At 1pm today, WAMU 88.5 aired the results of This American Life’s investigation after airing ‘Mike Daisey goes to the Apple factory’ last January. Here’s what they uncovered.
The public-radio show This American Life, which had devoted a broadcast in January to Mike Daisey’s exposé of working conditions in the People’s Republic of China devoted today’s broadcast to retracting its January show and to accusing Daisey of fabricating large parts of it in a face to face interview.
“Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast,” This American Life host Ira Glass said. “That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.”
Daisey’s monologue, which he had delivered at Woolly Mammoth in March of last year, identified horrendous working conditions in a plant located in the city of Shenzhen, China and run by Foxconn, a corporation which makes iPhones for Apple. According to Daisey, he and a translator he identified as “Cathy” visited ten plants and – notwithstanding the presence of armed security guards – spoke with hundreds of workers, including about twenty-five who belonged to an illegal Union. Daisey described meeting a substantial number of workers who were between the ages of twelve through fourteen. The monologist also claimed that he saw camera-monitored dormitory rooms which housed from fifteen to twenty workers, workers who had suffered neurological damage as a result of exposure to hexane, an industrial neurotoxin, and an elderly man who had his hand mangled in an industrial accident whom Foxconn later fired for not working quickly enough.
However, American Public Media which produces “This American Life”, discovered through Rob Schmitz, its China correspondent for their program ‘Marketplace’ that the workers who suffered nerve damage from hexane worked not at Foxconn but at two factories a thousand miles away, and Daisey later admitted that he never saw or interviewed workers who had suffered from hexane poisoning.
Rob Schmitz also eventually spoke to the translator, Cathy Lee, whose contact information Daisey admitted lying about in order to prevent her from being interviewed. Lee contradicted several key elements of Daisey’s monologue, including that the guards were armed (it is illegal, she said, for security guards in China to carry guns), that they visited ten factories (Lee said they visited three, and Daisey later amended his account to say they visited five), that they spoke to hundreds of workers (Lee estimated that they had interviewed fifty), that they met with twenty-five Union members (she thought they met with two or three, and Daisey later said that they met with only ten members of the illegal Union), that they saw any worker dormitories (Daisey continued to insist that they had, but admitted that the cameras were only in the hallways, not the dormitory rooms), or that they met any underage workers (Daisey subsequently stated that he met only one worker who told him that she was thirteen, but that many of her colleagues seemed underage as well). According to Lee, they did meet an elderly man whose hand was mangled in an industrial accident, but he never told them that he worked at Foxconn.
Daisey apologized for allowing his monologue to appear on This American Life and admitted fabricating portions of his monologue but insisted that it served a larger moral truth, pointing to the labor abuses the New York Times found at Foxconn in January. Daisey is scheduled to reprise The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at Woolly Mammoth on July 17.
Audiences can listen online or download the complete 58 minute program which includes the interviews with Mike Daisey, with the interpreter Cathy Lee and with New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg by clicking here.