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Excerpts from 'This American Life' on Mike Daisey: 'Why not just tell us what really happened?'

Excerpts from 'This American Life' on Mike Daisey: 'Why not just tell us what really happened?'


Mike Daisey comes clean on the lies about Foxconn's iPad factories

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mike daisey

We've received an early transcript of the episode of This American Life which will air this evening at 8:00PM ET entitled "Retraction." The episode features Mike Daisey, whose previous appearance on TAL was a dramatic monologue he has been performing since 2010 about workers at the Chinese factory which produces, among many other things, Apple products. Mike has gained a lot of attention for his work which has in turn brought much attention to the plight of the Chinese workers who toil to produce electronics. However, as this new episode makes clear, not everything Mike Daisey said in his performance was technically or even, in some instances, close to -- the truth.

The transcript of the show reveals more details that Mike Daisey seemingly lied about or misrepresented, forcing This American Life to retract its support for the episode. "Retraction" features host Ira Glass, Mike Daisey, Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz, whose further factchecking of the episode after its original airing led to the retraction, and Mike Daisey's translator, Cathy, who accompanied Mike on his trip to Foxconn.

Below are some of the more shocking, and interesting bits that we have pulled from the transcript.

Host Ira Glass: 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… And the most powerful and memorable moments in the story all seem to be fabricated.

Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz says that when he heard Daisey's account, he was startled to hear reports that the guards outside Foxconn had guns because in China, only the police and military are allowed to carry them. He was also confused to hear Daisey mention meeting Foxconn workers frequenting at Starbucks, because they don't actually make enough money to afford such a luxury. This led Schmitz to track down Cathy, Daisey's translator.

Among other things, Cathy says that they visited three factories, not the ten which Daisey claims. She says there were no guns. She even says she's never seen a gun in person, only on television. She also says there were no children working in the factories, and that in the ten years she's been visiting Shenzhen factories, she's hardly ever seen any underage workers.

I think that if she said she was 13 or 12, then I would be surprised. I would be very surprised. And I would remember for sure. But there is no such thing.

Daisey's monologue also describes an emotional scene where a worker's "eyes widen" at the sight of his iPad, because he's "never seen one," and he tells Cathy that it's "kind of magic." Cathy also denies this ever occurred.

In the broadcast, there are heated moments where host Ira Glass confronts Daisey about his story, such as the one below:

Why not just tell us what really happened at that point? [long pause]

Mike Daisey: I think I was terrified. [breathing]

Ira Glass: Of what?

[long pause]

Mike Daisey: - That---

[long pause]

Mike Daisey: I think I was terrified that if I untied these things, that the work, that I know is really good, and tells a story, that does these really great things for making people care, that it would come apart in a way where, where it would ruin everything.

The writer tells Glass that at one point during the fact-checking process, before the original report ran, that he secretly wished the story would be killed by This American Life due to lack of information backing up his claims:

Ira Glass: Did you worry that I would either say, like, okay, well, not enough of this is true in the traditional way that we need it to be or verifiable in the way we need it to be and so like we can't run it, or did you worry, like okay, you'd accidentally end up with two versions of the story, and that would raise a question about like what really happened, like, was that the kind of thing you were thinking?

Mike Daisey: The latter. I worried about the latter a lot more. [Pause] After a certain point, honestly...


[long pause]

Ira Glass: Wait after a certain point, what?

Mike Daisey: Well I started a sentence and then my nerve failed me, I stopped talking.

Ira Glass: [overlapping] Okay.

Mike Daisey: So that's what you saw. So, I'm working on it. It's coming.

[long pause]

Mike Daisey: I can't say it.

Ira Glass: What's the general kind of area that it's in?

Mike Daisey: Oh I'll just say it, I'll just say it, what the... After a certain point, I would have preferred the first option.

Ira Glass: That we would just kill the story and not do it on the radio.

Mike Daisey: There was a point.

Finally, Daisey returns to the studio with Ira Glass to offer his take on his work, and defend it in some ways:

Mike Daisey: I think you can trust my word in the context of the theater. And how people see it -

Ira Glass: I find this to be a really hedgy answer. I think it's OK for somebody in your position to say it isn't all literally true, know what I mean, feel like actually it seems like it's honest labeling, and I feel like that's what's actually called for at this point, is just honest labeling. Like, you make a nice show, people are moved by it, I was moved by it and if it were labeled honestly, I think everybody would react differently to it.

Mike Daisey: I don't think that label covers the totality of what it is.

Ira Glass: That label - fiction?

We expect audio of the episode to be available for streaming around 8:00PM ET, and we'll let you know as soon as it's available.

Update: The transcript is now available online.

Update 2: This American life has posted audio of the full show here.