This American Life Retracts Story on Foxconn’s Apple Factory

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This American Life announced on Friday that it was retracting a story called “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory,” a story that had allegedly exposed worker abuses and unsafe working conditions in the Foxconn-owned factories that Apple hires to make many of its devices. This American Life, an icon of public radio, said that it discovered that the story was “partially fabricated.”

This American Life Retraction

This American Life Retraction Notice

The above-named episode made a huge splash when it debuted earlier this year, and it helped spark a minor, but persistent, protest effort against Apple by various protest groups demanding that Apple improve worker conditions in China. For its part, Apple and CEO Tim Cook have repeatedly said that worker well-being was a high priority for the company.

It turns out that the employees working on assembling Apple products are paid more than the prevailing wage, and Apple has touted its efforts to crack down on illegal hiring practices and worker hours. After the brouhaha over this issue began, Apple also joined the Fair Labor Association, an independent group that conducts unannounced inspections of its members’ factories.

While The New York Times documented what it said were horrific working conditions, the FLA offered a preliminary report that said conditions that were superior to competing factories. Nightline also toured an Apple factory and found good conditions. At the same time, Foxconn has undertaken several public steps to show that it is improving conditions.

“Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory” was a story on This American Life that was adapted from Mike Daisey’s The Agony & Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, a one-man play Mr. Daisey produced based on his research in China.

Now, The American Life has retracted the story and dedicated a full episode (#460) to the retraction. From the show’s website:

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. Rob Schmitz, a reporter for Marketplace, raises doubts on much of Daisey’s story.

The show notes also added, “Ira also talks with Mike Daisey about why he misled This American Life during the fact-checking process. And we end the show separating fact from fiction, when it comes to Apple’s manufacturing practices in China.”

For his part, Mr. Daisey has put out his own statement, standing by his reporting for This American Life, as well as his play. In that statement, he said that his work is not journalism and shouldn’t be held to the same standards as journalism, noting that This American Life is much more of a journalistic organization. That statement:

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.

Episode 460 of This American Life airs this week on a public radio station near you. It will be available on the show’s website on Sunday, March 18th. The original story is still available as of this writing.

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15 Comments Leave Your Own

aardman

And he’s keeping all the money he made as a publicity whore, by the way.

Jamie

Absolutely, arrdman. And it might have been nice if every single other manufacturer, given they utilizes the same labor forces, had stepped up and addressed the issue, but no. Shameful. Shameful all around. :( And the knee-jerk reactions from the public sector did not exactly re-instill my faith in our overly socially media-ized brains. Groan.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

This reminds me of a story about the late Senator from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy. When asked by a staffer what he wanted to do about the abortion bill, he replied, “Pay it.”

The point here is that this didn’t harm Apple in the least. It caused a small crisis of faith among a few hardcore bed-wetters and feeble protests from the “They’re taking our jobs!” crowd. Most people who are tuned in and old enough to have some sense of history of computer and consumer electronics prices know that Chinese labor makes the industry possible and that nobody here would do that work. Many with any knowledge of recent Chinese history realize that 10 years ago, these workers would have been working in farm collectives and fighting seasonal floods for subsistence, or in really awful factories that lack the cleanliness and coordination demands of advanced electronics. Google fans were not screaming about how they weren’t responsible for the factory slaves, only Apple fans were.

Lee Dronick

Good comment Brad.

BurmaYank

I suspect Mike Daisey is actually an Android fan.

I suspect Mike Daisey is an Android fan screaming lies about how Apple was responsible for Apple factory “slaves”.

I suspect those NYTimes writers also are Android fans, likewise screaming lies about how Apple was responsible for Apple factory “slaves”, to discredit their smartphone’s resented & detested competition.

Bryan Chaffin

BurmaYank, I personally give the notion that platform rivalry was involved in The Times report or Mr. Daisey’s shenanigans zero credibility.

For what that’s worth.

Mr. Daisey appears to be motivated by other things (self-promotion being one of them).

