One of my favorite radio programs, This American Life, has retracted a previous show highly critical of the manufacturing done in China by Apple’s suppliers. The show was based on a show written and performed by Mike Daisey, who is critical of Apple. The show was the most popular online episode in TAL history, with 888,000 downloads and 206,000 streams. And it is also the most popular podcast ever downloaded in iTunes.
From a statement posted on the This American Life website by Ira Glass:
I have difficult news. We’ve learned that Mike Daisey’s story about Apple in China – which we broadcast in January – contained significant fabrications. We’re retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey’s acclaimed one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.
The China correspondent for the public radio show Marketplace tracked down the interpreter that Daisey hired when he visited Shenzhen China. The interpreter disputed much of what Daisey has been saying on stage and on our show. On this week’s episode of This American Life, we will devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory.”
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.
The full statement is worth a read and I assume that this week’s episode will be important to listen to. The seriousness with which This American Life is dealing with this discovery shows real integrity on the part of Ira Glass.
Daisey’s response, which seems to admit that what he says is not always factually acccurate:
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.
This sounds more like an admission of falsehood than a claim of truth.
Update: Here is the story from Marketplace, the PRI program that discovered the truth.
On Friday afternoon, the New York Times removed a paragraph from an opinion piece Mr. Daisey had written for the paper’s website. The paragraph recounted a story from Mr. Daisey’s monologue, in which he met a man with a hand “permanently curled into a claw”—an account that “This American Life” said was also false.
“We asked him questions and talked about his travel. We took him at his word,” said Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy. The Times, which had separately published a series of its own articles about Apple’s factories, said it stood by those. “We do something very different. Our standard is a journalistic one.”
Update 3: From the original This American Life program transcript Ira Glass says:
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.
So much for checking. Marketplace did the real checking.
Update 4: Whatever the truth, customers continue to flock to iPads with today’s launch.
Update 5: This is what the New York Times says about an op-ed penned by Daisey that it published on October 6, 2011, the day after Steve Jobs died.
Questions have been raised about the truth of a paragraph in the original version of this article that purported to talk about conditions at Apple’s factory in China. That paragraph has been removed from this version of the article.
“Questions have been raised”? No questions have not been raised, Mike Daisey has admitted he lied for dramatic effect. Whenever the New York Times lapses into the passive tense, you know they are backtracking yet refuse to acknowledge the truth. The fact is that questions have not been raised. Rather, falsehoods have been discovered.