5 Revelations in This American Life‘s Foxconn Retraction Episode

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Mike Daisey during his monologue "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" in New Delhi on August 19, 2010.

Workers Exposed to n-Hexane

In another part of the original broadcast, Daisey recounts meeting with workers in an illegal union who complained about being exposed to a toxic substance:

There’s a group that’s talking about hexane. N-hexane is an iPhone screen cleaner. It’s great because it evaporates a little bit faster than alcohol does, which means you can run the production line even faster and try to keep up with the quotas. The problem is that n-hexane is a potent neurotoxin, and all these people have been exposed. Their hands shake uncontrollably. Most of them…can’t even pick up a glass.

Schmitz had actually interviewed workers exposed to n-Hexane, two years ago in a city called Suzho, a thousand miles away from Shenzhen. Schmitz confronted Daisey, saying that Cathy had said that no such meeting with poisoned workers took place. Daisey responded:

I met workers in Hong Kong going to Apple protests who had not been poisoned by hexane but had known people who had been, and it was like a constant conversation we were having about those workers. So no, they were not at that meeting.

The Man With the Claw Hand

Daisey also describes meeting a man who got his hand stuck in a metal press, which deformed it into a twisted claw. What plays out next is one of the most dramatic parts of his story:

And when he says this, I reach into my satchel, and I take out my iPad. And when he sees it, his eyes widen, because one of the ultimate ironies of globalism, at this point there are no iPads in China …. He’s never actually seen one on, this thing that took his hand. I turn it on, unlock the screen, and pass it to him. He takes it. The icons flare into view, and he strokes the screen with his ruined hand, and the icons slide back and forth. And he says something to Cathy, and Cathy says, “He says it’s a kind of magic.”

The problem is that Cathy has no recollection of the event, telling Schmitz “No. This is not true. You know, it’s just like a movie scene.” Cathy says she does remember meeting a man with a deformed hand but that he did not work at Foxconn.

Fuzzy Numbers

Originally, Daisey said he visited 10 factories during his trip to China. When confronted by Schmitz, he changes that number to five. Cathy only remembers visiting three factories.

Daisey also originally said that he had interviewed 25 to 30 illegal union workers; later, he said it was only 10. Cathy only remembers him talking to somewhere between two and five.


To say the segment where Ira Glass sits down with Daisey is awkward would be a gross understatement. It’s full of hurt feelings and cringe-worthy pauses, very reminiscent of that uncomfortable episode of Oprah where she scolds James Frey on national television.

Daisey never flat-out admits to lying. Instead, he says that a lot of the facts refuted by Schmitz and Cathy — including the underage workers and the man with the deformed hand — are true in a “theatrical context.”

And everything I have done in making this monologue for the theater has been toward that end – to make people care. I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work. My mistake, the mistake that I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism and it’s not journalism. It’s theater.

The sad thing is that he has now undermined his own cause by not disclosing the nature of his work to the producers of This American Life, who admit they should have never aired the show in the first place due to the fact that they couldn’t corroborate Daisey’s version of events.

There are a lot of legitimate concerns surrounding labor conditions in the consumer electronics industry — the Times’ Charles Duhigg and David Barboza proved that — but, unfortunately for Daisey, he has now taken himself out of the discussion.

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