Mike Daisey and this American denial

Image from Public Theater website

Two things are really bothering me about today’s news that monolougist Mike Daisey fabricated portions of his hit performance piece “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.”

Let me get something out of the way out front: I’ve known Mike since about 1996. He was an advisor/supporter of my high school’s speech & debate team, of which I was a member. I got to know him and I considered him a mentor. Critics can easily point to that fact as an invalidation of what I have to say – go ahead; I don’t really care. In fact, this whole thing is about critics and how they use the weapons of rhetorical misdirection to further their cause (or in this case, obscure the cause of the other).

The first thing that bothers me is the terrible news that by making up portions of his theatrical piece — and then letting, and helping, that theatrical piece spread to the media, where he reported it and let it be reported as individual facts — Mike has undermined the essential, and incredibly relevant, truth of the situation. No, not the truth that Apple is evil, or the people of China are being subjicaded by an industrial complex that places profit value over human rights.

I’m talking about the truth that as our craving for an ever-increasing schedule of cheap gadgets increases, we go into deeper and deeper denial about exactly how those gadgets arrive here so quickly and so cheaply.

Why are we in so much denial about our insatiable desire for the next? Why does our pride flow so freely at the release cycle of electronics, but ebb so violently at the simple truth about the conditions under which those electronics are produced? That, folks, is the world’s finest example of shame. It’s shame on a grand, hypocritical, American scale. The irony is that it would be even more American to own up to the reality and, for lack of a better word, embrace it. No, it’s the absolutely insane cycle of cover-ups, denials, misdirections, and attacks that really has me baffled.

Predictably, widely-respected Apple blogger John Gruber is the one of the loudest of all Daisey’s critics today. Mr. Gruber remained comparatively silent on the topic of Apple’s supply chain even as it blew up into a two-month-long major national news story and ensuing conversation about an essential element of the company that is his sole beat. As he notes himself, he wrote only one piece – all of one paragraph – about Daisey’s appearance on This American Life; I can find only two other mentions on his site of the conversation around Apple’s manufacturing processes since the story broke in January. In one, Mr. Gruber calls the story “Apple’s biggest challenge.” Note the choice of words: This isn’t an issue for us to face as a nation of consumers; this is a “challenge” for Apple to overcome.

With that perspective, it’s no wonder Mr. Gruber came out swinging today. Since the news broke this afternoon that NPR’s This American Life program is retracting its “Agony and the Ecstacy” themed episdode, Mr. Gruber has now run five six items (to date — it’s only 8:15pm EST as I write this) condemning Daisey.

In one item, Mr. Gruber declares that the only reason he’d been quiet on this issue (prior to today, obviously) is because he credits his “spidey sense” for alerting him to the fact that Daisey lied. Mr. Gruber didn’t share this insight at any point as the story exploded; he was so busy keeping his mouth shut, he couldn’t even be bothered to publicize his suspicions about the #1 critic of the company he works so admirably to defend and promote. That’s not shame; that’s shameless.

The other thing that bothers me about this news isn’t about the universal implications of a society that can’t be honest with itself. It’s about Mike. What a shame for a thinker and performer so incredibly gifted with the ability to see into us and come up with some simple truths, present them in a compelling way, and move onto something entirely different just as we wanted more.

I truly hope Mike can, unlike so many other people who fail notably and publicly, actually learn from this experience to create a message that is tighter and more trustworthy. Every artist makes a pact with his audience; Mike’s pact is that he helps us question and understand the hard truth about ourselves. If he wants to regain our trust as an entertainer, he should keep up his end of that bargain.

In the meantime, our appetite for gadgets spins madly on. Apple’s latest iPad became available last night at midnight, with the corresponding (and by accounts deserving) adulations following dutifully.

Along with that product launch comes the news that Apple’s stock price is over $600 per share. As a proud capitalist through and through, I couldn’t be happier for them, for our economy, and for the positive outlook made possible by their success. But at least I’m damn fine with the truth about why, and how, they earned it.

