This American Life Retracts Story on Foxconn’s Apple Factory

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.