Sunday, June 24, 2012

The New Inquiry ran a piece by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian in the weeks after the TAL retraction that focused on the nature of fact checking. It's a solid piece of writing and interesting, and because it is focused on the nature of fact checking, I thought I would spend a moment fact checking a single paragraph that summarizes my role in the events around the TAL piece:

"Daisey, a monologist, gave a moving 45-minute performance about his experience at the Foxconn plant in China. He called it The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs and broadcast it on This American Life to massive acclaim."

I perform a two hour theatrical monologue called The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, (note the second "the"—many miss that) which is about the life of Steve Jobs, our devices in the first world, and the circumstances under which they are made. In terms of the amount of stage time, the China storyline is actually the smallest thread.

excerpt from that monologue focusing on the China storyline was adapted with This American Life and aired by them. The monologue has never been 45 minutes long—in fact, the excerpt on TAL is 38 minutes, if we're being fact check-y.

"During the monologue, Daisey described meeting underage workers, poisoned workers, maimed workers; he claimed to have gone to a meeting of a secret worker’s union in a Chinese Starbucks."

I have never claimed to have gone to a meeting of a secret worker's union in a Chinese Starbucks. A moment in the broadcast where I speak about workers talking about how they make things work, which mentions Starbucks, has been conflated in the writing of this essay with the meeting I describe attending.

"People believed his monologue to be true, mostly because it was presented as such, and by that time, the Times and other investigations had confirmed that all these things were happening at some time or another. The problem was that Daisey hadn’t seen them himself. He was creating a composite to better draw attention to his cause."

Except it isn't that simple—I did in fact meet with workers who are organizing, and I did meet workers who have been injured on the job, and those details have been fact checked by TAL. The areas of conflict are often more specific—in this case, for instance, it was the detail that the injured worker worked specifically at Foxconn.

I'm not writing this to be snarky in the least, but it is interesting—I could dedicate the next year to writing factual corrections for stories written in the weeks after the TAL retraction, and I would never be able to get them all to agree to relate only the verified, established facts of the case.