'This American Life' Has Retracted Its Foxconn Story

This American Life has retracted "Mike Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory," the story that arguably started the recent spate of articles examining Apple manufacturer Foxconn, because a Marketplace reporter discovered Daisey had lied about the facts.

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This American Life has retracted "Mike Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory," the story that arguably started the recent spate of articles examining Apple manufacturer Foxconn, because a Marketplace reporter discovered Daisey had lied about the facts. Chicago Public Media, which produces This American Life has a statement outlining the problems with the story, and Daisey has posted a statement of his own on his blog, which we picked up via Business Insider.

CPM says Daisey told its producers that he didn't have contact information for the interpreter he used while researching the story. But Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz tracked her down after he recognized the names of people he'd interviewed for his own reporting, 1,000 miles away in a city called Suzhou. "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," Schmitz said, according to the statement. This American Life staffers asked Daisey for his interpreter's contact information, the CPM statement says, but he told them her cell phone didn't work, and he gave an incorrect name.

"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."

(Update, 1:53 p.m. EST: You can listen to Schmitz's full report at Marketplace's website. Marketplace is produced by American Public Media, and carried on public radio stations. A previous version of this story mistakenly identified it as a production of National Public Radio.)

Daisey, for his part, says his work was one of theater, not journalism, and the mistake was his for allowing This American Life to broadcast it as the latter. His statement is a lot shorter than CPM's so we'll post it in full:

"This American Life" has raised questions about the adaptation of AGONY/ECSTASY [Daisey's monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs] we created for their program. Here is my response:

I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out.

What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic ­- not a theatrical ­- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret. I am proud that my work seems to have sparked a growing storm of attention and concern over the often appalling conditions under which many of the high-tech products we love so much are assembled in China.

Update, 2:32 p.m. EST: We've reached out to Daisey for comment and have yet to hear back from him. But he did speak with Schmitz and Glass, who pressed him on apparent misrepresentations in his story. CPM's statement points to falsehoods both small and large. It says Daisey did not tell the truth about the number of factories he visited, and the number of workers he spoke with.

In Schmitz's report, Daisey acknowledges he lied about key details in the piece, notably the worker he claims to have talked to who was poisoned by the neurotoxin N-hexane he said Foxconn used as a screen cleaner. Daisey admitted to Glass and Schmitz that he had not talked to any such worker. He said: "I met workers in, um, Hong Kong, going to Apple protests who had not been poisoned by hexane but had known people who had been, and it was a constant conversation among those workers." That illustrates a point Schmitz makes later: That some of the stuff Daisey lied about actually could be true -- just not in the way Daisey described it in his piece. Schmitz wrote: "Workers making Apple products have been poisoned by Hexane. Apple’s own audits show (PDF) the company has caught underage workers at a handful of its suppliers. These things are rare, but together, they form an easy-to-understand narrative about Apple." And that's what Daisey was going for.

Update, 2:43 p.m. EST: Daisey's publicist emailed to say the statement on his blog is the extent of what he's saying right now.

Update, 3:02 p.m. EST: Daisey's performance of The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, on which the This American Life segment was based, will go on as planned this weekend at New York City's Public Theater, a representative there said. The theater's aware of the new controversy over the story. But a planned April 7 performance of the show at the Chicago Theater, after which Glas had planned to host a question and answer session, has been canceled.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.