Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Charleston City Paper has awarded me its Best Liar award for its Best of Charleston 2013 issue.

Some would view this as a dubious honor, but not me. I'm learning to be gracious in my old age, and all great storytellers are great liars, just as all magic has deception at its heart. And since I didn't win an Obie or a Pulitzer last year, I've learned to gather my rosebuds where I may.

That said, the Charleston City Paper, in an attempt to tell my story, repeats something journalists often get wrong:

"The theatrical piece, which describes Daisey’s trip to China to visit a factory that makes Apple products, had aired on This American Life and described all sorts of atrocities, from underage workers to chemically induced medical problems to blacklisted workers. Once it turned out that Daisey had made up or exaggerated many of those details, TAL’s Ira Glass coolly eviscerated him in a March retraction episode of the radio show, making for what must have been the most uncomfortable hour of public radio ever made."

This is inaccurate. What would be more accurate would be to say, "Daisey had described events he did not actually witness."

Everything listed in the above paragraph: underage workers, hexane poisoning, worker blacklisting—all have been exhaustively documented at Foxconn and throughout the Special Economic Zone. From over a decade of NGO reports, stretching back long before I arrived on the scene, to the New York Times, CNN, and NPR stories that dropped after the TAL story. Even TAL's own retraction confesses that the worker conditions described are, in fact, accurate. They should be—they were narratively constructed from years of NGO reports on what those conditions are!

By failing to describe what was factual and what is not, journalists themselves muddy the water of the story. They are the ones who always had the tools at their disposal—the backstory of this is rich and well-documented. Telling the story accurately, which they keep saying is their highest aspiration, requires understanding the difference between a fiction about what has been personally witnessed, and what is true.

"Despite the public humiliation, Daisey performed the infamous monologue at the Spoleto Festival, and the audience loved it. Lies or not, it’s a masterful piece of work."

That's because, in every form it has ever existed, this has always been a true story. And audiences know that. And today, after the light that has been shone in on Foxconn and across the electronics industry, we all know it is more true than ever.

I'm proud of the work, and what it has accomplished.

And thank you, Charleston, sincerely, for this award.