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

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Mike Daisey performing
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.