Critics like Mr. Gruber — and there are many others — are celebrating today’s news not because it proves Apple is right and Mike Daisey is wrong. Rather, they’re insanely relieved that the painful, potentially embarrassing journey to the truth — not about Apple, but about ourselves — might actually, finally, be cut short. Once we do stop, it will be much harder to get back on that path.

Mike, you almost brought us there. I’m just sorry it will be your fault if we don’t quite make it.

Bangor Daily News blurs the line between news and advertising

The Bangor Daily News is back at it with more ethically-questionable practices on its website, this time in the form of its new “BDN Marketplace News” section which attempts to disguise advertisements as news headlines.

A screenshot of the BDN Marketplace News section

A screenshot of the BDN Marketplace News section

What’s Going On?

At the bottom of article pages, the “BDN Marketplace News” appears directly under a larger “Similar Articles” heading, and uses the same font styles and layout as article headlines. Most deceptive, though, is the inclusion of the word “News”, clearly meant to suggest to visitors that those headlines are news.

This approach goes even beyond the practice employed by some other news websites that place advertisements within a “Related Sites” or “Around the Web” element; in those cases the elements are clearly marked as “Sponsored” or “Advertisements”, or they actually point to relevant articles, not to ads.

What’s the Problem?

It should be pretty clear: The “BDN Marketplace News” advertising element is intentionally designed to deceive visitors; that kind of attitude towards the people who give you traffic and ad revenue is a short-sighted and doomed strategy which absolutely threatens the paper’s long-term health. Combined with my coverage of the BDN’s deceptive “ad bar” back in January 2011, this creates a disturbing pattern of disrespect for visitors that should be addressed immediately.

What can they do?

The Bangor Daily News should immediately revise the “BDN Marketplace News” section to include a clear disclaimer that the links are “Advertising” or “Sponsored Listings” or similar language. To go one step further, they should also link the disclaimer to a page with more information about the Marketplace and how listings are added. This kind of update wouldn’t put them ahead of the pack on ethics, but it would bring them in line with current standards in the newspaper industry.

In the rush to shore up revenues, it can be easy to clutter up a website with a variety of “innovative” advertising placements, but a company that cares about its audience and is interested in long-term growth over short-term fixes can and should be held to a higher standard.

 

Why the Bangor Daily News “ad frame” is bad for you, and what to do about it

Links should be free- and users are worth more than a few cents each. Why “ad frames” are bad business for news.

My local newspaper, the Bangor Daily News, has made some admirable improvements to its otherwise lackluster website over the past few months. To their credit, they’ve slowly integrated topic and people-based cross-links throughout their site, created “topic-centric” destination sections on health, sports, and politics, and appear to be slowly migrating their site from a vertical platform CMS to the world-class WordPress CMS.

An example of the ad frame used on the Bangor Daily News website (click image for full view)

 

Want an easy way to remove the BDN’s “ad frame” bar?

Firefox and Chrome users, install this Greasemonkey script I made. It will load the links to the sites as they intended, cutting out the BDN’s ad frame.

Install Zap BDN Frames

Firefox users need Greasemonkey first

All the goodwill engendered by those steps threatens to be undone with their most unethical and annoying update: A persistent top frame that sticks you with a BDN-hosted ad — even when you’ve clicked off their site to visit other links. (Here’s an example of the “ad frame” in action– what you’d see after clicking a link from the BDN website). Worse, the BDN ad frame give users no way to remove the frame- a feature that even the universally-derided “Diggbar” offered before being shut down due to overwhelming criticism.

Read More

Blogging doesn’t need- and shouldn’t have- a code of conduct

Tim O’Reilly, owner of O’Reilly Media, recently proposed a blogging code of conduct in light of recent threats against blogger Kathy Sierra and the ensuing controversy that arose around the discussion of those threats.

While this is obviously a move born of positive intentions, I think that a blogging code of conduct is a terribly misguided idea.

Clearly, a community such as the blogosphere does not condone terrifying threats: the outpouring of support for Kathy Sierra demonstrated that fact. In addition, the blogosphere is also regarded, I believe rightly so, as a community willing and often able to commit acts of self-reflection, analysis, and adjustment. In that context, it’s difficult to see how any kind of codification could serve to do anything beyond artificially limit and stifle speech and the interactions that arise from it.

