This American Life Retracts Apple Factory Episode

This American Life has retracted its most popular episode ever, citing fabrications. Contributor Mike Daisey is going with the “but it’s art” defense.

Mike Daisey’s recent episode of PRI’s This American Life caused a massive stir when it aired back in January. It purported to tell the story of Daisey’s trip to Shenzhen, where he learned of (or rather, confirmed) terrible working conditions at a Foxconn factory where Apple products are made. Now, citing fabrications on Daisey’s part, the show has issued a formal retraction:

“This American Life has retracted the above story because we learned that many of Mike Daisey’s experiences in China were fabricated. We have removed the audio from our site, and have left this transcript up only for reference. We produced an entire new episode about the retraction, featuring Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz, who interviewed Mike’s translator Cathy and discovered discrepancies between her account and Mike’s, and New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, who has reported extensively on Apple. Ira also re-interviewed Mike Daisey to learn why he misled us.”

Daisey’s response is, I think, a little more damning than he meant it to be:

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.

Here’s the real problem: Daisey’s facts may have been questionable, but his point isn’t, and nor is his cause, which this whole fiasco could end up hurting in the end.

Also, I’m guessing this is off the calendar:

You can still listen to the episode here.

In 2006, Daisey gave a monologue about James Frey called “Truth: The Heart Is a Million Little Pieces Above All Things.” Some hints of things to come, from Variety’s review:

It wasn’t simple profit that drove Frey to his literary deviance; it was a need to create a narrative that made sense to him, a point Daisey touchingly illustrates by describing an embellishment from one of his past performances. Frey and Leroy are thematic springboards, and Daisey uses them to leap into larger issues of self-dramatization.

Woops.

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