This American Life has retracted an episode that focused on working conditions inside a Foxconn iPad factory, calling the source material "partially fabricated." The episode — the most popular in TAL history with nearly a million streams — was partially based on the work of artist Mike Daisey, who apparently lied to fact-checkers about his experiences visiting Foxconn's facility. Some of the lies were discovered during an interview with Daisey's Chinese translator, who disputed the facts presented in his show and on the air.
A new episode of This American Life detailing the issues and what happened airs later today, with an MP3 of the broadcast available Sunday. Host Ira Glass is taking full responsibility for the error, saying that he's "horrified to have let something like this onto public radio."
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.
For his part, Daisey does not seem to be contrite at all, with a statement on his blog saying that his work is "not journalism" and "operates under a different set of rules and expectations" from a show like This American Life.
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.
Our sources at Apple have told us for months that the company viewed Daisey as untrustworthy, and it appears that those suspicions have been borne out.
The statement released by This American Life details some of the more egregious fabrications from Daisey, such as the location of factory issues he discusses in his performance:
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.
"It happened nearly a thousand miles away, in a city called Suzhou," Marketplace's Schmitz says in his report. "I've interviewed these workers, so I knew the story. And when I heard Daisey's monologue on the radio, I wondered: How'd they get all the way down to Shenzhen? It seemed crazy, that somehow Daisey could've met a few of them during his trip."
In Schmitz's report, he confronts Daisey and Daisey admits to fabricating these characters.
Apparently one of the more dramatic moments in Daisey's piece — where he recounts the story of a worker whose hand had been damaged during the production of iPads — was apparently completely false:
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 Schmitz that nothing of the sort occurred.
Rob Schmitz, the Marketplace writer who uncovered some of Daisey's fabrications, confronted the performance artist on the discrepancies he found alongside Ira Glass. In one of the exchanges on the broadcast, Daisey outright admits to lying about specific parts of his piece, claiming to have done so in the interest of "telling a story that captured the totality of [his] trip [to China]."