In short, what we have is a community fully adept at policing itself, the positive and group-building effects of which are infinitely more powerful than any kind of codification could hope to be.

If you need a code to interact from, define one for yourself, and by all means live by it– heck, even publicize for your readers to consider. And if it’s in line with norms, or catches on (lord knows the blogosphere is nothing if not self-policing…and trend happy), who knows? Maybe your code will be adopted informally, organically, subconsciously, where it might, just might, have a positive impact. Anything less natural is destined to fail, and by its definition limit our collective speech in the process.

Despite apologies, Imus critics reveal true motives

Note: This post was scheduled to be published tomorrow morning, but after learning via CNN.com that Imus has now been suspended for two weeks, I’m posting it now.

Last week on his radio show, Imus in the Morning, host Don Imus made some cruel, stupid, and insensitive comments regarding the Rutgers University Women’s basketball team. ESPN.com carries an Associated Press recounting of the comments:

“That’s some rough girls from Rutgers,” Imus said. “Man, they got tattoos … .”

“Some hardcore hos,” McGuirk said.

“That’s some nappy-headed hos there, I’m going to tell you that,” Imus said.

Imus has since apologized twice over the past five days, adding today that “…because the climate on this program has been what it’s been for 30 years doesn’t mean that it has to be that way for the next five years or whatever because that has to change, and I understand that.”

Despite two public apologies, some including Al Sharpton are still calling for Mr. Imus’ retirement or firing.

So let’s take a moment to consider the concept of “grass is greener” or “shell game” politics, as I think the Imus case represents a fine example. In this case, Imus made some decidedly inappropriate, unkind, hurtful comments. Those who see clear public relations profiteering from the situation- namely, Mr. Sharpton- then launch into action, ready to take two tacts. One, if Imus stands by his comments (or explains them as a joke), his opponent will then demand whatever course of action hasn’t happened- in that scenario, an apology.

But since Mr. Imus did offer an apology, the shell game continues, with his opponents such as Sharpton now demanding something else- in this case, an outright dismissal.

This shell game of never ending consequences for public relations gain is just one small, insignificant reason why Mr. Imus should decidedly not be fired. The larger reason is that he has now twice publicly apologized for these unwise comments.

Personally, I’d prefer to see somebody like Mr. Sharpton- who has inflicted actual damage on America’s race relations for over 20 years- be the subject of such furor…again. That is, if anybody still takes him the slightest bit seriously.

UPDATE: Some people still take Mr. Sharpton seriously despite his history, as Imus’ radio program has just been suspended by both CBS Radio and MSNBC television for two weeks (see link at the top of this post). While this is yet another conciliatory step on Imus’ behalf, it won’t likely do much to deter Mr. Sharpton, as it should be beyond obvious by now that his aim is not to extract amends, but instead to further amplify his own persona.

Adholes and the lessons of corporate indifference

The laughably awful advertising industry website Adholes, which has declined steadily in terms of reach and influence over recent years, has taken another sad step on its way to irrelevancy by publicly calling me (and by extension other customers experiencing this issue) an “idiot” on their corporate website.

Not since CBS News hoisted fake documents on the American public in September of 2004 has a company’s lack of respect for its customers been so blatant.

Before some explanation, first take a look at their instructions for unsubscribing from their newsletter:

adholes.gif

Clicking their “this idiot” link actually takes you to my original post (one year ago today, as a matter of fact) where I wrote about my specific, re-producible problem with their email unsubscribe process. It all began when I attempted several times to unsubscribe from the company’s lame email missives:

I have now unsubscribed via their unsubscribe process twice, both to no avail.

Compare that statement– I attempted to unsubscribe twice, and both times their published unsubscribe process failed– to the Adholes rebuke, where they think the problem was that I “still [couldn’t] figure out” how to unsubscribe.

Notice how, in the process of insulting me, they don’t even fully understand what my problem is? You have to be pretty intent on not listening to your customers to not even be able to understand what they’re complaining about.

