Ira Glass, showing again why he’s among the best journalists in America today:
I have difficult news. 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. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey’s acclaimed one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.
The China correspondent for the public radio show Marketplace tracked down the interpreter that Daisey hired when he visited Shenzhen China. The interpreter disputed much of what Daisey has been saying on stage and on our show. On this week’s episode of This American Life, we will devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory.”
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.
We’re horrified to have let something like this onto public radio. Many dedicated reporters and editors – our friends and colleagues – have worked for years to build the reputation for accuracy and integrity that the journalism on public radio enjoys. It’s trusted by so many people for good reason. Our program adheres to the same journalistic standards as the other national shows, and in this case, we did not live up to those standards.
Friends and loved ones encouraged me to see Daisey’s show and listen closely. They pointed to my like of Apple products. I read about it, thought about it, and tried to balance it with the picture of conditions that Apple (and now others) puts out about their industrial hygiene and environmental practices. It didn’t all fit, but I made room for it.
Today, then, the shocker — This American Life is retracting the previous show and dedicating an hour to setting the record straight. Who does this in this day and age? Who makes a public pronouncement of their own fallibility and goes out of their way to correct it in an ethical way that respects their audience?
I’d argue very few do this. Corrections are relegated to the dusty interior pages of print papers and magazines and hidden from online viewers, for the most part, in the nether regions of websites. NPR may be the exception (as a slight aside, their ethics portal clearly and nicely lays out their stance on a number of things, including retractions, social media, and the like).
Looking forward to hearing the show and continuing to support This American Life’s breed of ethical, conscientious, and respectful journalism.
One amendment: I doubt working conditions are perfect in Apple’s contractor’s factories in China and elsewhere. We know that efforts are being taken to improve them. We know that Apple is beginning to be more transparent about what goes on and is working with independent auditors to get some more precise data about working conditions. And we know they have a long way to go to true transparency.
Industrial hygiene and environmental audits of this type are difficult — they’re heavily biased because they are scheduled visits, often with predetermined and specific objectives. What Daisey’s conflation of theatre and journalism does, though, is undermine legitimate reports of working conditions. Exaggeration for theatre may be fine, but the maniacal press tour — with his descriptions of specific chemical exposures, guards with guns, underage workers, etc passed off as fact — doesn’t work. No one will argue that conditions should improve – but for them to improve, we need a true understanding of baseline conditions, actionable interventions to make the situation healthier, and regular reporting to understand how the situation is changing.