Header graphic for print
China Law Blog China Law for Business

Mike Daisey Is A Liar-Asshole.

Posted in China Business, Events

The more I read and think about l’affaire Daisey, the more pissed I get. And it has nothing to do with the fact that he completely duped me.  Honestly it doesn’t.  I raved about Daisey’s one man show in my post, “The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Steve Jobs. Laugh Out Loud Insight On China’s Factories. ” I “wrote” that post in my head while watching the play and then wrote it on the blog in about ten minutes as soon as I arrived home. I wanted people to know.

I was not going to write about Daisey again, because so much good stuff has already come out about him since the “retraction,” including the following by eminent China bloggers:

But I am changing my mind mostly because I am pissed and, needless to say, nobody has expressed MY personal views. The more I hear Daisey, the more pissed I get. Strangely enough, I also think there is a lawyer-advocate perspective to all this. So here goes.

I chose the title because Daisey early on in his monologue calls Steve Jobs a “visionary-asshole”

The reason I am so pissed at Daisey is two-fold. I am pissed because of the harm he has caused and I am pissed because he refuses to accept what he has done and the harm he has caused. Please forgive my rambling but here goes.

Will Moss does a great job dissecting Daisey’s alleged mea culpa, which consisted of Daisey stating “I apologized in this week’s episode to anyone who felt betrayed.”  Moss sees this statement for exactly what it is, which is no apology at all.

The first is the passive language. Now, I have no problems at all with passive voice in writing (or with starting sentences with conjunctions, or parentheticals, or many other things they told you were bad in your high school comp class). But that passive language is such a trope of public apologies that we pretty much take it for granted these days. It’s so common that Wikipedia has an entry on it. Vanity Fair, also citing Wikipedia, has a small collection of examples. ”We apologize if anyone was offended,” was even trotted out recently by Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream in response to the (silly) Linsanity flavor scandal.

The second (and I must thank my partner in crime, Brendan O’Kane for this) is the use of the word “felt.” The passive voice subtly shunts responsibility onto the victim. The use of “felt” suggests that problem itself doesn’t even exist, and is merely some kind of unfortunate vapor or misunderstanding. You felt betrayed, but I didn’t actually betray you.

That’s just the half of it. Daisey elsewhere insists he did what he did for”the cause.”  For the poor Chinese working person. To which I have two words (and then many more).  1) Bullshit.  2) So what?

I simply do not believe that is why Daisey did what he did. I think he did what he did for his own benefit and nothing else. Let me make one thing clear. I side with the Chinese worker.  Yes, probably 99% of my law firm’s clients are companies, but that does not stop me from believing that workers are entitled to a safe working environment, to respect and to fairness.  It also does not stop me from believing that companies should follow the law. I do not typically put my opinion out there on things like this because it usually is of no relevance and I am always concerned it might stifle comments and conversation. In this case, I think it relevant because it explains (at least in part) my anger at Daisey and why I think I am correct in calling him a liar on his motivations and his apology.

What so angers me is how Daisey keeps acting as though he had some justification for what he did and as though his having done it helped the Chinese worker overall. As a lawyer-advocate, I vehemently disagree with him on both points. One little lie revealed means you will not be trusted on anything.  In “How To Choose Your China Attorney. Quality, Quality, Quality,” I talked of the importance of credibility in the context of what makes for a good Chinese (or any other) litigator and I did so by quoting the following email from co-blogger Steve Dickinson to me:

The reason ______ has influence with the court is NOT because he is a powerful person. He has influence because the judges TRUST and RESPECT him. He never betrays the trust, and so the judges basically do what he says. That allows him to get judges to issue orders by telling them that something is true and that they will be getting the documents that support that. As lawyers, we completely understand how this works.

I think clients sometimes do not understand this and so when you talk of how ________ has so much influence with the court, I worry they might think you are telling them he gets this influence improperly, which you and I both know is not the case.

The reason Daisey has so greatly harmed the cause of China’s workers is because nobody with any sense will or should believe a word he says. The problem with this is that almost everything Daisey said of import probably was true. Daisey himself did not experience it or talk with anyone about it, that may be true. But somewhere in China it is probably true. Take under-aged workers for example. It is now pretty clear Daisey himself never met anyone at Foxconn who admitted to being 13 years old, but I would bet anything that there are plenty of 13 year-old children working in China factories. I would also bet (though I want to stress that I don’t know this as fact) that there are some 13 year-olds working at Foxconn or at least at a Foxconn subcontractor, but I also believe that high profile companies like Foxconn probably do a better job at following the law than the average company in China.