The situation declined from there. Three weeks later, I received yet another unsolicited email from Adholes after my previous attempts to unsubscribe. In that post, I detailed my further problems with their bug-ridden website:

I just spent a few minutes trying to follow their directions on ‘deleting’ my account with them- which, according to their instructions, involves logging in, changing my name to “delete”, removing my email, saving my account, and then logging out of my account.

That would be awesome, except…Their system won’t let me remove my email, nor is there an option to ‘logout’ of my account…so, wow. Just when you think incompetence can’t get much worse, it often surprises you.

With that, what began as a simple unsubscribe request had blossomed into full-on absurdity. As ridiculous as their “new” unsubscribe instructions were, I attempted to comply, only to discover that the instructions were completely wrong. So let’s recap:

1) Adholes did not have a reliable process in place for people to unsubscribe from their email lists. This brings them close to one of the the modern definitions of spammer: Company sending out commercial emails with no reliable unsubscribe mechanism.
2) Following three unsuccessful attempts to remove myself, Adholes then gave me incorrect directions on removing my email, providing instructions to “logout” of my account when no such option existed. This is either intention obfuscation, or quite poor website design and implementation. Either way, it’s an embarrassing way to treat customers.
3) To top it all off, rather than sending me an apology, or attempting to correct their complete lack of an unsubscribe process for other customers, they chose to brand me an “idiot” for not “figuring out” how to navigate their non-existent unsubscribe method. That also serves to insult any other customers who may experience the same issue.

Fortunately, in an age where corporate transparency and apology are gaining increasing traction, this type of outrageously poor behavior by companies is becoming more and more rare. That said, we as consumers need to remain vigilant in the pursuit of these companies who believe it is their right to insult us even as they provide abysmal service.

Moore is sued for dishonest footage, again

Moorelies.com is retired, and I don’t intend for this space to inherit its subject matter. That said, in checking Instapundit today, I noticed my old mark, Michael Moore, is in trouble again:

A double-amputee Iraq-war vet is suing Michael Moore for $85 million, claiming the portly peacenik recycled an old interview and used it out of context to make him appear anti-war in “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Sgt. Peter Damon, 33, who strongly supports America’s invasion of Iraq, said he never agreed to be in the 2004 movie, which trashes President Bush.

Geez, just when you think a movie could not be more discredited, along comes one of the people who appeared in it to slam the preverbial door even further. Of course, this isn’t the first time Sgt. Damon has complained about the shameful way he was treated by Moore. In the documentary FahrenHYPE 9/11 (disclosure: which I appear in, briefly), Damon first stated that he was taken completely out of context in Moore’s film. So while these aren’t new claims, they do come after over a year of apparent but unsuccessful efforts by Damon to get Moore to admit his wrongs.

One of the little known facts about Moore’s films- one that he would prefer be kept under wraps- is that he does not personally collect all of the footage that ultimately appear in his films. Far from it; in fact- some is gathered by producers, but even more is culled from vast stock video libraries and editied as it is seen fit by Moore. In Sgt. Damon’s case, Moore obtained the rights to some footage from the NBC News archives, cut it down to fit his argument, and stuck it in. The act can only be described as a lazy, cheap, and thoroughly dishonest attempt to pull one over on viewers. Can you imagine being so afraid of your own positions that you would go to such lengths to advance them?

This isn’t the first time Moore has been sued, for that matter. As Dave Hardy and I wrote in our book, Moore was successfully sued by a former friend who won over $4 million dollars from the filmmaker in a 1993 judgement. The lawsuit stemmed from Moore’s 1986 film Roger & Me, and can you guess what it revolved around? That’s right! The friend successfully sued Moore for taking his words out of context and using them against him on film.

Of course, the fact that this time around the treachery involves a solider injured in battle just makes it all the more disgusting.

UPDATE: Dave Hardy has more.

Maine’s blogging community has no room for anonymous comments

It may not be well known to the rest of the country, but here in Maine, we have a reputation for sticking together and helping our fellow citizens out. It troubles me, then, to see a fellow resident- and web developer- apparently harassing another Maine web developer.

