Popular public radio show This American Life is retracting an episode it aired back in January which condemned major electronics companies Apple and Foxconn. The retraction follows a revelation that the episode’s chief source, Mike Daisey, invented and embellished facts cited on the program.
This American Life’s creator and host announced the retraction in a blog post today, citing “significant fabrications” discovered in the story. The program’s host notes that the story was not commissioned by This American Life, but rather was an excerpt of Daisey’s (a performance artist) one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” In the show, Daisey tells how he visited a factory owned by Foxconn that manufactures iPhones and iPads in Shenzhen China. His show highlights a number of labor and human rights violations he encountered in visits to Apple factories.
Glass noted that Daisey lied to him and producer Brian Reed during pre-broadcast fact-checking, but he was quick to accept responsibility for airing the show. “That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake,” he wrote. As a part of the retraction, this week’s episode of his show will include an entire hour dedicated to detailing the errors of “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory.”
“We’re horrified to have let something like this onto public radio,” Glass continued, “Many dedicated reporters and editors – our friends and colleagues – have worked for years to build the reputation for accuracy and integrity that the journalism on public radio enjoys.”
“[W]e should’ve killed the story,” remarked the host, in reference to a fact-checking incident in which Daisey claimed he was no longer able to reach his Chinese translator, “But other things Daisey told us about Apple’s operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him. We didn’t think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story. That was a mistake.”
The response to the original episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” was significant. It quickly became the single most popular podcast in This American Life’s history, with 888,000 downloads (more than 130,000 more than the average) and 206,000 streams to date. After hearing the broadcast, listener Mark Shields started a petition calling for better working conditions for Apple’s Chinese workers, and soon delivered almost a quarter-million signatures to Apple. As a consequence of the scrutiny, Apple announced its plan to allow for the first time a third-party auditor to review working conditions at the company’s manufacturing plants. It also released a list of its suppliers.
Daisey was found out in part by American Public Media’s Marketplace China Correspondent Rob Schmitz, who noticed inconsistencies in his own journalistic experiences and Daisey’s claims. Schmitz developed extensive first-hand knowledge of the issues surrounding Apple and Foxconn’s manufacturing practices while reporting for Marketplace. A report by Schmitz will be included in this weekend’s This American Life. In it, Schmitz confronts Daisey and Daisey admits to fabricating events and characters. He also expresses regret:
“I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard,” Daisey tells Schmitz and Glass. “My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it’s not journalism. It’s theater.”
Glass announced that both and audio download and a transcript of the program will be available online Friday night. The show typically airs on Sunday.
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