The wildly popular US podcast This American Life has retracted the story by monolinguist Mike Daisey in which he details abuses by the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen which manufactures Apple products based on interviews with employees he claims to have met. To listen to the mp3 of “Retraction”, This American Life’s episode dealing with Daisey’s deception, click here.
In the press release from This American Life:
This American Life and American Public Media’s Marketplace will reveal that a story first broadcast in January on This American Life contained numerous fabrications.
This American Life will devote its entire program this weekend to detailing the errors in the story, which was an excerpt of Mike Daisey’s critically acclaimed one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” In it, Daisey tells how he visited a factory owned by Foxconn that manufactures iPhones and iPads in Shenzhen China. He has performed the monologue in theaters around the country; it’s currently at the Public Theater in New York. Tonight’s This American Life program will include a segment from Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz, and interviews with Daisey himself. Marketplace will feature a shorter version of Schmitz’s report earlier in the evening.
When the original 39-minute excerpt was broadcast on This American Life on January 6, 2012, Marketplace China Correspondent Rob Schmitz wondered about its truth. Marketplace had done a lot of reporting on Foxconn and Apple’s supply chain in China in the past, and Schmitz had first-hand knowledge of the issues. He located and interviewed Daisey’s Chinese interpreter Li Guifen (who goes by the name Cathy Lee professionally with westerners). She disputed much of what Daisey has been telling theater audiences since 2010 and much of what he said on the radio.
During fact checking before the broadcast of Daisey’s story, This American Life staffers asked Daisey for this interpreter’s contact information. Daisey told them her real name was Anna, not Cathy as he says in his monologue, and he said that the cell phone number he had for her didn’t work any more. He said he had no way to reach her.
“At that point, we should’ve killed the story,” says Ira Glass, Executive Producer and Host of This American Life. “But other things Daisey told us about Apple’s operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him. We didn’t think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story. That was a mistake.”
How did something like this go on air? Ira Glass explains in a separate comment accompanying the press release:
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.
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.
Excellent reporting by Rob Schmitz of Marketplace precipitated the retraction by This American Life. He went down to Shenzhen to speak with Daisey’s interpreter:
Cathy Lee, Daisey’s translator in Shenzhen, was with Daisey at this meeting in Shenzhen. I met her in the exact place she took Daisey—the gates of Foxconn. So I asked her: “Did you meet people who fit this description?”
“No,” she said.
“So there was nobody who said they were poisoned by hexane?” I continued.
Lee’s answer was the same: “No. Nobody mentioned the Hexane.”
I pressed Cathy to confirm other key details that Daisey reported. Did the guards have guns when you came here with Mike Daisey? With each question I got the same answer from Lee. “No,” or “This is not true.”
Daisey claims he met underage workers at Foxconn. He says he talked to a man whose hand was twisted into a claw from making iPads. He describes visiting factory dorm rooms with beds stacked to the ceiling. But Cathy says none of this happened.
And later he confronts Mike Daisey with what he found:
Rob Schmitz: Cathy says you did not talk to workers who were poisoned with hexane.
Mike Daisey: That’s correct.
RS: So you lied about that? That wasn’t what you saw?
MD: I wouldn’t express it that way.
RS: How would you express it?
MD: I would say that I wanted to tell a story that captured the totality of my trip.
Ira Glass: Did you meet workers like that? Or did you just read about the issue?
MD: I met workers in, um, Hong Kong, going to Apple protests who had not been poisoned by hexane but had known people who had been, and it was a constant conversation among those workers.
IG: So you didn’t meet an actual worker who’d been poisoned by hexane.
MD: That’s correct.
And the final kicker from Mike Daisey:
“Look. I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work. My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism. And it’s not journalism. It’s theater.”
Audio report by Rob Schmitz: