Disclaimer: This post makes unsubstantiated claims about and ad hominem attacks on John Gruber personally, but I have tried to construct a facts-based argument against his intellectual position. I’ve searched through four years of Gruber’s industry-leading Apple blog, Daring Fireball. He gives no shits about Chinese workers or Apple’s corporate responsibility. Fact.
John Gruber is a psychotic asshole who must be stopped. Or, I just need to stop listening to his podcast and reading his blog. Probably the latter. But also, partially, the former. I listened to the latest Talk Show (his podcast), and it was the most smug piece of shit conversation I’ve ever heard two people (he and the host, Dan Benjamin) have in the history of me hearing conversations. Like, I literally could not believe it. At one point. Gruber and Benjamin riff on Mike Daisey being like a little four-year-old. And when Gruber talks about the thing that most incenses him, how Daisey has no respect for the truth or his audience (good points) the sniveling Dan Benjamin immediately brings it back to how Daisey hurt Apple so much. Because that’s the big issue here.
I typed up a transcript of the preceding bit, and pasted it at the end. But I just want to examine Gruber’s main argument: that Apple is doing a fine job reporting on and regulating itself and its own supply chain, and that its issues are well-known, and that Mike Daisey’s exaggerations have now put too great an emphasis on its supply chain and manufacturing process.
In a recent blog post Gruber wrote, he also makes an implicit argument (I think) that the media really need not bother with reporting on Apple because, again, their supplier responsibility reports are the best and most accurate source of information:
I can’t find anything reported by the Times that Apple itself hasn’t reported. The Times’s report is more compelling; it adds color and punch and presents its conclusions more powerfully and emotionally through its use of a narrative. But factually, the Times’s reporting gives credence to the scope and accuracy of Apple’s own public reporting.
So let’s take a look at some of these issues. I contend that Gruber only intermittently writes about Apple and China — and almost always to support Apple/Foxconn’s blamelessness for the work conditions. Further, he has devoted much more time and energy to debunking and generally assailing Mike Daisey — who was already debunked and assailed quite publicly on This American Life, did you hear about that? — so… I mean I don’t know why he keeps doing that. For a guy who is against putting too much emphasis on an already well-known public story, he seems to have a real compulsion to emphasize an already well-known public story.
Anyway, here is Gruber’s argument on this morning’s podcast.
I don’t think it’s ridiculous, I don’t think you could have to be seen as a die hard Apple biased booster, to make the argument that given the actual facts that the amount of scrutiny and interest in Apple’s labor and environmental conditions in Asian supply chain was commensurate with the actual problems before Mike Daisey’s story. It’s not like nobody had any interest in these things before Mike Daisey. Apple began publishing its public supplier responsibility reports back in 2007. They certainly didn’t start doing that on their own volition, out of the blue, based on the goodness of their corporate heart. They did that because people were asking questions and reporters were uncovering actual problems.
OK. This seems like a reasonable argument. Until you look at an Apple news site — Daring Fireball, say — and see how much it discussed Apple’s Asian supply chain back in 2007. Hmm… looks like one entry, a linked list post:
Apple Engineers Refer to Chinese Factory as ‘Mordor’
Entry for “send to Mordor” at the Double-Tongued Dictionary:
Hardware techies at Apple are regularly sent from California for intense two-week shifts to the city-sized FoxConn factory in Shenzhen, China where iPods are made and tested. Internally at Apple this is known as “being sent to Mordor.”
I’m sure it’s a lovely place. (Via Kottke.)
Hah! LOL! “I’m sure it’s a lovely place”, he says! That dry wit! Gruber sounds very concerned about Apple’s Asian supply chain here, right? This is some hard-hitting concern about Foxconn manufacturing. I feel like Gruber should win a Peabody and a Pulitzer. Is that possible for a linked list post?
Well, let’s see what sorts of stories before 2007 on Daring Fireball there were. The ones that would have spurred Apple to start making these responsibility reports. What? Nothing but a few posts about Google in China? What about 2005? Oh, there is one post? About manufacturing in China? Great! Let’s see.
The one Apple competitor Fast Company interviewed who seems to get it is Dan Harden, principal at Whipsaw Inc., who designed the Nitrus and Carbon for Rio. He said:
If there’s anything anyone in this field is chasing, it’s Apple’s quality and simplicity. Pick up an iPod, and you get it, you feel it, you sense it. But let’s not forget that these things are made in China. It’s nothing different from what everybody else is doing. The difference is that Apple will spend a lot of time and a lot of money to train quality-control standards. Unlike smaller companies, it can afford to get to the microlevels and really think through how a button feels. As a result, it has made digital audio seem so easy, so fast, so seamless.
This is the major reason behind the iPod’s success: not because it has a lot of buttons, but because it only has a few, and they feel good when you press them.
OH SNAP! Don’t mess with the Gruber or else you get the… praise? So in 2005, Gruber was praising Apple’s Chinese manufacturing… Oh. OK. Eek that looks bad.
Well, let’s look into the future. During the years that Apple was publishing its responsibility surveys. Surely, since Gruber makes the claim that Apple’s public reports are the best source of this news, and therefore obviate the need for outside reporting or inquiry, he must have highlighted these obscure reports.
I already quoted the only 2007 story about Foxconn above (the glib one about it being Mordor).
