Brooklyn and make shit up. It's easier.
There are a couple of people, and there's actually no one, no one new, but there are a couple of people I'd like to apologize to. And this is a funny thing to do, because there is such a hunger in a scandal for apology. It actually makes you afraid to apologize, because the minute you apologize, that becomes the lede. Right? (Stage whisper) Daisey apologizes.
I made a decision to say, I think this is bigger than my career or your career.
But there are people I'd love to apologize to. Most of the ones I most need to, I actually already have. I'd like to apologize to Ira. I put him in a really untenable position. I basically made the decision, partly conscious, partly subconscious, but I made a decision to say, I think this is bigger than my career or your career and I tied us together. I shouldn't have done that. Or if I'm going to do that, I should be totally conscious, and clever, and I should tell him, that we're plotting, and I should change the name of my translator. Right?
That's the thing, is that so much of this is just ... that I see the truth in front me, I tell it on stage, I know it's real because I went through the experiences. It wasn't an elaborate subterfuge. It's not all a grand conspiracy. I just really wanted people to hear this story because I think the issues are very, very important.
Anyway, I apologize to Ira, which I already have done, a lot.
I would like to apologize to Jean Michele Gregory, my director, who is my artistic partner. She should have known, all this kind of thing* was happening. And it's not right. I should have told her my concerns, even when they were just inklings, I should have told her how nervous I was, even if I didn't have words for it. And if I had, she would have been able to see me through. And I'm sure there is an artful path, where some of this could have worked out.
I'd like to apologize to the journalists one more time.
And I'd like to apologize to my audiences, not for the work, never for the work, but for my behavior in the work. I will endeavor to do better. And I'll be making a full accounting of the show, going through it, from top to bottom, talking about where everything comes from. It will probably be a spectacularly boring document*, but I think it's necessary. Regardless of what happens after this, I think it's necessary. I'll be doing that.
I think we are all liars and hypocrites. That's what it means to be human in this world.
It's good to talk. It's really good to be here today. And it's really good to talk about the truth. As I've said that a lot in the last couple of days, in my statements and things, and I'm getting an enormous amount of hate mail, and the hate mail mostly revolves around how disgusting it is that I would dare to talk about the truth. But I think that's essential. I think we are all liars and hypocrites. That's what it means to be human in this world. And it's so important that we try to tell the truth.
And that is what I try to do on the stage, is I try to tell the truth. Not with facts, always, but informed by the facts, which are vital and necessary. I try to tell the truth, in a way that expands and ennobles us*, I hope. That's the dream. And I hope that this news cycle dies. I hope that it dies down. And I hope, if I can make a compact with the press, which I'm probably not allowed to do. If they want to keep one person on me, maybe one from each institution, just talking about what a shitball I am, forever, if they'll cover that fucking iPad factory story, if they'll go back and do the work that needs doing, that's sitting in front of us, that we know about, that people actually care about now, so there's more of a mandate.
Now is the moment. And if people tell themselves that this is over because of this story, because of what I did, they're forgetting that this would not exist in the way it does, if this story had not gotten out. If it had not gotten out, we would not have set the emotional landscape that allowed the New York Times piece to land. You know that's true. That doesn't excuse me in the least, but it does me that there's a responsibility on all of us, if we are journalists, to pursue the story, if we are not journalists, to read, and discuss, and talk about the issues. It's so important. It is so much larger than me, or the show, or anything I have ever done.
Editor's note: I have added asterisks where I have corrected a word or phrase based on a better audio file of the event. That file, for those interested in listening for themselves, is available here.