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RETRACTING "MR. DAISEY AND THE APPLE FACTORY"
03.16.2012
Ira writes:
 
I have difficult news. We've learned that Mike Daisey's story about
Apple in China - which we broadcast in January - contained significant
fabrications. We're retracting the story because we can’t vouch for
its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of
Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of
Steve Jobs," in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that
makes iPhones and other Apple products.
 
The China correspondent for the public radio show Marketplace tracked
down the interpreter that Daisey hired when he visited Shenzhen China.
The interpreter disputed much of what Daisey has been saying on stage
and on our show. On this week's episode of This American Life, we will
devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in "Mr. Daisey Goes to
the Apple Factory."
 
Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during
the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That
doesn't excuse the fact that we never should've put this on the air.
In the end, this was our mistake.
 
We're horrified to have let something like this onto public radio.
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. It's trusted by
so many people for good reason. Our program adheres to the same
journalistic standards as the other national shows, and in this case,
we did not live up to those standards.
 
A press release with more details about all this is below. We'll be
posting the audio of the program and the transcript on Friday night
this week, instead of waiting till Sunday.
 
This American Life Retracts Story
Says It Can't Vouch for the Truth of Mike Daisey's Monologue about
Apple in China
 
This American Life and American Public Media’s Marketplace will reveal
that a story first broadcast in January on This American Life
contained numerous fabrications.
 
This American Life will devote its entire program this weekend to
detailing the errors in the story, which was an excerpt of Mike
Daisey's critically acclaimed one-man show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy
of Steve Jobs." In it, Daisey tells how he visited a factory owned by
Foxconn that manufactures iPhones and iPads in Shenzhen China. He has
performed the monologue in theaters around the country; it's currently
at the Public Theater in New York. Tonight’s This American Life
program will include a segment from Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz, and
interviews with Daisey himself. Marketplace will feature a shorter
version of Schmitz's report earlier in the evening.
 
When the original 39-minute excerpt was broadcast on This American
Life on January 6, 2012, Marketplace China Correspondent Rob Schmitz
wondered about its truth. Marketplace had done a lot of reporting on
Foxconn and Apple’s supply chain in China in the past, and Schmitz had
first-hand knowledge of the issues. He located and interviewed
Daisey's Chinese interpreter Li Guifen (who goes by the name Cathy Lee
professionally with westerners). She disputed much of what Daisey has
been telling theater audiences since 2010 and much of what he said on
the radio.
 
During fact checking before the broadcast of Daisey's story, This
American Life staffers asked Daisey for this interpreter's contact
information. Daisey told them her real name was Anna, not Cathy as he
says in his monologue, and he said that the cell phone number he had
for her didn't work any more. He said he had no way to reach her.
 
"At that point, we should've killed the story," says Ira Glass,
Executive Producer and Host of This American Life. "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
(typically the number is 750,000) 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.
 
The same month the episode aired, The New York Times ran a front-page
investigative series about Apple's overseas manufacturing, and there
were news reports about Foxconn workers threatening group suicide in a
protest over their treatment.
 
Faced with all this scrutiny of its manufacturing practices, Apple
announced that for the first time it will allow an outside third party
to audit working conditions at those factories and – for the first
time ever – it released a list of its suppliers.
 
Mike Daisey, meanwhile, became one of the company's most visible and
outspoken critics, appearing on television and giving dozens of
interviews about Apple.
 
Some of the falsehoods found in Daisey's monologue are small ones: the
number of factories Daisey visited in China, for instance, and the
number of workers he spoke with. Others are large. In his monologue he
claims to have met a group of workers who were poisoned on an iPhone
assembly line by a chemical called n-hexane. Apple's audits of its
suppliers show that an incident like this occurred in a factory in
China, but the factory wasn’t located in Shenzhen, where Daisey
visited.
 
"It happened nearly a thousand miles away, in a city called Suzhou,"
Marketplace’s Schmitz says in his report. "I’ve interviewed these
workers, so I knew the story. And when I heard Daisey’s monologue on
the radio, I wondered: How’d they get all the way down to Shenzhen? It
seemed crazy, that somehow Daisey could’ve met a few of them during
his trip."
 
In Schmitz's report, he confronts Daisey and Daisey admits to
fabricating these characters.
 
"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."
 
Daisey's interpreter Cathy also disputes two of the most dramatic
moments in Daisey's story: that he met underage workers at Foxconn,
and that a man with a mangled hand was injured at Foxconn making iPads
(and that Daisey's iPad was the first one he ever saw in operation).
Daisey says in his monologue:
 
He's never actually seen one on, this thing that took his hand. I turn
it on, unlock the screen, and pass it to him. He takes it. The icons
flare into view, and he strokes the screen with his ruined hand, and
the icons slide back and forth. And he says something to Cathy, and
Cathy says, "he says it's a kind of magic." Cathy Lee tells Schmitz
that nothing of the sort occurred.
 
"In our original broadcast, we fact checked all the things that Daisey
said about Apple's operations in China," says Glass, "and those parts
of his story were true, except for the underage workers, who are rare.
We reported that discrepancy in the original show. But with this
week’s broadcast, we're letting the audience know that too many of the
details about the people he says he met are in dispute for us to stand
by the story. I suspect that many things that Mike Daisey claims to
have experienced personally did not actually happen, but listeners can
judge for themselves."
 
"It was completely wrong for me to have it on your show," Daisey tells
Glass on the program, "and that's something I deeply regret." He also
expressed his regret to "the people who are listening, the audience of
This American Life, who know that it is a journalism enterprise, if
they feel betrayed."
 
This American Life and its home station WBEZ Chicago had been planning
a live presentation of Daisey's monologue on stage at the Chicago
Theatre on April 7th, with Glass leading a Q&A afterwards. That show
will be cancelled and all tickets will be refunded.
 
This American Life episode will air on WBEZ at 8pm EST/7pm CST tonight
and will also be available to stream and download on
thisamericanlife.org at that time. It can be heard on public radio
stations around the country this weekend.
 
For media inquiries for This American Life, please contact Emily
Condon at This American Life: emily@thislife.org
 
For listener comments to This American Life: web@thislife.org
 
For media inquiries directed to Marketplace, please contact Bill Gray
at American Public Media: 651-734-8239
 
This American Life is produced by WBEZ Chicago and distributed by
Public Radio International.

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