I’m talking here about Rob Landry, owner of the Portland-based Pemaquid Communications, and his recent comments to and about Lance Dutson, the Maine blogger who just two weeks ago faced a multi-million-dollar lawsuit from Maine Office of Tourism contractor Warren Kremer Paino.

While Rob is certainly entitled to his opinion, I’m sure he’d agree there are more respectful and intelligent ways of expressing differing viewpoints- ways that do not involve leaving anonymous comments about a fellow Maine web developer across different blogs.

I believe that habit is wrong on a couple of levels. First, it’s professionally inappropriate to go around trashing another Maine web developer by hiding behind anonymous comments. Secondly, it’s in poor taste- and bad citizenship- as a commenter to intentionally muddy your identity. Obviously, it begs the questions: why hide behind a pseudonymn when making comments? Are you unable to support your own arguments? Or jealous of a fellow web professional? I’m not suggesting these are Rob’s motives- rather, I’m making the point that we can’t be sure, since he’s establishing a track record of obscuring his actions to the point of suspicion.

Maybe we should give Rob a pass. After all, by his own admission, he’s a newcomer to the whole world of blogging. I know because back in March, Rob emailed me asking for advice on what blogs are and how to set one up.

Now, I notice that he’s running what appears to be his own blog called foresider and located at http://foresider.com. Though his name appears in the registration info for the domain name, he’s curiously absent from any credit on the website. Rob has even gone so far as to intentionally mischaracterize his relationship to foresider.com, claiming that it’s a blog that he “advertises on.” While that is technically true- a link to his company, Pemaquid Communications appears on the blog- that would of course be an entirely disingenuous statement if he were also to own and publish the blog.

In the interest of fairness I emailed Rob asking for his take on both his questionable comments and his anonymous blog. Sadly, while Rob thanked me for the opportunity to comment, he nonetheless chose to continue his evasive maneuvers.

When I asked him why he left anonymous comments, he replied that he “Didn’t really think much of it,” so we’re in agreement there. Next he stated that he “wanted to add a comment that linked to the Foresider rather than Pemaquid Communications.” But of course, a comment’s link can point to anywhere- a commenter’s name is something entirely different. Again, he’s either woefully unfamiliar of common behavior standards online, or he’s intentionally ducking.

When I asked Rob why Foresider.com is an anonymous blog, he replied that he “[didn’t] understand the question.” He asked me to “elaborate”, so I wrote him a follow-up email and attempted to re-phrase my already direct questions in a more explicit manner. While he replied to my initial email within 12 hours, he has yet to reply to my follow-up. It’s been two days and counting, and given his record to date, I can’t say I expect a clear reply.

Rob, if you were to ask me for further advice, I’d let you know that anonymous blogging without a damn good reason is generally frowned upon in the blogosphere. If you have something to hide, by all means, hide it. I know of a couple of bloggers in Nepal who blogged anonymously for months to avoid imprisonment and murder. Their country’s radio and television lines had all been downed by the government, so in their case anonymity became essential to survival. You can understand then how it frustrates me to observe anonymity used for cowardly purposes.

So if you’re just trying to lay low, you might want to recognize that lurking both in comment sections, and on your very own blog, are two things that don’t exactly place you on the shortlist for the blogosphere citizen of the year award. And they certainly aren’t tactics that will foster a community among the ranks of the few, but growing, community of bloggers in Maine.

Lance won…this round

Congratulations to Lance Dutson, who is free from the legal black cloud imposed on him by Warren Kremer Paino Advertising. The agency dropped their lawsuit Friday, though they made no public comment on the matter. Cowards, to the end.

In his latest post on the now seven-month-long Pay-Per-Gate saga, Lance thanked his own legal council, along with Media Bloggers Association and our (disclosure: I am a board member) legal and public relations support. He also mentioned the work of Maine state rep Stephen Bowen, who just yesterday publicized a letter he wrote to Maine’s governor’s office asking that Warren Kremer Paino advertising’s state contract be investigated.

More on this soon…