Daisey is way too smart not to have realized the harm he would do to the cause if he were to be found out. But he did it anyway.

Daisey also could have accomplished pretty much all that he sought to do by having made clear that his monologue was “somewhat fictionalized” or “based on fact.”  That would have been fine.  But Daisey seemed to require more than that. He seemed to want the world to view him as more than just a great storyteller. It seems Daisey wanted the world to think he came away with scoops that nobody else had been able to get.

Again though, so what?  Daisey’s brushing off what he did only tells us who he really is. He lied. Stop. Period. End of story. His apology should have been as follows:

I lied. I shouldn’t have. I apologize for lying to all of you. It was unnecessary and I shouldn’t have done it. I did it because I wanted the world to know more than I knew. I wanted the world to think more of me. I not only apologize for lying, I also apologize for the harm my lies have caused. In particular want to apologize for any harm my lies may have done and will do to China’s workers and I ask that when looking at their lives, you do not hold my works against them in any way as that would not be fair. I lied. They didn’t.

We all deserved better from Daisey and as talented/brilliant as he is, I’m done.

Thanks for listening to my ramblings. We will be returning to our more normal posts tomorrow.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Christopher-Brockbank/884160074 Christopher Brockbank

    Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been thinking but didn’t really feel prepared to articulate.  Mike Daisey’s lies have done immense damage to journalism, the perception in China of bias in western media, to Apple, and to efforts to improve the work environment in China.  

  • Chris

    I would pretty much agree with your post as far as it goes. I go to Foxconn in Shenzhen and Chengdu regularly. I can honestly say I have never seen anyone that could be even close to 13 years old. After living and working in China for the last 13 years, I can almost tell the difference between a 13 year old an an 18 year old. I say almost because it is always hard to tell with Asians. My Chinese daughter is 26 and looks like 16. I can also say the the message from the very top of Foxconn is to obey Chinese labor laws. I have seen mid-level managers fired for skirting these laws. I think in many cases Foxconn is getting a bum rap from “those” China bashers in the U.S. (this being an election year and all).

  • Ember

    Um, like yeah. Nice language header. Thanks for “educating” us in how to be rude.

  • Jeliot23

    See Daisey’s apology in his own blog.

  • YankeeDoodleDandy

    You side with the Chinese worker boy at the expense of American jobs.

  • Gilman Grundy

    The annoying thing in this for me is that Foxconn most definitely is not an unworthy subject of criticism – it’s just that people who previously spent their time (rightly) criticising the company’s dodgy practices (especially the China Business News lawsuit, militaristic company ethos, and the company’s general secretiveness) end up having to defend it against folk who’ve become convinced by BS-artists in the media and out-of-context reports that Foxconn’s plants are some kind of real-life Mordor. They aren’t.

    When I worked there back in 2006-07, hundreds of new recruits used to arrive every day at the gates outside my office at Foxconn’s Longhua facility. Hundreds of thousands of people worked there with no great signs of disatisfaction. The idea that Foxconn workers are equivalent to slave-labour is patently absurd - no-one was forced to work there, everyone was free to leave (at least within the limitations of the NCA’s we all had to sign, although I think the change in the law sin 07 may mean those are no longer binding).   

  • MHB

    He will be asking himself ‘why did I do that?’ He erred, rational thought is straight and true, the lost road.

    ‘Why’ asks for reasons. Reasons~excuses. Anyway, reasons are rational, we are all rational, aren’t we? Reasons are forgiven. All is better. You don’t forgive? Listen again to the reasons – how can you not forgive? What is wrong with you? Listen to me again! You are not listening to me.
    ————————–

    I have many reasons to love the Chinese, but one of my favourite is the absolute mistrust of an apology – particularly one so flimsy as the politician’s favourite non-apology apology. 

    Why do you apologise? To seek forgiveness – otherwise, just make up for your mistake or leave. The apologiser NEEDS forgiveness, so makes an apology. [See Part II of 'The Genealogy of Morals' by Nietzsche for a Western perspective and earth-shattering commentary].

    If no reflection is given, if nothing has been learnt – then this will be apparent in the apology – the apology will be worthless and insulting. 

    A genuine apology made after reflection, with deep understanding and feeling is a powerful thing indeed. It’s aim is not forgiveness, but to heal the relationship – to demonstrate that lessons have been learned and mistakes will not be repeated, to restore the broken trust.

