Friday, March 16, 2012 at 1:19 pm.

This American Life Retracts ‘Partially Fabricated’ Apple/Foxconn Show

This American Life:

Regrettably, we have discovered that one of our most popular episodes was partially fabricated. This week, we devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory,” Mike Daisey’s story about visiting Foxconn, an Apple supplier factory in China.

Crazy. The “Mr. Daisey” show helped generate a LOT of the noise around Foxconn and Apple this year. (Full press release here, in PDF format.)

Basically, it sounds like Mike Daisey lied to This American Life about many of the things he says he experienced in China.

But in this case, TAL — which claimed to have fact-checked Daisey’s theatrical performance on its initial episode, and even gave it some pushback — should have done more research. TAL host/boss Ira Glass now even admits that after one thing — getting contact details for Daisey’s interpreter — didn’t check out, “we should’ve killed the story.” That’s a pretty bold statement, even in hindsight.

Daisey should have been more forthcoming about his dramatic license, too. That didn’t come across in the episode, and Marketplace says that “Daisey told This American Life and numerous other news outlets that his account was all true. But it wasn’t.”

Meanwhile, Daisey is hiding behind the “I’m not a journalist!” excuse. Perhaps that’s how he feels, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to lie in what’s obviously a journalistic report.

Here’s the statement on his site:

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.

It’s hard to excuse Daisey, even if he thinks and says he’s an actor and not a journalist. His credibility is shot, as far as I’m concerned.

But as a journalist, which the folks at TAL had better think they are, you’re also supposed to be endlessly skeptical and expect people to mislead you. TAL failed there, and as a result, it, too, loses some of its credibility.

It’s good that TAL is devoting a whole show to the retraction. It probably won’t get as much mainstream attention as the first report. But, anyway, I don’t think any major, long-term damage has occurred. Clearly, there are crappy conditions in China, whether Daisey embellished or not. And clearly, people are still buying a ton of Apple gadgets, problems or not. It’s just sad the way this happened.

Disclosure: In college, I was an intern at WBEZ, the Chicago public radio station that produces TAL. Ira Glass was also kind enough to record a promo for my college radio show, “Fromming at the Mouth”. (Although, once, I was asked to leave “his” studio, not realizing that’s what it was. The Mac in an otherwise PC shop should have been a giveaway.) So you could say I’m a fan. But I think he’s doing the right thing.