This is pretty big. Last month, we wrote about a This American Life episode that focused on the Foxconn factories where Apple products are made, based on a one-man show by Mike Daisey. I wrote about a few key points in the episode — including some of the more interesting claims from those who were used to “fact check” his story. Apparently, that fact check did not go nearly far enough. Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz, who is quite familiar with the factories in China, found large parts of the story questionable, and did some followup reporting, finding Daisey’s translator and discovering that things Daisey said turned out not to be true. He then confronted Daisey with Ira Glass from TAL, and got Daisey to admit that he fabricated parts of the story, though he still appears to be in denial about how bad this looks:
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.
The problem, of course, is that it now appears that many of the things he was claiming weren’t actually true of the plants he wrote about. There was one story that recounted events that did happen, but at a different plant 1,000 miles away, and which Daisey did not witness at all.
In the meantime, This American Life has retracted the entire show (link is down as of right now), and apparently plans to air a new show today that details what happened and has a detailed apology from Ira Glass (who just recently on the show was telling listeners to go see Daisey’s full one man show).
It is true that Daisey is a storyteller, not a reporter, and that’s fine in the right context. But once it got to the point that journalistic outfits were reporting on his story — or even letting him repeat it on the air, he had every responsibility to be clear about the parts that were simply fabricated.