The TImes is not only a Mac house, it still has editorial oversight on its reporting. The paper may or may not have made a mistake in its reporting, but the idea that the reporters and editors were being guided by a zeal to dent iPhone out of Android jealousy simply isn’t realistic.

MacFrogger

Brad is providing some balanced commentary here, as I’m sure we’d all agree.  Right RonMacGuy?

Specifically though, with respect to his comment:

Google fans were not screaming about how they weren?t responsible for the factory slaves, only Apple fans were.

Google doesn’t make hardware of course, at least not yet. Meaning that they don’t need no stinkin’ factories.  But they do scream and whine about darn near everything else! wink

MacFrogger

Bryan said:

Mr. Daisey appears to be motivated by other things (self-promotion being one of them).

When you make your living running around the country doing a one-man play called the Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, self-promotion is not merely one of your motivations, its the primary one.

Lee Dronick

We all need to self-promote, but like anything it can go too far, or not far enough.

iJack

I was hoping there would be a discussion about the App Store fraud that The NY Times reported on today.

Disappointing.

http://nyti.ms/FOnyP7

Lee Dronick

I was hoping there would be a discussion about the App Store fraud that The NY Times reported on today.

I have read a story about that, but honestly don’t know what think about it.

iJack

Well, I get the sense that Apple is pooh-poohing it as something that comes with success.

Not good enough, IMO.

App designers and consumers trust Apple more than any other company, as polls have shown us. 
That will evaporate like spit on a Saudi sidewalk if they don’t step up and sort this out, pronto.

John Dingler, artist

Hi Bryan,
No, there is no “Apple factory.” There’s a FoxConn factory, however. Perhaps you are confusing the imaginary with the real one, no?

Also, to say “Apple factory” is to perpetuate a false message picked up by countless news outlets in 665,000 articles I found using Google search; Better to say “HP, Dell, Apple, Sony (PlayStation), Microsoft (X-box) factory.,” with the latter producing no search results in Google.

So, no wonder why articles have glammed on to using the key search phrase “Apple factory.”

John Dingler, artist

Also appalling is that Daisey’s theatrical piece performed dramatically on the stage was perceived as fact and picked up by normal news outlets. This irresponsibility speaks to the current quality of journalism which seems unprofessional.

I wonder if any of them ever mentioned that, In response to suicides, the State of California installed suicide-prevention netting under at least one of its bridges—I believe the Golden Gate—similarly to what Foxconn did at some of its facilities.

According to Wikipedia, “More people die by suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge than at any other site in the world…” and “By 2005, this count exceeded 1,200 and new suicides were occurring about once every two weeks.” The state voted to install a net but did not due to unwillingness to fund the safety project. Golden Gate bridge suicides continue. No one is going after the bridge authority. It seems that, here, jumping off the bridge falls into a kind of personal freedom while in Taiwan, it walls under Apple negligence and neo-slavery or something.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Mother Theresa on toast, Mr. Dingler! Why are you so outraged by this? It has gotten no traction. It will get no traction. Any semi-curious or semi-skeptical person can put the FoxConn suicide thing in perspective by querying per capita suicides in the United States and China, then comparing to FoxConn’s factory population.

In 2010, China’s suicide rate was over 22 per 100K. In 2008, the United States’ was 11.8 per 100K. FoxConn had 14 between January and November, 2010 among 930,000 people. That makes FoxConn’s suicide rate about 1/10 that of the United States.

WikiPedia has a couple relevant articles:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxconn_suicides

Obviously, you’re angry with journalists and artists for sullying Apple’s rep by not providing obvious, easily obtainable perspective. Yet, such perspective is provided in abundance in the blogosphere, which is fine. It all gets sorted out in the public conscience.

But I will say that I find it hilarious that NPR—the most objective news source on the planet, the only news source for those that sniff their own taints trust—fell hook, line, and stinker for this one. Funny thing is that it won’t even damage NPR’s brand because they obviously had their hearts in the right place. LMFAO.

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