The Daisey Debate- Theater vs Journalism

I found the “Retraction” podcast of Rob Schmitz interviewing Mike Daisey to be almost more intriguing than Mike Daisey’s original monologue that was published on This American Life. I was almost cringing with uneasiness during the long and awkward silences during the interview. Clearly Daisey did not have all of his answers prepared, nor did he know how to finally admit to the truth, which contrasted drastically from his scripted monologue. Daisey is a talented speaker, and I found myself believing everything he said while listening to his first podcast. I was surprised to hear about the magnitude and various things that Daisey had lied about. Not only did he completely lie about some things, he also embellished the truth on other facts, which seemed overall unnecessary.


One of the facts that was proven untrue by TAL was that Daisey visited the dorms rooms of the workers at Foxconn. Daisey describes the dorms as cement blocks with 15 beds in each. Daisey said that the workers have to “Slide into [the beds] like coffins.” According to this article and photo, the bunk beds are not nearly has coffin-like as he described, and also the article states that there are 8 workers to a dorm room, not 15. However, it is true that there were nets installed outside of the dorm rooms to prevent any potential suicides (see here). According to this article, Foxconn takes the management of these dormitories very seriously. Of course, with over 450,000 workers living in the dorms, it is necessary to have an extensive management team to provide for the workers.


Overall, Mike Daisey’s blatant lies, or some would even call them white lies, have hurt Chinese workers in Shenzhen more than help them. I understand that Daisey wanted people to listen to his moving story, and he wanted the story to be as moving and compelling as possible for this. However, is creating fake facts to convince people to care about Foxconn’s conditions the right way to go about this? Is sacrificing some truth for the sake of “theater” over “journalism” a good idea? Would Daisey’s monologue have been as powerful if he did not sensationalize his experience, or would people have listened just as much?


4 thoughts on “The Daisey Debate- Theater vs Journalism

  1. I think it’s important to note that Daisey’s piece was originally a monologue. He was asked to perform this monologue for TAL and it was TAL’s decision to trust Daisey’s declaration that the facts were true. Although I agree that the monologue is extremely convincing and it’s intent is to bring about a strong reaction to the tragedies of the worker’s situation, I have to wonder if Daisey wrote the piece with the intention of misleading the audience. From the retraction, we heard blatantly how ill-prepared Daisey was for the interview. Clearly he is better at scripted performances than improv. But I think you bring up an interesting point – where is the line between what is real and what makes a good performance? I think it should all be taken in context of the performance. I can see how Daisey’s monologue is wonderful for the stage or a coffee-shop setting. But on a highly-broadcasted, reality radio show, he had to have taken into account the difference in audience.

  2. I agree with your opinion in the last paragraph which discusses the morality of Daisy’s decisions. By exaggerating points and lying about his first hand experiences, he took away from the real difficulties that these factory workers face. While they may not shake uncontrollably from neurotoxin poisoning, working in a factory for extended hours during the day cannot be good for their overall physical and mental health.

  3. I also found the dichotomy between journalism and theatre an extremely interesting point of discussion. I agree with Mike Daisey that this piece is more suited for the theatre due to its emotional appeal. When I heard it the first time it didn’t sounds like journalism. Some things sounded embellished because Mike Daisey is a professional story teller and actor. Hearing the Retraction took much away from the piece, turning it mainly into Fiction. While I don’t think the piece should be banned from theatrical performances, I think it would be wrong for Mike Daisey to not inform the audience that his account is in fact fictitious. There isn’t much truth to his tale especially when you look at the parts that are emotional and grasp the audience’s heart strings. An audience would leave the theatre moved, but also lied to – and because some elements of the story are true, it needs to be elucidated what is fact and what is fiction.

  4. I think this idea of theater vs journalism is very interesting. Daisy’s piece seen in a theatrical context may seem more acceptable– after all what is theater without a little added drama. However, from a more starch, journalistic perspective, the creative liberties he took are nothing more than lies. Mixing these two genres as Daisy did is a tricky game. While I’m sure he did all of the journalistic research to support a more honest report, he had no right to claim that these fabrications were fact. There is a distinct difference and he should have known better.

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