Without trust, we’re toast. Guess what? We’re toast.

Česky: Foxconn Pardubice, GPS: 50°1'28.591&quo...
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There are few moments more nausea-inducing than realizing you have placed your trust and faith in the wrong person/place/institution.

I recently blogged, favorably, about a performance artist named Mike Daisey, whose one-man show about malfeasance at Foxconn, a Chinese manufacturing giant that makes computers for Apple, Dell and many others, was a huge hit here in the U.S., and received national attention and acclaim on This American Life, a respected and smart radio show.

Now it seems he made some of it up:

“Numerous fabrications” have been found in “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” the much-heralded story by Mike Daisey about dangerous and exploitative conditions in the Apple company’s Chinese factories.

Recent fact-checking about the story, which was first presented on Jan. 6, 2012 over National Public Radio outlets as an episode on Ira Glass’ show, “This American Life,” and subsequently performed as a critically acclaimed monologue at the New York Public Theatre (where it is scheduled to close Sunday after a much-extended run), has turned up inaccuracies involving facts both large and small, including the fabrication of several characters.

“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was to be performed by Daisey at the Chicago Theatre on April 7. That performance has been cancelled. And tonight, NPR affiliate WBEZ, 91.5 FM, will air a segment about the Daisey controversy on “Marketplace” (which begins at 6:30 p.m.), followed by a full hourlong investigation of the issues on “This American Life” (beginning at 7 p.m.).

The show is set to complete its runs at New York’s Public Theatre this Sunday. The theater, which does not plan to cancel the final performances, issued this statement:

“In the theater, our job is to create fictions that reveal truth — that’s what a storyteller does, that’s what a dramatist does. ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’ reveals, as Mike’s other monologues have, human truths in story form.

And….cue dominoes falling.

This is the nature of journalism, for better and for worse. I now feel stupid and gullible for believing his “story form” — (WTF is that?) — and promoting his work.

But I also loathe, and want to expose, crummy and exploitative labor practices, some of which I wrote about in Malled, my book about retail work — in which I also detailed the eleven Foxconn worker suicides of May 2010. There have since been more.

I’m writing this on an Apple computer. I use an Ipad and an Apple laptop. My hands, morally speaking, are dirty!

Here’s the problem.

We want to work with people whose opinions, education, work ethic and principles we share and trust. Without the basic underpinning of trust — “Why, yes, I do believe your story” –– we can’t function culturally, socially, politically or financially.

We also all need to remain awake, skeptical, critical and questioning.

But the media — and I’ve been a journalist since 1980 — are also prey to “pack journalism”, rushing headlong to embrace the trope-of-the-day lest they look slow, stupid, uncool or lazy in front of their peers and bosses and readers and listeners.

And there are stories we want to believe. There are stories that are virtually impossible to report firsthand and when someone brings home the goods, we sigh in relief and hand them a laurel wreath for doing what we could not or did not or never would do ourselves.

Here’s yet another cheerful story this week of deception and broken trust — an Amish man who took $17 million from his co-religionists in 29 states and invested it improperly.

And an op-ed in this week’s New York Times called out some pretty ugly behaviors (gasp!) behind the doors of Goldman Sachs, where fat cat bankers call their clients “muppets”.

Wrote Greg Smith, 33, a GS banker who thus burned his bridges to his former employer:

Today, many of these leaders display a Goldman Sachs culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend derivatives sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help clients. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that a client’s success or progress was not part of the thought process at all.

Such a world we live in!

Do you trust what you read and hear?

From which source(s) and why?

11 thoughts on “Without trust, we’re toast. Guess what? We’re toast.

  1. That’s a tough one. I read the NZ Herald, NPR, and BBC World Edition. Not everyone gets it right. The whole KONY 2012 threw me, but I got that off Google+. Not doing that again!

    1. I stayed far away from the KONY thing. I am **deeply** suspicious of such knee-jerk bandwagon behavior and social media seems to foster even more of it.

      I’m not sure how much I trust any commercial media, but I try to read multiple sources on the same stories. I also read British, Canadian and American press and listen to radio/TV from elsewhere. I’ll often hear stories, esp. about the U.S., on BBC months before any American media pick up on them.

  2. In 1885, William R. Travers, a prominent New York businessman and builder of Saratoga Race Track, was taken out for lunch by a Wall Street broker anxious to impress him and win his business. The broker took Travers to a nearby marina to show off his yacht and those of the other brokers who worked for his firm. The businessman looked down the line of beautiful craft and asked, “Where are the clients’ yachts?”.

    The broker didn’t have an answer. Travers took his investment business elsewhere.

    I work as an executive in the field of finance, and when I went to school this was the very first lesson we were supposed to have learned. Apparently not too many were paying attention in class.

    Perhaps because I work in the field of finance, I tend to look at almost everything I read and hear with a jaundiced eye. I only tend to believe that which makes sense from following the money trail, which rarely lies. As I think about that, it makes me a bit sad.

    1. What a great story!

      It must be challenging indeed to avoid the many temptations (?) to profit (hugely) at clients’ unwitting expense. It’s why I and every family member manage our own investments. I was not impressed when, a few years ago, I suggested investing in (highly profitable) Canadian banks to my “advisor” at Fidelity. “Why?” he asked.

      When I know more than they do, (and in that case I did), it’s not reassuring at all! I read a wide variety of the business press to try to get a wider view of the global economy.

  3. I agree.

    The challenge with Daisey is that he (said) he managed to gain access to workers at Foxconn, which many pro journos had told him was impossible. And it’s a powerful and important story, which is why I think it was so embraced. When you cannot replicate the reporting (hence the need for fact-checking), you’ve got a problem….yet some reporting is done in places and under conditions it cannot be checked…

  4. Sadly, I feel as though I have to take everything with a grain of salt. While I enjoy certain sources, I try to read critically and look for hype, even among people whose work I respect. Last fall I took the opportunity to visit Occupy Wall Street because I felt dissatisfied with the reporting…I had to see for myself. Unfortunately, we can’t take that opportunity with every story.

    What’s sad is that elements of Daisey’s performance are true, but now everything he has said and done will be doubted. That can make things worse for those who are genuinely being exploited.

  5. All true.

    The only reporting to trust is your own, and most people have neither time, interest, skills or access to verify things on their own. Which is why this sort of broken trust is so damaging. Daisey brought international attention to an important issue. Maybe that’s enough in itself?

  6. In the few years I worked as a journalist, there were times that I was deeply suspicious of the stories written by a peer. The access was just too incredible, the quotes too perfect, and the stories too amazing … all with anonymous sources that the editors did not confirm. The stories ran anyway. I was suspicious, and worried that I was being envious of great reporting.

    1. Anonymous sources make all of us nervous, with good reason. Too easy to make them up!

      But any journalist who wants to stay employed, esp. now when fact-checking is easier, has to be careful.

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