The public radio program This American Life has retracted one of its most popular episodes, a January 6 show about labor conditions in factories belonging to Foxconn in China, where workers assemble the iPhone and iPad. As TAL host Ira Glass writes on the show’s blog today, all of this week’s episode — under the title “Retraction” — will be about the original TAL episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” which included portions of ”The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” a one-man theatrical show by actor Mike Daisey. But the January 6 episode “contained significant fabrications” which came to light after Rob Schmitz, China correspondent for Marketplace, another radio program, spoke to the same Chinese translator that Daisey had and learned that the translator disputed some of Daisey’s details.
“Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” was TAL’s most popular online episode ever, with 888,000 downloads and 206,000 streams. To learn that Daisey “embroidered on the truth” — fabricated some of his story — is both disappointing and disturbing. Daisey apparently conflated and recombined facts about Foxconn factories and workers in his TAL episode. For instance, Daisey said that he said he had met workers in the southern city of Shenzhen who had been poisoned by n-hexane; as Tech Crunch says, such poisoning “no doubt” occurred but in Suzhou, thousands of miles away and a place Daisey had not visited.
More jarring discrepancies arose in regard to Daisey’s Chinese translator. As Glass writes, during the fact-checking process before airing Daisey’s episode,
“’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 cellphone number he had for her didn’t work any more. He said he had no way to reach her.”
Glass says that “at that point, we should’ve killed the story”; they did not because other aspects of Daisey’s account about the factories “checked out.” Glass asserts that Daisey “lied” to him and to Brian Reed, a producer of the program, while emphasizing that it was TAL’s mistake to air Daisey’s episode. The questions about the translator’s name and contact information should have been sufficient to cancel it back in early January.
Another story — which Daisey also recounted in an op-ed in the New York Times last October — described him meeting a worker in southern China ”whose right hand was permanently curled into a claw from being smashed in a metal press at Foxconn, where he worked assembling Apple laptops and iPads.” Daisey said that he showed the man his iPad and that the man “gasped because he’d never seen one turned on,” then “stroked” the screen and told Daisey’s translator “‘it’s a kind of magic.’” This story is simply “bogus,” says Ars Technica; the New York Times editorial staff has removed the paragraph about the man with the deformed hand from Daisey’s op-ed and added a note about “questions” being raised about the story’s veracity.
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