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This American Life' Retracts Entire Episode About Working Conditions at Apple Supplier Factory in China
AP

This American Life' Retracts Entire Episode About Working Conditions at Apple Supplier Factory in China

"we never should've put this on the air."

The weekly public radio program "This American Life" on Friday announced it was retracting its entire story about the working conditions in an Apple supplier factory in China.

The story, "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory," followed actor and writer Mike Daisey's visit to the Foxconn factory where his iPhone was made and the poor working conditions he supposedly encountered there. Adapted from Daisey's one-man theatrical show, "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," the story made headlines when it aired in January and was followed by a wave of coverage about Apple's working practices.

"We're horrified to have let something like this onto public radio," program host Ira Glass said in a blog post. The story "contained significant fabrications. We're retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth."

The episode, which the show said was the single most popular podcast in the history of "This American Life," featured Daisey's account of meeting mistreated workers, relying on a translator to communicate with them. In a later interview, the blog post said, an NPR correspondent for a separate radio program spoke with the translator, who disputed much of what Daisey had said.

The exact discrepancies will be detailed during the show's next program, where it will spend a full hour on the retraction:

Some of the falsehoods found in Daisey's monologue are small ones: the number of factories Daisey visited in China, for instance, and the number of workers he spoke with. Others are large. 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.

[...]

Daisey's interpreter Cathy also disputes two of the most dramatic moments in Daisey's story: that he met underage workers at Foxconn, and that a man with a mangled hand was injured at Foxconn making iPads (and that Daisey's iPad was the first one he ever saw in operation). Daisey says in his monologue:

He's never actually seen one on, this thing that took his hand. I turn it on, unlock the screen, and pass it to him. He takes it. The icons flare into view, and he strokes the screen with his ruined hand, and the icons slide back and forth. And he says something to Cathy, and Cathy says, "he says it's a kind of magic."

Cathy Lee tells [NPR's "Marketplace" correspondent Rob] Schmitz that nothing of the sort occurred.

Responding to the decision by "This American Life" to retract the episode, Daisey said he stands by his work and that is show "is a theatrical piece":

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. 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.

The New York Times detailed some of the circumstances surrounding the original Jan. 6 broadcast:

Mr. Glass acknowledged the risk inherent in repurposing a monologue. “When I saw Mike Daisey perform this story on stage, when I left the theater I had a lot of questions,” he told listeners. “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.”

Over a dozen people were contacted in the fact-checking process, Mr. Glass said, including “journalists who cover these factories, people who work with the electronics industry in China, activists, labor groups.”

And “nobody,” he said, “seemed very surprised” by the working conditions described by Mr. Daisey.

In the end, Glass said Friday, "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."

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