Mike Daisey took aim at Apple, now challenges Chinese translator

Audiences at Daisey's show in New York are "disappointed" actor made up facts in his monologue about human suffering involved in making iPads.

NEW YORK--Mike Daisey made a name for himself by taking on mighty Apple but is now challenging the credibility of a little-known Chinese translator.

The actor and Apple critic is putting his word against hers. The woman who assisted him during a trip to China in 2010 disputes many of his claims about witnessing inhumane working conditions at factories where iPads and iPhones are assembled. Daisey does this though he has recently acknowledged making up numerous facts about what he saw during his visit. An Apple spokesman declined to comment for this story.

Daisy created the one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," which helped whip up public condemnation of Apple and Foxconn Technology Group , the company that makes products for Apple as well as other consumer-electronics companies. During his monologues, Daisey describes plants in Shenzhen factories where he says he spoke to workers who were underage, poisoned by toxins, and disfigured by iPad-making machinery.

We know now that much of this did not occur or was embellished. During last night's show at The Public Theater here, Daisey informed the audience that he removed material he couldn't stand behind any longer, according to those in attendance who spoke to CNET. He also informed the crowd where his recollection of events differed from his translator's.

This wasn't good enough for some who saw the show last night and for some who saw his performance previously and were moved by it.

Standing outside the theater last night, Alan Zimmerman, a professor of International business for the City University of New York, said he had just complained to theater employees about Daisey's lack of credibility. Zimmerman went to see the show about a month ago expecting to see an examination of Steve Jobs' life but left happy after believing he had learned something about life inside an Apple manufacturing plant. He now feels duped.

"I think it's inexcusable," Zimmerman told CNET. "It was a screed against Apple, and he misled the audience about what occurred. I'm disappointed."

Marcia Townley, 71, saw the show last night and said it was "very engaging." She said she was aware that some of Daisey's story was in dispute and that she hadn't heard the retraction on This American Life. That radio show broadcast an excerpt of Daisey's monologue as a news story in January but issued a stunning retraction on Friday. She too said she would be disappointed to know that Daisey had made up facts.

One woman leaving the theater declined to give her name because she said that she was a storyteller in the same genre as Daisey and didn't want to risk alienating members of their theatrical community. She said, however, that she felt "a little cheated" that Daisey hadn't told the whole truth. She too had not listened to This American Life's retraction but said she would.

When she does, she will hear how the gun-toting factory guards Daisey described were unarmed, according to his translator, and how the people whose hands shook uncontrollably as a result of exposure to neurotoxins was fantasy. In his monologue, Daisey tells the audience about an old man he met whose arm was disfigured by iPad- and iPhone-building machinery and how he's wowed to see for the first time an operating iPad. Never happened, according to Cathy Lee, his translator.

On his Web site, Daisey says now that his show is a mix of fact and fiction.

That's not what he said in January. In the retraction from This American Life, host Ira Glass said he and the show's producers repeatedly asked Daisey if what he was saying was factual. Daisey not only vouched for the veracity of his story with This American Life but did so in dozens of interviews with other news outlets as he promoted his show.

Glass noted that the conditions Daisey described did exist at some of the facilities making products for Apple and that was verified by The New York Times and many other independent news organizations. But it now seems unlikely that Daisey witnessed any of them during his trip. Glass said there was one red flag raised about the accuracy of Daisey's story early on and that he wished he'd paid more attention during the fact-checking process. When producers asked Daisey for his translator's contact information, he told them she couldn't be reached.

Later, Daisey acknowledged that was a ruse.

"Were you afraid we would discover something if we talked to her," Glass asked Daisey who at first said no.

Daisey then acknowledged: "I did think you might unpack the complexities of how the story gets told...I guess I'm agreeing with you."

Glass continued to press him about why during the fact-checking process he didn't just come clean and admit some of his story wasn't accurate.

"I think I was terrified," Daisey said, "if I untied these things that the work that I know is really good and tells a story, that does these really great things for making people care would come apart in a way where it would ruin everything."

Apparently, not everything is ruined. Daisey's last performance at The Public Theater is today at 11 a.m. PT. The show last night and today were sold out.

 

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