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 ]



    I had no idea that 1000 miles is only 1.6 kilometres. No wonder we ditched the imperial system, it is confusing!


    sooo..we discount the whole of what he says based on some errors / errors of judgement..?
    Unfortunately he did raise some other good issue which a techie site like this may be uncomfortable with, like the pervasive "planned obsolesence" of technology and the social cost of western society's reliance on sweatshops to produce lower cost products.
    Such a troublesome subject, now I have a reason to discount it from my consciousness. Yay.
    If every article I read was without error, I'd have to discount a majority of them.. like this one ie: 1000m = 1.4kms lol (unless I consider them as theatre! .. then it's ok!)

    So the truth is "workers were poinsioned by n-hexane". The falsehood is "Mike Daisey met and spoke with the workers who were poisoned by n-hexane". May I presume that the remainder of the falsehoods were similar? In which case the report accurately depicts working conditions?

    -Sounds to me like Daisey's crime was making up incidental stuff for dramatic effect. The only harm this does is in casting doubt on the remainder of the report, providing apple with the FUD it needs to counter valid criticism of the working conditions in Apple suppliers' factories.

      Yeah, I think the main problem here is that such blatant lies/inaccuracies/embellishments reflect negatively on This American Life's journalistic credibility, especially considering the fact that the story is so important to today's public. I think that, considering they were presenting the story as fact, it is unacceptable for them to simply shrug off these details as unimportant.

        They didn't shrug them off. They devoted a whole episode to a retraction, not because they owe it to Apple, but because they value their journalistic standards, and fair enough. You can only hope, though, that a casual observer will look hard enough to see that none of this serves to let Apple off the hook. The piece might not live up to TAL standards of objective storytelling, but that doesn't mean that Daisey's criticisms of Apple are baseless -- nothing about the retraction suggests that.

    "It was downloaded 880,000 times before the retraction" on the devices made in said factories.

    I bet all those workers are real proud that the stuff that they makes provides the vehicle for consumers to feel bad about their plight, just before they go back to playing Angry Birds.

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