This American Life Retracts Entire Episode About Apple Factories After Mike Daisey Admits To Fabricating Parts Of The Story

from the wow dept

This is pretty big. Last month, we wrote about a This American Life episode that focused on the Foxconn factories where Apple products are made, based on a one-man show by Mike Daisey. I wrote about a few key points in the episode — including some of the more interesting claims from those who were used to “fact check” his story. Apparently, that fact check did not go nearly far enough. Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz, who is quite familiar with the factories in China, found large parts of the story questionable, and did some followup reporting, finding Daisey’s translator and discovering that things Daisey said turned out not to be true. He then confronted Daisey with Ira Glass from TAL, and got Daisey to admit that he fabricated parts of the story, though he still appears to be in denial about how bad this looks:

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.

The problem, of course, is that it now appears that many of the things he was claiming weren’t actually true of the plants he wrote about. There was one story that recounted events that did happen, but at a different plant 1,000 miles away, and which Daisey did not witness at all.

In the meantime, This American Life has retracted the entire show (link is down as of right now), and apparently plans to air a new show today that details what happened and has a detailed apology from Ira Glass (who just recently on the show was telling listeners to go see Daisey’s full one man show).

It is true that Daisey is a storyteller, not a reporter, and that’s fine in the right context. But once it got to the point that journalistic outfits were reporting on his story — or even letting him repeat it on the air, he had every responsibility to be clear about the parts that were simply fabricated.

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Companies: apple, foxconn

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Comments on “This American Life Retracts Entire Episode About Apple Factories After Mike Daisey Admits To Fabricating Parts Of The Story”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Congrats Mike, you have just discovered what many of us already knew:

There is a lack of integrity in the “new business model” reporters. In fact, as this guy now admits, he isn’t even a reporter, just a story teller – and not a very honest one, it seems.

If this is how you will get your news and form your views in the future, you are pretty much screwed end to end. I have a feeling that a fair bit of what is on Techdirt comes at least in part from this sort of “storytelling” reporting, with plenty of things that cannot be easily checked getting treated as facts, even when they are not.

So, Mike… are you a journalist, or just a storyteller?

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: Questions questions...

Hello Coward!

Accusing those in the “new business model” is entirely inaccurate. You want to look at those in ‘Big Media’ which is entirely compromised and only reports fluff pieces and distractions rather than anything important.

As to “how you get your new” here a thought: Think for yourself, question authority, be a sceptic, accept nothing as a proven fact until you’re certain it is true.

Or, be a brainless gullible coward, whatever floats your boat.

Joe Publius (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So, Mike… are you a journalist, or just a storyteller?

5/10 Bold New Troll!

Novel attempt to conflate a dramatic monologist with the writer/editor of a website where:
– The articles link to sources.
– Open discussion of those sources are allowed by enrolled and anonymous posters.
– Updates/Retractions are openly and clearly made, when necessary.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You almost got the point, but missed it.

See, Mike wrote a piece BASED on the work of this storyteller, and pretty much swallowed it as fact. He then spewed it up and based his “opinion” on the “facts” that were not really facts to begin with, and then drew conclusions.

What is scary is that if this is the sort of source material that Mike uses (and passes off as fact) then you have to wonder how many of his other “facts” are built out of nothing but “storytelling”.

Sort of like using PJ O’Rourke to understand politics.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And you miss the point that Mike is a commentator not a reporter and this site has never pretended to be a source of news or journalism but simply commentary.

In rereading Mike’s piece on what This American Life aired I’m guessing you missed the parts where people expressed doubt about what Daisey had to say and that the Chinese workers were still hugely better off than they were before even if it was true.

TAL knew before airing the program that Daisey is a performance artist and everything about his background and never took the proper time to fact check what he said in the piece before airing it. That is TAL’s fault as Ira Glass admits.

Mike just wrote a commentary on the story, not the story itself.

As for “new business model” reporters or journalism there’s nothing of the sort going on here. What happened on TAL happens on network news and local newscasts very frequently and always has. At least in my lifetime.

So your grade here is a -3/10 and only that high because you seem to know the difference between story teller and reporter, though you lose points because you don’t seem to know what a commentator is.

Michael Long (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“…and never took the proper time to fact check what he said in the piece before airing it.”

Here’s the thing: When you’re a news outlet that releases dozens of stories per day, and someone comes to you with a story they supposedly spent months researching… just how much fact checking are you expecting?

Are you going to go to China and reinterview everyone they interviewed? Because at some point it’s going to be just as expensive as hiring a bunch of reporters and seeking out the stories yourself.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

If you read the apology/story about why they retracted the story you’ll see there were a few signs that something was very wrong here. And more than enough reason to spike the story before airing it as reportage, for example Daisy’s refusal to give TLA his translator’s phone number.

Ira Glass states outright that he should have spiked the story right then and there in his explanation of why the story has been retracted.

“This American Life staffers asked Daisey for this interpreter’s contact information. Daisey told them her real name was Anna, not Cathy as he says in his monologue, and he said that the cell phone number he had for her didn’t work any more. He said he had no way to reach her.”

Which was an outright like yet they put it on air anyway.

I do feel for TLA, they had what seemed like a juicy story and went ahead with it even though they couldn’t even verify anything through his translator which isn’t asking much. Good editorial judgement got run over by enthusiasm for a juicy story. It happens, with more regularity than most of us want to think about.

Benjo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

People who rely on the “news” to “get [your] news and form views” without any skepticism are already screwed.

While I feel that Daisey should have been clear on the dramatic liberties he took with his piece, I do feel like This American Life is ultimately responsible for what it’s showing. Either more fact checking should have been done, or they have to accept the risk they took running a story they weren’t sure was true, and with it the (most likely minimal) backlash they will receive over the fabricated parts.

Anonymous Coward says:

So, you’re argument against this site is that we can’t trust the information here because sometimes some information gets spread as fact when it’s not. I get that, but choosing to make that point on a post pointing out how some previously believed information turned out to be false…well, kinda defeats your entire argument, no?

Kamen (profile) says:

Screw Apple

Screw Apple anyways.

They exported hundreds of thousands of jobs desperately needed in America. They don’t pay stock dividends to their investors. They don’t pay taxes on offshore profits. 90% percent of all the money they pay out in salaries in the US goes to about 40 people. Buying Apple doesn’t help the US economy it just sends more dollars overseas or to some already overpaid douchebag who’s only concern is seeing the he grabs as much short term profit as possible.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Screw Apple

“They exported hundreds of thousands of jobs desperately needed in America.”
That’s better than bringing in thousands of immigrants to take the jobs – which is what so many tech companies are wanting to do through visas.

“They don’t pay stock dividends to their investors.”
That’s about to change.

“They don’t pay taxes on offshore profits.”
They don’t own FOXCONN, why would they pay taxes on profits made by someone else?

“90% percent of all the money they pay out in salaries in the US goes to about 40 people.”
Citation required. I find that hard to believe considering that their CEO was only being paid a salary of $1 for the past decade.

” Buying Apple doesn’t help the US economy it just sends more dollars overseas or to some already overpaid douchebag who’s only concern is seeing the he grabs as much short term profit as possible.”
Yeah I mean the 40,000+ people who are employed by Apple, the peopel who work for supporting industries and the people who work for those people couldn’t possibly benefit from your purchase. Stop hating on Apple just because you are too poor to own their products.

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