A Day of Reckoning for This American Life & Mike Daisey

Fans of the popular public radio program This American Life - and I count myself among them - learned last night that the single most downloaded episode of the show ever - an exposé of sorts of Apple's production operations in China - was to a great extent a work of fiction. The episode in question, "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory," was an adaptation of a spoken word performance piece by Mike Daisey called "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," which Daisey is currently performing at the Public Theater. 

In the performance piece, Daisey recounts a trip to China where he met with various workers at Foxconn, a factory that makes products for Apple. The working conditions at Foxconn and other Apple production facilities in China have been the focus of a number of critical reports over the past few months, including this series in The New York Times. But Daisey's performance piece came first, and many credit him with drawing attention to the story. If that's true, then This American Life's massive amplification of his performance aided in that process.

It turns out, ultimately by his own admission, that many of the interactions Daisey describes didn't actually happen, rather they were often amalgamations of stories and encounters he heard about in his travels across China. A Shanghai-based reporter for the public radio show Marketplace named Rob Schmitz heard the broadcast and Daisey's story didn't sit well with him so he did some digging. He confirmed the lies and it wasn't difficult. All he did was Google the first name of Daisey's translator, along with the word translator and the name of the city she worked in, and she was the first result. He spoke to her and she told him that much of what Daisey described didn't happen. This American Life had asked Daisey for the translator's number when they were fact checking the story, but Daisey said he didn't have it. They believed him and for some reason elected not to try and track her down themselves. 

This American Life devoted this week's episode of the show to the retraction and features an interview with Schmitz and two interviews with Mr. Daisey, who manages to both nominally take responsibility for and defiantly rationalize his deception. Listen to it. In addition to displaying an admirably introspective recounting of a grievous error on the part of the producers of the show, it is a damn compelling hour of radio. It was incredibly satisfying to hear host Ira Glass call Daisey out, as was Daisey's inability to talk his way out of it.  

I won't rehash the whole thing here, but as someone who has literally listened to every episode of This American Life (when I worked as a temp in 2000 and 2001, I listened to five or six episodes a day) and who has pitched them stories on a few occasions (alas, to no avail), I have to say that this incident helps to crystalize some questions I have about what This American Life is and how it has evolved.

When the show began in 1995 the stories generally focused on the emotional journeys of the subjects. It was about American lives, recounted in a tone and tempo that has become synonymous with This American Life and Ira Glass. But in recent years, the show has evolved, and it has overlaid that tone and tempo onto more traditional and often incredibly complex news stories. The most powerful of these I think are the shows it has produced on the financial crisis, starting with the phenomenal episode "The Giant Pool of Money." In that show, precisely because of their unique tone and tempo, they were able to describe complex financial mechanisms like mortgage backed securities in terms which a lay audience could understand (not to mention countless journalists who were confounded by this stuff until hearing the episode).

The episode won Polk, Peabody and duPont awards and was named one of the top ten works of journalism of the decade by the New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. I think it deserved all of it and more. On a personal level, their reporting in this area has definitely informed the way I've written about money

I suppose what preoccupies me on some level is the sense I have that now This American Life oscillates between two kinds of stories now. They do newsy pieces, told in their unique way, AND more traditional stories of American lives, told in their unique way. Sometimes I feel that the ground rules for these two types of stories are different. For example, there was a show they did in 2010 called "The Georgia Rambler," in which producers dropped in on nine random counties in Georgia and basically looked for interesting stories. They found them. Lots of them. But one of the tales contained a bit of narration that concerned me.

They were interviewing three 20-something guys who worked in a chicken wing place in a rural county. The "reporter" in this episode was a comedian named Eugene Mirman and he was introducing one of the guys, using his full name, which I won't do here.

"This is ----- ----. He's 27, but doesn't look a day over 23. He's there with two friends. All three work at Wild Wings. They're hanging out drinking as it's closing up for the night. Matt's just discovered Friends on DVD with the kind of enthusiasm potential rock stars discover The Velvet Underground. My producer thinks he might be gay. But I think he just likes R.E.M. and wants to be an artist."

When I heard that I thought to myself, "Did This American Life just out a kid living in rural Georgia because he likes the show Friends?"