2009: Gruber calls for Apple to sever its ties to Foxconn if it tortured a man for stealing an iPhone prototype, which torture lead to the man to kill himself! Ballsy stand for Gruber. Huzzah!
Whoops, nevermind. Later, helinks to a story undercutting the account of a Foxconn worker who killed himself (a pro-Foxconn story). No more calls for Apple to sever its ties with Foxconn, or any more inquiry into the subject.
2010: Two stories in the linked lists. The first one:
Foxconn Suicide Rate Significantly Lower Than Chinese Average ★
Perhaps the problem isn’t Foxconn but China. UPDATE: Ends up even China’s reported per-capita suicide rate isn’t all that high.
Are there other Chinese factories of comparable size to Foxconn? If so, are the employee suicide rates significantly different than Foxconn’s?
That’s right, those suicide stories going around a few years ago. Oh, what’s that? A sweet update trying to mitigate the impact of the story. OK…
Here’s the second, a response to his callous update:
I linked to the “hey, Foxconn’s suicide rate sounds high but it’s lower than China’s overall rate” thing not as proof that everything is just fine at Foxconn, but for context. Every suicide is shocking to the non-suicidal. Maybe there really is something profoundly wrong at Foxconn — jumping is indeed a spectacular, gruesome means of suicide — but the rate isn’t as high as some reporting on it would have you believe.
Insanely enough, Gruber doubles down on his “suicide is terrible…. but?” stance. Holy shit that’s impressively callous.
Here’s a story on life at Foxconn, presented without comment. The excerpt he posts does indicate working conditions are more difficult than those in America, but it ends with another bit about how the suicides at Foxconn are basically just great:
When talking about their colleagues’ suicidal jumps, there was often a surprisingly calm reaction, and sometimes even a banter would be made about it, as if they were all outsiders.
Here’s a story Gruber linked to about how the suicides at Foxconn are screwing Foxconn over because it has to pay large settlements to the affected families. Says Gruber:
Malcolm Moore, the Telegraph’s Shanghai correspondent, suggests that Foxconn has painted itself into a tragic corner with its policy of paying large settlements to the families of suicides
This is, again, an impressively callous attitude toward the suicides at Foxconn. Even if they are statistically insignificant, ok. That’s one thing. Talking about how the suicide payouts are harming Foxconn’s bottom line seems a little… unseemly? I think?
All right. Looking ahead, 2011. Ah ha! Finally, Gruber links to Apple’s responsibility report. And… that’s it. He mentions there’s a part on the suicides. No more inquiry. No follow up. No exegesis. No more posts about the report. Nothing.
I’m going to stop here. This not an exhaustive list of his China posts (he linked to a Wired story about Foxconn, but didn’t really comment on it). And I may have missed stuff. I used Google to find these posts. If someone wants to show me all the concerned missives Gruber’s penned from 2007 to 2011 talking about well-known issues like underaged workers at Foxconn, then please, I will update this post immediately!
Gruber clearly does write about some manufacturing issues in China, but I’d say if you look at it honestly, he does more mental work defending Apple and Foxconn than taking them to task. At best, he’s neutral. And I think we can all agree that he posted about the responsibility report once during the 2007 to 2011 span.
What this means to me is that Gruber is a big, fat, psychotic liar. He’s a liar. He is lying. His mind is predicated on defending Apple for whatever it is. All the time. Forever. He’s a psychopathic liar. He doesn’t give a shit about Apple’s supply chain issues at all. He only cares about nailing Mike Daisey to the wall over and over. I don’t know why, other than that Gruber’s whole life and business are predicated on Apple’s success, and I imagine Gruber’s making a lot more money being the leading blogger on the world’s biggest company rather than on an also-ran in the PC wars.
Here’s the stuff I promised, the lead-up to Gruber’s argument at the top, where I just think he and Dan Benjamin are being the most smug assholes on the planet. I’ve typed a transcript because my time is apparently not valuable. I think it’s worth a read.
Gruber, Talk Show 84:
It’s like talking to a child who’s been caught lying.
Like when a child first learns to lie. My son is four, and the other day he said, “Daddy I wasn’t just in your office touching your glasses.” And I’m like, “You weren’t?” And he says, “No I was not.” And I’m like, “OK.”
I can’t get into the mind of someone who has such a callous disregard for the actual truth. It’s so far apart from the work I do and my view of the world and what should be celebrated and what shouldn’t. And to me, above all else, he’s significantly harmed Apple. But Apple’s the biggest company in the world. They can defend themselves. To me the most pathetic aspect is the lack of respect he has for his audience.
How has he harmed Apple?
Well, as I pointed out today there’s a popular petition on Change.org that has over 250,000 online signatures and all of the allegations on this online petition are based on allegations from Mike Daisey that have now been proven to be false. They’re not based on the actual problems, and that was the point of titling my piece “Separating the Baby from the Bath Water”. That there’s nobody, or there should be nobody, saying “Everything is hunky dory over in China at the Foxconnn factories and in Apple’s supply chain. That there are no problems. That they don’t deserve scrutiny. That there’s no public interest to be served in reporting on them, investigating them, and holding Apple’s feet to the fire to continue improving them at a steady clip. Nobody’s saying that. Nobody should be saying that.
But his allegations are so far beyond what everybody else recognizes as the truth that it has, you know, I think it’s one of the top issues that people think about when they think of Apple today.