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“This American Life” says report on Apple labor “partially fabricated”

Updated. The radio program This American Life on Friday posted a note on its website retracting a previous episode of the show in which monologist Mike Daisey described the working conditions in factories in China that produce Apple’s most popular devices, saying it “was partially fabricated.”

The show’s website says Daisey “misled This American Life during the fact-checking process.”

Update: Chicago Public Media, which produces the program, said after checking with Daisey’s interpreter in China, that two of the most dramatic moments from Daisey’s reporting were fabricated: that he met underage workers in Foxconn factories and that he met met a man with a hand mangled from working on iPads.

The show’s press representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A link to a new report from American Public Media’s Marketplace describing the error-riddled This American Life episode is online now. In it, Marketplace China correspondent Rob Schmitz questions Daisey about the fabrications.

On his own blog, Daisey posted a statement standing by his work, but admitting that he is “not a journalist”:

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.

Chicago Public Media released a detailed account of the misrepresentations and inaccuracies found in Daisey’s report. In addition to lying about the number of factories in China that he visited, and the number of workers he talked to, he also misled the program about particular people he talked to:

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 the Marketplace interview, Daisey reportedly tells Schmitz, “I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard.”

Despite Daisey’s fabrications of people he talked to, there has been plenty of other reporting on the working conditions at Foxconn and other factories in China. The New York Times published a series in January, near the same time the This American Life episode aired, with independently reported accounts demonstrating the human costs associated with the large-scale manufacturing of iPhones, iPads and other consumer electronics devices.

Update: The New York Times on Friday has corrected an op-ed by Daisey the paper published after Steve Jobs’ death in October.

Update: This American Life has released the transcript for “Retraction,” its episode devoted entirely to figuring out what went wrong with its involvement with Daisey.

19 Responses to ““This American Life” says report on Apple labor “partially fabricated””

  1. richsadams

    Mark Daisey is a liar. He’s spent a good part of his professional life lying and making money at it. He has no moral compass other than the one that points to his wallet. He should not get a pass by John Biggs or anyone else. He should be a man, step up and admit that he lied. Then he should STOP LYING!

  2. And yet, despite this, the anti-Apple brigade is largely unapologetic, now defaulting to the NY Times piece as its savior.

    Here’s another lie that needs correcting: that the NY Times piece somehow pressured Apple into allowing FLA independent audits.

    Apple releases its supplier report January 13, 2012. On Page 3 of the report, they announce that the FLA will begin independent audits. Presumably when you announce something like this, it has been planned for months.

    NY Times release part 1 of the iEconomy series on January 21, 2012.

    So why are journalists still repeating this notion that Apple only acted because of the scrutiny of the NY Times? Apple was ALREADY acting.

    I guess, “Apple the only company to improve worker conditions in China year after year” and “Apple the only company to release its supplier report to the public year after year” doesn’t conform to the iHater agenda, eh?

  3. I would be very angry if I were one of those protestors in front of Apple Stores today. :P It’s amazing how easily people are steered with media fabrication of facts

  4. Funny how so many people are willing to defend Daisey because he is somehow an “artist in pursuit of the truth.” Let’s forget the fact that telling the truth requires people to not tell lies, or to fool people into thinking they are not telling tells.

    So many people accept anti-Apple propaganda without questioning the motives of the propagandist. It’s clear that Mike Daisey was only in it to promote his name and make bucks selling tickets.

    Even now, you see so many “journalists” report how the NY Times piece forced Apple into the FLA audits, when Apple announced the FLA audits WEEKS BEFORE as part of the supplier report it independently released.

    Journalists can’t even get this basic fact right because it’s not being repeated by other journalists.

  5. The WHOLE truth would name the people/business entities who made this possible. This was not just Mike Daisy. This was part of a major anti-Apple propaganda effort (NYTimes etc.) that probably cost hundreds of millions of dollar$$.

  6. “What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism.”

    That sentence should read: “The tools of professional anti-Apple propaganda are not the same as the tools of journalism.”

    • What? Did Daisey say Apple pressured him to lie about meeting 12 year old workers outside Foxconn’s gates? Did Apple’s lawyers pressure Daisey into writing how guards with guns kept workers in line?

      Ah, yes, that must be the great power of lawyers you are walking about, convincing an actor to lie to news reporters about saying bad things about the company the lawyers themselves work for!

    • Liberals like yourself and miss ‘krisaacs’ above are exactly the gullible people like Daisey loves. Who cares about facts? If it ‘raises awareness’ facts be damned.
      I have personal knowledge of three separate news stories reported by the liberal press. Each had blatant and egregious errors in them, but none were corrected. How many more falsehoods do not get caught? Who knows.

  7. krisaacs

    Wow. I was totally captivated by that episode. He certainly achieved what he aimed for – making that personal connection – but it’s a shame that the whole story will be discounted because he wasn’t upfront about the facts.

  8. SpatulaMinus

    “…why he misled This American Life during the fact-checking process.” NPR should independently fact check; that’s what fact checking is. I can see it now, “Are you telling us the truth? OK, that’s been fact checked.”