This American Life retracts Mike Daisey story about Apple factory in China

This American Life | Mike Daisey | Marketplace | Business Insider
This week’s “This American Life” will be devoted to the discovery that “one of our most popular episodes was partially fabricated,” a notice on the show’s website says. The episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” was about monologuist Mike Daisey’s visit to China to see how Apple products were made.

Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz discovered the discrepancies.

For the past year and a half, I’ve reported on Apple’s supply chain in China, where I work as Marketplace’s China Correspondent, based in Shanghai. When I heard Daisey’s story, certain details didn’t sound right. I tracked down Daisey’s Chinese translator to see for myself.

Reached by phone in Shanghai, Schmitz says “This was not an amazing piece of detective work.” He Googled the name of Daisey’s translator and called the first person with that name he found. He interviewed her and brought his work to the attention of his editors, who then alerted “This American Life.”

Schmitz says he subscribes to “This American Life” and was suspicious of a story Daisey told about interviewing workers who’d been poisoned. Schmitz had interviewed some of those workers and knew they lived about a thousand miles from where Daisey visited. “It didn’t make sense to me,” he says. “So there were a lot of points in this monologue that I just didn’t quite understand.”

Schmitz and host Ira Glass interviewed Daisey for this week’s show to uncover what happened.

On his website, Daisey writes, “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.”

In a press release, Glass says the show “should’ve killed the story” after Daisey told staffers there he didn’t know how to get in touch with his translator, who he said had a different name from the one he gave in his monologue. The release goes into the muffed facts:

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.

Business Insider’s Henry Blodget quotes from the transcript of the original show; In it, he writes, Glass said, “When I saw Mike Daisey perform this story on stage, when I left the theater I had a lot of questions. I mean, he’s not a reporter, and I wondered, did he get it right? And so we’ve actually spent a few weeks checking everything that he says in his show.”

“TAL spends ‘a few weeks checking everything’ Mike Daisey said,” Blodget writes, “and it has now retracted the entire episode?”

In a statement attached to the press release, Ira Glass writes, “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.”

“Retraction” will air tonight on WBEZ in Chicago at 8 p.m Central and will stream on the “This American Life” website. It will air on its usual stations over the weekend.

Commentary:

  • “Whatever different license theater has, it’s pretty plain that it surrenders that license when it presents itself as journalism” (James Poniewozik /Time)
  • “Anyone who’s surprised by Daisey’s utter lack of remorse or true introspection is unfamiliar with the works of other fabulists” (Jeff Bercovici/Forbes)
  • “A program like ‘This American Life’ wants to get at the truth, to be sure. But it has an equal loyalty to the facts.” (Erik Wemple/Washington Post)
  • “With the news that he lied about much of what he saw, do the networks owe viewers an update or correction?” (Alex Weprin/TVNewser)

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  • Aryo Banyu Bening
  • Aryo Banyu Bening

    Can you make an article about TOM Sawyer? please :)

  • Billy Budd

    I guess it depends on the size of your target. . . . 

    A New York Times series has already shown Apple’s used child labor, poisoned workers, and made them work ungodly shifts. I suppose Daisey’s fabrications will make people feel it’s OK now to buy the new iPad.

  • Anonymous

    This is a disturbing story. But shouldn’t we be as equally disturbed with the many parts of his story that are true? The “suicide fences” are undeniably and disturbingly true. Apple and itsChinese suppliers still have much for which to answer. 

  • Anonymous

    im sorry. do you know anything about Henry Blodgett and his history? absolutely hilarious to see him being quoted in this story. i mean, not just a little funny. absolutely, uproariously funny. the kind of funny that makes me want to cry. 

    it just goes to show. the big lies are the ones that people get away with. judith millter still has a journalism job – after everything she turned away from during the runup to the iraq invasion.

    and how many journalists who turned the other way during the housing bubble. 

    blodget represents an entire swath of financial ‘journalism’ that is horribly conflicted. im not saying his network is full of it. im just saying. if people held them to the same standards they hold this apple guy to…. 

    but this guy… oh, they will bring the hammer down!