Maybe it's just a matter of timing - I didn't see it until late Friday afternoon, and the paid blogosphere does seem to cut out before Happy Hour on Fridays - but I'm surprised that the exposure of Mike Daisey as something of a fraud isn't resonating more on the right.
That may sound odd, but bear with me.
The discrediting of NPR has been an odd hobbyhorse of the right's most ardent screechers, something about the confluence of soothing voices, liberal boilerplate, and perceived objectivity, from what I can tell (roll that all up in a ball and you get... Nina Totenberg). James O'Keefe, in one of his more amusing sideshows, helped take out the head of fundraising at NPR with a tape of a conversation with a fake Middle Eastern investor, which led to a stunning series of off-point comments from senior officials at NPR that mostly made matters worse. NPR was also at the center of the Juan Williams "scandal", in which Williams was dropped as a commentator after telling Bill O'Reilly that he harbored suspicions that Muslims on his flights were possibly terrorists.
Given all that, surely someone on the right will spend the weekend chortling as This American Life, one of NPR's most popular shows, has had to retract its most popular podcast, an episode recorded with Mike Daisey about Apple's dubious record manufacturing iPads and iPhones in China. Adapted from his monologue "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs", "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory" garnered a lot of attention, and started a string of modestly bad press for Apple, which has tried to minimize the fallout while trying to beef up standards at its plants (and I say "modestly bad" because none of it has really hurt Apple's sales or profits).
Daisey's claims - that Apple's plants were rife with child workers and exposure to dangerous chemicals, among other horrendous practices - had been questioned by knowledgable reporters (though the practices were also confirmed by their reporting), but it wasn't until this week that Marketplace, PRI's business show (also on NPR), found Daisey's chinese translator who was with him on that trip, who said much of what Daisey claimed to witness - speaking to child workers, or observing workers injured from chemical exposure - never happened. Daisey calls it "dramatic license", now, and TAL is red faced.
But this isn't really just about This American Life; the New York Times has already had to issue its own correction to an online op-ed Daisey wrote making similar claims, and the Associated Press is looking at retracting coverage they did of Daisey on the topic as well. Others will surely follow. Even New York's Public Theater, where Daisey's show has been running, had to issue a statement generally supporting Daisey, but admitting that the show is not exactly entirely accurate (and that's okay, cause that's how drama works. Or something).
Perhaps you can see where I'm going with this - this is a "Mainstream Media" disaster of large proportions, undermining a popular storyline (corporate malfeasance! Cheap Chinese manufacturing practices! Labor rights!) that the right already can't stand. And this, really, is a classic unforced error: no James O'Keefe fakery needed, no dicey ideologue like Juan Williams to make the scapegoat. This was, as Ira Glass admitted, simply shoddy journalism that tends to undermine the credibility of a show like This American Life - failing to ask basic questions, check primary sources, or to make sure that information was fully confirmed. It doesn't help that TAL often comes off as smug, slightly sanctimonious, and hipper than thou on most topics it covers; this was hubris waiting for a fall.
Conservatives may shy away form this because it is, after all, Apple; on the one hand, an emblem of exactly the kind of capitalism they want to enshrine, while at the same time, a do-gooder sort of firm that liberals love to shop because it seems hip and cool and socially conscious. Embracing the discrediting of Daisey, when Apple still faces unpleasant questions about its corporate actions and conditions in factories, could easily be a two-edged sword, and it may just be that conservatives miss the connections: all that raling against MSM and bad journalism is less potent when there's no obvious political payoff.
On the other hand, it's the very clean spin of the Daisey case that I think should give lefty defenders of NPR through the previous scandals some pause: it's one thing to have been pranked by O'Keefe and his ilk, it's no fun having to defend the notion that Juan Williams didn't deserve all of what he got... but the through-line here is much like the unraveling of the NYT after Jayson Blair: lying to your editors shouldn't be this easy, and it's just arrogance to have missed the signs that this report was seriously flawed. Many lefties will, no doubt, want to take the line that Daisey's real disaster is undermining the efforts to investigate Chinese factories. But this, really, amounts to "he may have stretched the truth, but he wasn't wrong" and that's not true. This wasn't stretching, it was fabrication and falsehoods. Journalism can't let that stand. And NPR, as a whole and not just on one program, probably needs to reexamine its mission and how that mission is pursued.
Most imortantly, though, is that listeners probably need to also ak more questions, and take less reporting at face value. That's the reality of our current American Lives.