    A poor apology makes you feel a fool for ever trusting the guy in the first place. 

    • http://twitter.com/SteveLaudig SteveLaudig

      If I may follow what I think this line of thinking leads up to.
      “A genuine apology made after reflection, with deep understanding and feeling is a powerful thing indeed. It’s aim is not forgiveness, but to heal the relationship – to demonstrate that lessons have been learned and mistakes will not be repeated, to restore the broken trust.”
      Ms. Manners would be a better source than I. And it may be my naive opinion that apologies are offered, or proffered or perhaps tendered [to legalize the discussion], to the person who has been offended against. The ‘tender’  places the etiquette ‘ball’ in their court to either accept or reject with modifications, or reject [yes, a social contract model]. If the offer is accepted then breach healed. [Others in the community may grouse but they have no standing] If the offer is rejected with conditions then then a new form apology may be tendered and accept/reject and so on. The community members are then in the position to judge whether the offer [and rejection] were reasonable [in light of the apology proffered].  This model works in individual relationships and small communities. Indeed that is Dan Harris’s analysis. When we have a ‘non-apology’ to the world, nothing seems resolved. There have been other recent instances notably Tom McMaster, the fake gay Syrian girl blogger. In the late 18th Century I suppose things of this nature would have been solved with a duel. 

  • Enricco

    Thank you, you’ve expressed my view on the topic perfectly. Might I add that the worst part about all this is Apple’s visibility. Perhaps for the average consumer, Apple’s practices stand for the entire consumer electronics industry. If conditions aren’t that bad for Foxconn, perhaps aren’t that bad anywhere else. 

  • pmaidment

    This piece by Dan Lyons, who knows something about faking stuff about Steve Jobs, and did so hilariously, is worth a read, not just for the point that you also make about Chinese workers being the true victims of Daisey’s falsehoods, but also because it attests to the fact that this is not the first time he has presented his art as fact. http://bit.ly/GSZGFQ

  • dan berg

    http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/cat/longres.aspx?sk=25799.0; sorry to be off topic, but I wanted to bring this to your attention

  • Joe Phelps

    Harris: “Let me make one thing clear. I side with the Chinese worker.” 
    Yankee: “You side with the Chinese worker boy at the expense of American jobs.”

    Damn right Yankee. About someone stuck up for the USofA instead of lawyers removing money from the States and sending it to China.

  • Paolo Sorrentino

    This is more blog speak than law speak. Shame, really.

  • Chip

    To those who complain about Chinese workers taking jobs away from Americans, are you willing to be as productive as they are at a 6th of your salary?  Not likely.  Or, on your current salary, are you willing to increase your productivity by 6 times?  Not likely.  Stop complaining about people doing a better job than you, spend more time making yourself hirable instead.  It’s a free market, and money goes to who deserves it.  

  • Glen

    This is what bothered me: if Chinese labor law violations were occurring at Foxconn, why would we blame Apple? This blog has spilled considerable amounts of ink explaining how violating Chinese labor laws is a huge risk for any company. Therefore, if violations were occurring to this degree, they had to have the tacit approval of local officials. If anyone is to blame, it’s the Chinese for their lax enforcement.

    My guess is that the Chinese government actively overlooks labor, environmental and other violations that occur for key high-tech industries that it hopes to re-purpose for it’s own use. The advanced hardware at Foxconn would undoubtedly be useful in military applications. If Apple made plastic widgets, the government would not care and the law would likely be upheld.

    /end rant

    • Jamesliu

      Then the US needs to get off its self-righteous pedestal about human rights and workers’ rights then. Since by your logic, the parent company and the one bankrolling these operations have no accountability whatsoever and the entire blame can be put on the local government. Typical American stupidity.

  • Tyson

    Agreed 100%, and I have generally been a critic of both Foxconn and Apple in their business dealings in China, not only due to the poor working conditions and lack of formal labor-contract enforcement, but also due to the domestic environmental effects that these firms have on the country.  However, what Daisey did was so harmful to the cause of improving the lives of the everyday Chinese factory worker (especially young children) and the fact that he wan’t even truly admit his wrongdoings shows what kind of person he is.  He will never jeapordize his own name and reputation (further anyway) for the sake of the people he was supposedly “defending”.  I’ll bet in 10 years or so he’ll try to make some “comeback” with a new cause on a new one-man show, and I hope that when this happens, we all remember his last imprint on Chinese society.