This American Life Retracts Foxconn Episode, Says It Was “Partially Fabricated”

This American Life Retracts Foxconn Episode, Says It Was “Partially Fabricated”

Mike Daisey performing "The Agony & Ecstasy Of Steve Jobs"

This American Life‘s January episode “Mr. Daisey Goes To The Apple Factory” was the show’s most popular episode in history, racking up over one million downloads and setting off a chain reaction of reports that eventually resulted in Apple ordering an independent audit of working conditions in its supply change.

The titular Mr. Daisey has been covered exhaustively by Cult of Mac. He is probably best known outside of his NPR appearance as the man behind the one-man show “The Agony & Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”, which Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak wept at.

Unfortunately, Daisey’s integrity and honesty are being called into question after This American Life took the unprecedented step of retracting the episode earlier today,

On their part, This American Life is claiming that Daisey lied to them repeatedly, and have deemed the episode “partially inaccurate.” Host and producer Ira Glass wrote:

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.

Why the change of heart? Apparently, NPR radio staffer and Marketplace China correspondent Rob Schmitz heard This American Life’s report after it aired, and noticed some glaring discrepancies, most notably the fact that at one point, Daisey claimed to have met workers poisoned by n-hexane in Shenzhen when the poisoning in question took place a thousand miles away. Schmitz then got in contact with Daisey’s interpreter, who proceeded to contradict a large portion of Daisey’s report.

Daisey’s defense? He says he wasn’t trying to be a journalist, objectively reporting facts, but instead capture the truth theatrically.

On his blog, Daisey writes:

“This American Life” has raised questions about the adaptation of AGONY/ECSTASY we created for their program. Here is my response:

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. 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.

When reached by Cult of Mac, Daisey said he would have no further comment.

NPR will be airing an episode of This American Life later this week in which Schmitz goes over the falsities in their original report in detail. The episode will air Sunday, and we will be sure to let you know as soon as it’s available for download.

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  • Killer_Kadoogan

    I’m sure this will get just as much coverage in the media as the original bogus claims.

    There may be sarcasm contained in the above sentence.

  • Andy Murdock

    If he is not a journalist and is fabricating facts to enhance a theatrical experience, then he should do as Orson Wells did and fabricate a character that is like Steve Jobs, but with a fictitious name. He is now talking about real people fabricated facts.

  • pdxuser

    This American Life is not NPR, it’s Public Radio International, a completely separate operation.

  • Eric

     Daisy may not be a journalist, and admits he isn’t.  But his “dramatization” of his accounts are not based, but rather HAVE actual facts in them.  He just dressed his presentation of the facts to make it more entertaining to listen to.  C’mon, who would sit there and listen to one news for almost an hour.  Fact remains, what his story telling contained were facts, and his own accounts during his visits.  He just didn’t tell it in the traditional journalistic style.  Call him creative.

  • TheMacAdvocate

    So *cough* Leander: anything to add to this? 

  • TheMacAdvocate

    I didn’t see the /s at the end of your comment. Perhaps you forgot.

  • Snapper Morgan

    You may want to read the article again and then one more time before you characterize him in this way. He actually fabricated stories and told lies to This American Life. We’re not talking about his show. That can be a big pile of poo and still I would support him and this creative license. Its when he presented his source material as “fact” that he crossed the line.

    Let me give you a for instance. If Andrew Loyd Webber went to the Guardian and gave an exclusive interview on how he interviewed the Phantom on his visit to the famous Paris Opera house and made up lots of stories about this fictional character, and told the newspaper it was all true, then he was lying. Doesn’t change the fact that his show is wonderful and creative and a work of art, but he’s still a liar about meeting the real Phantom of the Opera.

  • Eric

    Have you heard the story from The American Life, in it’s entirety?  Have you read the articles posted about conditions at Foxconn from all the other News Media?  There isn’t really that much discrepancy.  Daisy even admitted that his story wasn’t meant to be journalism.  It was a story.  Not about Apple, or any other tech company, but Foxconn (and not any particular plant at that) and the conditions of employees working for them in making many of the electronic products many of us use.  From DVD players, to HDTVs, to smartphones and tablets.  Whether poisoning happened in a Foxconn plant 1000 miles away, or the plant he visited.  Or whether the interpreter and him miscommunicated 12 people in a little dorm room for 20, and so on.  It doesn’t take away the facts that working conditions at Foxconn plants are below standard.  That employees are hired from poor provinces of China as cheap labor, because none of them would ever complain.  A job is better than no job.  Forget about details of where what happened, and who it happened to.  It HAPPENED.  And it happened in Foxconn plants.  That’s the point being made.  The only “lie” to this story, if at that, is the glamorization of it.  But as Daisy mentioned, it’s not suppose to be journalism, its a STORY.  Stories aren’t meant to be boring and mundane.  Dramatic licensing isn’t exactly lying.  No more than how some journalistic news embellish headlines and actual events of the news.  ie. News about “Bear Charges At On Lookers”.  Where in fact, as the video shows, it just ran towards them, and stopped a fair distance away and turned back.  Hardly “charging”.

  • Len Williams

    Crud. If you title your theatrical piece “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” and then distort facts or make them up, it still reflects on Steve and on Apple, and people will believe what you’re saying is true. There is a huge difference in making something entertaining and outright distorting reality. Steve Jobs was frequently accused of having a reality distortion field. I think this title should belong to Mike Daisey. His distortion of reality is for his own benefit to make his show dramatic, and in doing so has created an unwarranted storm of protest against Apple. Whatever you call it, you have to be responsible for the effects you create.

  • Alex


     Steve Jobs was frequently accused of having a reality distortion field. I think this title should belong to Mike Daisey.”

    Somehow I suspect that Daisey’s reality distortion field is much smaller … 

  • Cathy Pierce

    And based on all your shitty comments here, i suspect that your distortion field is even greater….

  • Alex

    I don’t know,  I’m pretty reality based even if it doesn’t favor me …. I like Apple, I’m just not Cool Aid drinker.
    But I am glad you took the time to read my comments : )

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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