Radio program "This American Life" (TAL) has retracted a "partially fabricated" story about author and actor Mike Daisey's visit to Foxconn factories in China.
The retraction was announced on Friday (the same day that Apple's latest iPad went on sale) in a blog post by show host Ira Glass. "We're horrified to have let something like this onto public radio," wrote Glass.
The blog post said that Daisey's story about Foxconn's massive Shenzen factory "contained significant fabrications."
"We're retracting the story because we can't vouch for its truth," Glass continued. "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 episode, titled "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory," aired on January 6. It detailed harsh working conditions in factories where employees assemble popular Apple devices and was excerpted from Daisey's one-man stage performance "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." Daisey claims to have met with underage workers, as well as workers suffering from Hexane poisoning. TAL's airing of the episode was a huge hit with audiences and was downloaded over 888,000, according to a press release attached to Glass' blog post on Friday.
The episode inspired a high-profile petition on Change.org that demanded Apple guarantee ethical treatment for factory workers in China and has thus far garnered over 250,000 signatures. The New York Times on January 26 published a damning story about apparent worker abuses at Apple supplier factories. On February 13, Apple announced that it had enlisted the Fair Labor Association to investigate worker conditions inside Chinese supplier factories, including several owned by Foxconn.
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.
Glass alleges in his blog post that Daisey "lied" to TAL staffers who fact-checked the details of the story and said he will interview Daisey about these incidents in the show's next episode. A transcript of the exchange will be posted online along with audio on Friday, March 16.
UPDATE: The Associated Press reports on the Friday night interview between Daisey and Glass:
In this weekend's "This American Life," Daisey tells Glass he felt conflicted about presenting things that he knew weren't true. But he said he felt "trapped" and was afraid people would no longer care about the abuses at the factories if he didn't present things in a dramatic way.
"I'm not going to say that I didn't take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard," he tells Glass.
On February 21, ABC aired a "Nightline" segment in which Bill Weir visited Foxconn factories in China to report on the working conditions there. Take a look at the slideshow (below) for some of the most surprising facts from that broadcast.