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This American Life Retracts Part of Mike Daisey’s Report on Apple and China

A celebrated broadcast of This American Life that depicted life at one of Apple’s manufacturing plants in China has been retracted. The venerated public radio program said the episode, from monologuist Mike Daisey, was partially fabricated, and that they would address the topic on their weekly broadcast this week. The new episode will feature a rundown of the fabrications fro Rob Schmitz, a reporter for Marketplace, as well as a discussion between Ira Glass and Mike Daisey. Schmitz will interview the translator for Daisey during his trip to Foxconn, who describes discrepancies between his report and her recollections.

Daisey, whose story on his experiences in China has received much acclaim, released a statement on the retraction.

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.

That’s the real tragedy of the retraction. The Times investigation and other reports have not been challenged; in fact, Times reporter Charles Duhigg will appear on TAL this weekend, and Apple has corroborated some of the claims. But Daisey, though he tries to shirk responsibility for factual accuracy, did through his participation on This American Life carry some authority, which has now been shattered. And it unnecessarily colors those other investigations, and gives defenders of unfair labor practices in China and elsewhere a foothold to dismiss the charges.

Overall, this is a setback for international labor reform, and it didn’t have to happen at all.

You can find more information in this blog post from TAL host Ira Glass.

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David Dayen

David Dayen