Mike Daisey is the latest but not likely the last to attain fame and fortune by making up stories about China. Daisey’s case was a widely acclaimed monologue entitled “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” supposedly based a six-day visit to Shenzhen China and his encounters with various factory workers—except as we were to find out very little of it actually happened.
Daisey’s performance on stage was a hit and he became a media celebrity that talked about his China experiences. This American Life a radio program on National Public Radio dedicated an hour on Daisey and excerpts of his monologue. Up to this point, his monologue was considered to be a factual presentation of his encounters in China since he never qualified it in any way.
Unfortunately for Daisey, some of his more flamboyant assertions on his one-man show rang hollow to those that know China. This American Life then retroactively did some fact checking and found that Daisey had lied to the program. In the end, This American Life made a full retraction of the story they carried about Daisey. In the retraction, the listener could hear Daisey’s awkward and embarrassing retreat as Ira Glass disassembled Daisey’s lies step by painful step.
By the end of the hour program, Daisey apologized to Ira Glass for appearing on his program and misled the American public into thinking that he was doing journalism when he was only doing theater—a medium where mixing facts with fiction are permitted.
An important reason for Daisey’s initial success is his choice of topic. Much of American public are susceptible and open to hearing anything negative about China. I have reduced the formula of success as ABCDEF: Americans bash China by distortion, exaggeration and fabrication.
The earliest known example that came to my attention was the so-called human rights activist, Harry Wu. He made a decent living talking about China’s human rights conditions based on half-truths and lies. He has had the good fortune of never appearing on a stage visible enough that someone was inclined to give him a once over fact check.