‘This American Life’ Retracts Story On Apple’s Foxconn Factory

In January, “This American Life” published a story by Mike Daisy about the working conditions at Foxconn, a factory in China that makes Apple products. The show, which was an adaptation of Daisey’s one-man theatrical show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” became the most popular podcast in the history of the program.

“This American Life” retracted the story today saying that there were several factual errors.

Ira Glass, the host and producer of the show, said:

“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.”

CBS reports that the facts behind Daisey’s show were put into question by “Marketplace” China correspondent Rob Schmitz, who had previously reported on Foxconn. Schmitz tracked down Daisey’s interpreter and some of the workers that Daisey claimed to have interviewed and found that some of Daisey’s stories were not factually accurate.

In one instance, Daisey said that a worker at the Shenzhen Foxconn plant was poisoned by the chemical n-hexane. The incident actually happened in Suzhou, China at another manufacturing plant.

Schmitz said:

“It happened nearly a thousand miles away, in a city called Suzhou. 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.”

Daisey defended his show, however, saying that he is not a journalist but an entertainer. Daisey says that the blame should be put on “This American Life” for running the story as a news piece. Daisey said:

“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… What I do is not journalism…. I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic 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.”

The NY Times reports that “This American Life” will air an hour show tonight to go over all of the errors from the original episode, “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory.”

Do you agree with Mike Daisey? His story may have not been completely accurate but it did bring attention to the poor conditions at Foxconn. Should that type of sensationalism be tolerated? Should “This American Life” have run the story?