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‘This American Life’: Our damning Apple-Foxconn show was ‘partially fabricated’

Weekly public radio program “This American Life” announced today that it is retracting an entire recent episode about Apple’s supply chain factories in China because the episode contains “significant fabrications,” according to host Ira Glass. The highly popular episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” was primarily based on information from playwright Mike Daisey, who performs a one-man show, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in which he condemns deplorable working conditions at a Foxconn factory in China where iPads and iPhones are made. Some of Daisey’s details, however, turn out to be entirely made up.

“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,” writes Glass on the show’s blog. “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.”

In his show, a portion of which was broadcast in the “This American Life” episode, which aired on January 6, Daisey talks about meeting Foxconn workers outside the factory, and says they told him about poor working conditions. During a later interview with Rob Schmitz, host of another show, “Marketplace,” Daisey’s interpreter disputes Daisey’s claims that he met an underage Foxconn worker, as well as a man who severely injured his hand while making an iPad – who Daisey says he showed his iPad to, the first the man had supposedly ever seen on.

“What makes this a little complicated is that the things Daisey lied about are things that have actually happened in China: Workers making Apple products have been poisoned by Hexane,” said Schmitz in his show. “Apple’s own audits show 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.”

mike daiseyFollowing Glass’ announcement, Daisey (right) responded on his blog, saying, “I stand by my work.”

“What I do is not journalism,” writes Daisey. “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.”

“This American Life” will devote its entire show this weekend to explaining the discrepancies in its original program about Daisey and Apple’s supply chain factories. And this time, says Glass, they will get every detail right.

“In our original broadcast, we fact checked all the things that Daisey said about Apple’s operations in China,” said Glass in a statement, “ and those parts of the story are 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.”