Why someone would fabricate information about human rights violations involving Apple in China is anyone’s guess, but according to Public Radio International essay-style weekly This American Life, that’s just what happened during what became its most popular podcast ever. In fact the show’s host, Ira Glass, says Mike Daisey — the man whose allegations about Apple’s Chinese labor practices triggered a public relations firestorm — was flatly dishonest with him. As such, Glass says he’s officially pulling the story, effective immediately.
“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,” writes Glass in a note prefacing TAL‘s press statement. “That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.”
The retracted TAL episode focused mostly on Daisey’s one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” The play, which originally launched in September 2010, deals with the “rise and fall” of Apple icon Steve Jobs and well as the downsides of a societal mania for perpetually newer, better technology, but it also touched on Apple’s alleged labor practices in China — including violations Daisey claims to have witnessed firsthand.
But TAL now says several of Daisey’s claims were false, including a “large” one involving a group of workers Daisey claims to have met in his monologue, and who were poisoned on an iPhone assembly line by a chemical known as n-hexane, a substance reportedly used to clean touchscreens. TAL says that while an incident like this apparently did occur in a China factory, it happened in a location distant from the one Daisey claims to have visited.
“It happened nearly a thousand miles away, in a city called Suzhou,” says Marketplace China Correspondent Rob Schmitz in a report. ”I’ve interviewed these workers, so I knew the story. And when I heard Daisey’s monologue on the radio, I wondered: How’d they get all the way down to Shenzhen? It seemed crazy, that somehow Daisey could’ve met a few of them during his trip.”
Daisey, for his part, has already responded on his website, stating that he stands by his work, and writing the fabrications off as artistic license. “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,” he says. “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,” he continues, differentiating between the “the tools of the theater” and journalism, but expressing “regret” that he allowed TAL to air an excerpt from his monologue. “But this is my only regret,” says Daisey. “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.”
TAL says it will “devote its entire program this weekend to detailing the errors in the story,” and that this evening’s program “will include a segment from Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz, and interviews with Daisey himself.”