‘This American Life’ retracts Mike Daisey’s Apple report

Mike Daisey

NEW: An acclaimed Apple critic made up the details (Marketplace)

“‘This American Life’ will devote its entire program this weekend to detailing the errors in the story, which was an excerpt of Mike Daisey’s critically acclaimed one-man show, ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.'” — From a “This American Life” press release

Here’s what Mike Daisey writes on his blog:

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.

* “This American Life” retracts “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory”



This American Life Retracts Story
Says It Can’t Vouch for the Truth of Mike Daisey’s Monologue about Apple in China

This American Life and American Public Media’s Marketplace will reveal that a story first broadcast in January on This American Life contained numerous fabrications.

This American Life will devote its entire program this weekend to detailing the errors in the story, which was an excerpt of Mike Daisey’s critically acclaimed one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” In it, Daisey tells how he visited a factory owned by Foxconn that manufactures iPhones and iPads in Shenzhen China. He has performed the monologue in theaters around the country; it’s currently at the Public Theater in New York. Tonight’s This American Life program will include a segment from Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz, and interviews with Daisey himself. Marketplace will feature a shorter version of Schmitz’s report earlier in the evening.

When the original 39-minute excerpt was broadcast on This American Life on January 6, 2012, Marketplace China Correspondent Rob Schmitz wondered about its truth. Marketplace had done a lot of reporting on Foxconn and Apple’s supply chain in China in the past, and Schmitz had first-hand knowledge of the issues. He located and interviewed Daisey’s Chinese interpreter Li Guifen (who goes by the name Cathy Lee professionally with westerners). She disputed much of what Daisey has been telling theater audiences since 2010 and much of what he said on the radio.

During fact checking before the broadcast of Daisey’s story, 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.

“At that point, we should’ve killed the story,” says Ira Glass, Executive Producer and Host of This American Life. “But other things Daisey told us about Apple’s operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him. We didn’t think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story. That was a mistake.”

The response to the original episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” was significant. It quickly became the single most popular podcast in This American Life’s history, with 888,000 downloads (typically the number is 750,000) and 206,000 streams to date. After hearing the broadcast, listener Mark Shields started a petition calling for better working conditions for Apple’s Chinese workers, and soon delivered almost a quarter-million signatures to Apple.

The same month the episode aired, The New York Times ran a front-page investigative series about Apple’s overseas manufacturing, and there were news reports about Foxconn workers threatening group suicide in a protest over their treatment.

Faced with all this scrutiny of its manufacturing practices, Apple announced that for the first time it will allow an outside third party to audit working conditions at those factories and – for the first time ever – itreleased a list of its suppliers.



  1. Gardiner Menefree said:

    AL has never been conscientious about separating fact from fiction. Certainly not in its praise pieces on Sheila Bair’s FDIC, where skepticism would have been the appropriate reportorial posture.

    One primary story that TAL has completely neglected is the $307,000,000,000 theft of the solvent WaMu by Ms Bair for the immediate benefit of JPM Chase’s Jamie Dimon. Kisten Grind’s reporting for the Puget Sound Business Journal on this matter was recognized with finalist status by the Pulitzer Committee in 2010 — a recognition that might have entailed an actual Prize had Ms Bair’s FDIC not stonewalled Ms Grind’s FOIA requests, responding with heavily redacted pages upon pages rendered useless to the public by the FDIC’s self-preserving defensiveness.

    Of course, WaMu was not the first instance of an FDIC assault upon the economy of the Northwest. An earlier FDIC seized Benj Franklin Savings & Loan during the earlier Pres. Bush’s financial system scandal:
    Shareholders burdened by that fraudulent seizure were required to spend a decade obtaining a judicial resolution of the rashness of the arrogant FDIC. Some did not live long enough.

    This is not to suggest that TAL is often entertaining, often amusing.

  2. Gardiner Menefree said:

    Sorry, I meant to conclude:

    This is not to suggest that TAL is not often entertaining, often amusing.