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This American Life: excerpts from the Mike Daisey program retraction

As everybody on the blogosphere now knows, This American Life has retracted its radio version of Mike Daisey’s dramatic recreation of his visit to an Apple iPhone factory in China.

“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,” This American Life host Ira Glass says. “That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.”

Daisey’s response:

“I stand by my work,” he declares. “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.”

Here are some excerpts of the rush transcript of the This American Life retraction program:

We did factcheck the story before we put it on the radio. But in factchecking, our main concern was whether the things Mike says about Apple and about its supplier Foxconn which makes this stuff, were true. That stuff is true. It’s been corroborated by independent investigations by other journalists, studies by advocacy groups, and much of it has been corroborated by Apple itself in its own audit reports.

But what’s not true is what Mike said about his own trip to China.

As best as we can tell, Mike’s monologue in reality is a mix of things that actually happened when he visited China and things that he just heard about or researched, which he then pretends that he witnessed first hand. He pretends that he just stumbled upon an array of workers who typify all kinds of harsh things somebody might face in a factory that makes iPhones and iPads.

About Daisey’s interpreter:

I can say now in retrospect that when Mike Daisey wouldn’t give us contact information for his interpreter we should’ve killed the story rather than run it. we never should’ve broadcast this story without talking to that woman.

Instead, we trusted his word. Although he’s not a journalist, we made clear to him that anything he was going to say on our show would have to live up to journalistic standards. He had to be truthful. And he lied to us.

Reactions from Rob Schmitz of the Marketplace radio program, who first publicly questioned Daisey’s account:

Rob Schmitz: One of the big things that didn’t sit right with me came early on in Daisey’s monologue, when he talks about arriving at the gates of the Foxconn factory.

[CLIP] Mike Daisey: And I get out of the taxi with my translator. And the first thing I see at the gates are the guards. And the guards look pissed. They look really pissed, and they are carrying guns.

I’ve done reporting at a lot of Chinese factories, and I’ve never seen guards with guns. The only people allowed to have guns in China are the military and the police…not factory guards.

Reactions from Cathy Lee, Daisey’s translator:

There are other details of Daisey’s monologue Cathy says never happened when she was with him: The taxi ride on the exit ramp Daisey says petered out into thin air 85 feet up off the ground. The workers with repetitive motion injuries. The factory dorm rooms Daisey claims they saw. Cathy says they never saw any dorm rooms. The emotional conversation between them, where Daisey touches her hand. Didn’t happen that way, she says. Even the conversation where Cathy warns Daisey that interviewing workers at the gates of Foxconn wouldn’t work….of course it would work, she told me. She’s taken other foreigners to Foxconn and other factory gates for years — it’s part of her job. It always works.

Daisey’s response to This American Life concludes:

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.


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