The unanswered questions about ‘This American Life’ and journalism

It’s rare for a program to dedicate an entire episode to retracting a previous episode and to issue a press release explaining why. “This American Life” has put time and resources into retracting “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory.”

But just as the vetting process for the episode didn’t manage to reveal the true story of Mike Daisey’s trip to China, the retraction itself leaves many unanswered questions. The show dissects Daisey’s lies, but says little about the editorial process at “This American Life.”

Ira Glass admitted that airing the initial Daisey program was “a screwup” and that they “should’ve killed” it when Daisey didn’t provide a way to reach his translator. Glass explained that a producer spent days talking to Daisey via phone and email, “spoke with 13 people who are knowledgeable about Apple or about electronics manufacturing in China,” and read related reports. Read more


4 important truths about Mike Daisey’s lies & the way ‘This American Life’ told them

Fact checking is a real process, but what “This American Life” did wasn’t fact checking.

When the news broke that “This American Life” was retracting the episode “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory,” Ira Glass made an effort to be clear that the show has verification standards, but that they fell short in this instance.

The press release about the retraction show referenced the “fact checking before the broadcast of Daisey’s story” and the original show included this from Glass:

This process of fact checking took days with long emails and conversations with Mike. Brian [Reed] spoke with 13 people who are knowledgeable about Apple or about electronics manufacturing in China. He combed through Apple’s own reports about worker’s conditions, he combed through reports by watchdog groups.

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Slate retracts story it says didn’t meet verification, fairness standards

Hat tip to the folks at the great Retraction Watch blog for spotting this notable Slate retraction from Wednesday night:

On Feb. 17, 2012, Slate published an article titled “The Celltex Affair: An Ethics Scandal Strikes the World of Bioethics.” Because of shortcomings in the editorial process, the article did not meet Slate’s standards for verification and fairness and should not have been published. We withdraw the article and apologize to Dr. Glenn McGee.

McGee is a well known bioethicist who has been the subject of many press reports. (He’s often described as controversial.) Late Wednesday night McGee confirmed on Twitter he had resigned from his post at Celltex Therapeutics as of February 28. Retraction Watch has more background, which is helpful since Slate unpublished the offending piece and replaced it with the editor’s note. Read more


Dominion Post retracts story that ignored ‘basic principles of reporting’:

On January 30 we ran a story about a 17-year-old Pakistani woman who claimed she had been forced into marriage and held hostage by her ex-husband and his family in Newtown, Wellington.

The story relied on a detailed account from the woman herself that was supported by ethnic women’s support organisation Shakti. We subsequently received information, visual evidence and other material from the ex- husband and his family, which casts considerable doubt over the woman’s allegations.

The Dominion Post acknowledges that some basic principles of reporting were not adhered to and it retracts the woman’s allegations.

The Dominion Post apologises to the ex-husband and his family for any embarrassment and humiliation the story may have caused them.

Dominion Post


Marketplace, KQED explain how fabricated commentary got on the air

KQED, a public radio station based in San Francisco, has for 13 years been publishing first person commentaries under the Perspectives banner. The NPR member station airs roughly 250 Perspectives a year, and KQED communications director Scott Walton said this week marks the first time they’ve ever had to retract one.

As detailed in my previous post, a Perspectives commentary that aired on KQED January 11 — and subsequently was re-aired by American Public Media’s Marketplace on Monday — turned out to have included fraudulent claims. The man in question, Leo Webb, said he was a former Army sniper with 17 kills, and a former minor league pitcher to boot. Neither KQED nor Marketplace were able to confirm those details after suspicion was raised by comments on both of their sites and by at least two blogs. Read more


‘Marketplace’ retracts commentary from man who claimed to be an Army sniper, baseball player

American Public Media’s “Marketplace” program has retracted a commentary it aired this week from a man who’s been camping out at Occupy Oakland and claimed to be an ex-Army sniper.

Leo Webb’s commentary, “Returning veteran has few marketable skills,” said he had 17 confirmed kills in Iraq and was once a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs Double A club. (The post was tagged with the phrase “My Life Is True.”) Neither his Army service nor his claim about the Cubs was true. Here’s the editor’s note now posted to the site:

Editor’s Note: A commentary by Leo Webb, ”Returning veteran has few marketable skills,” prompted questions from listeners about Webb’s account of his service as an Army sniper in Iraq. A subsequent investigation found that the Army has no record of Webb.

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