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This American Life's Damning Foxconn Report Was Mostly Made Up

This American Life has retracted its episode about working conditions at Foxconn. Apple challenged the veracity of the reporting in the piece when if first ran in January, and in an episode set to air later today, the radio show will confirm that monologue extraordinaire Mike Daisey made up some of the most shocking facts in his story.

According to the statement by This American Life and Chicago Public Radio, Mike Daisey didn’t see everything he said he saw while reporting “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” in China.

Some of the falsehoods found in Daisey’s monologue are small ones: the number of factories Daisey visited in China, for instance, and the number of workers he spoke with. Others are large. In his monologue he claims to have met a group of workers who were poisoned on an iPhone assembly line by a chemical called n-hexane. Apple’s audits of its suppliers show that an incident like this occurred in a factory in China, but the factory wasn’t located in Shenzhen, where Daisey visited.

“It happened nearly a thousand miles away [1.6km], in a city called Suzhou,” Marketplace’s Schmitz says in his report. “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.”

In Schmitz’s report, he confronts Daisey and Daisey admits to fabricating these characters.

The retraction is a huge blow for This American Life. “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” is the most popular episode in the show’s history: It was downloaded 880,000 times before the retraction.

Mike Daisey, for his part stands by his work on his personal blog. The Chicago Public Radio release quotes Daisey as saying, “My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it’s not journalism. It’s theatre.” Presenting theatre as a fact is a mistake. It’s hard not to read it as a deliberately misleading act. [Chicago Public Radio via email newsletter? You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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