All I could think of is that kid and his friends and family sitting down to listen to the episode the weekend it aired, and the look on the guy's face when that line came across. Word would get around. Would people ostracize him? Would someone beat him up? Now, maybe the guy was gay, maybe he wasn't. Maybe he was out and maybe This American Life called him and asked if it was OK to say that we think you're gay on the radio and he said, "Sure!" I have no idea. What I do know is that in the context of the show it was pure conjecture. Saying that you think someone's gay isn't a qualitative description of a character. It's not like saying someone "doesn't look a day over 23."  I'm generally OK with subjective, textural details coming from narrators, but someone's sexual orientation isn't subjective. And I think because of the incredibly strong reporting This America Life has produced in the past few years, that kind of narrative voice seemed out of place to me.  Maybe it wouldn't have in 1995, but it did in 2010.

If there are indeed two kinds of This American Life episodes - the newsy one and the story-ey ones - I think perhaps the episode "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory" is a combination of the two. Reporting a news story purely through first person narrative is a tricky business in the best of circumstances. Adding inferences and speculation is something people often do when they're telling stories. These things tend to make stories more entertaining, as Eugene Mirman and the show's producers probably thought when they included that line about the kid in Georgia. Some people, like Mike Daisy, however, allow these inferences to morph into facts in the telling, either because they have an agenda and the ends justify the means, or simply because they think it will make a better "big fish" story. Who can say for sure what happened here.

This has no doubt been an incredibly troubling experience for Ira Glass and the rest of the people at This American Life, but given their candor on the radio last night, I have to believe that this incident will ultimately make the show stronger as it continues to grow, and it will remain a great American institution. As for Mike Daisey... not so much. 


  1. I look forward to some enterprising journalist(s) looking into other tech manufacturing facilities in China and around the world. Apple is the current 800-pound gorilla and all eyes are on them. What goes on in the places that still feel they can operate as they see fit? Just please nobody send a comedian…

  2. I wonder why they didn’t fact-check Daisey’s story more thoroughly, since, in passing, they mention near the end that he fabricated stories before, lied about it, and then tried to wiggle out with the same excuses… (or has this just been unearthed recently?)

    1. It appears that fact-checking consists of asking the source if he’s making it up or not.

      1.  They checked that the abuses in the story actually did happen. They did not check that the self important idiot reporting them actually witnessed them. If a source were to call you up reporting a murder you might call up the police to corroborate that said crime had happened but would you ask “hey i got a report of a murder… yeah straight up beheaded eh? well anyways did you see mike anywhere near there afterwards? Or maybe he talked to anybody who saw it? no? so you’re saying there was no murder?”

        1. “They checked that the abuses in the story actually did happen.”

          No, they didn’t. They asked aloud if maybe, perhaps, sometime, somewhere, in any universe parallel to our own they might, given quantum questionability they might have/are/will. And then they spun a rotor over whether any company involved may have had a fruit as a logo, or maybe a vegetable, or any composite of atoms.

          They did, actually.

          This is NOT btw an attack on This American Life: it’s a critique of Mike Daisey, who just flat out made shit up, pretended he didn’t, and was called up on it. Christ, what an asshole.

      1. There was a lot of momentum to go after Apple/Foxconn at the time and this was a huge scoop they wanted to be part of. They took a risk to be part of the pack and it backfired, simple as that. Part of Retraction is Ira Glass’s guilt played out. I’m a fan of TAL and remain one, but I don’t think of them in the same category as Frontline… they’re less journalists, more story tellers.

        1. I agree with what you’ve said, though I never even considered they would fact check in the same way as other reputable news sources. They should point that out more often.

    2. They’ve been on since 1995, covering a huge variety of subjects.  This is the first time they’ve had their veracity called into question, as far as I know.  Yes, their system broke down, but it’d be odd if a deeply flawed system was in place for so long and this is the first time anyone noticed.

      1. Yeah that’s why I wonder why they didn’t proceed with extra caution, given his previous fabrications. But then again, you wouldn’t expect to be lied to so blatantly…

      2. This is not the first time. Malcolm Gladwell’s appearance on the show is controversial for similar reasons. Also, they frequently feature guests who are telling “stories” rather than reporting.

        For instance, David Sedaris has often appeared on the show nd has admitted to embellishing his life experiences for comedic effect.

      3. Not the first time anyone noticed. I stopped listening to TAL because you couldn’t believe all their stories and because they had a tendency to try to cadge appeal by ragging on eggheads, by making fun of knowledge. It’s very playground-esque.

        The good reports on TAL and on Planet Money tend to involve Alex Blumberg, Nasanin Rafsanjani’s husband. He is able to quietly work with people and get good results broadcast.

  3. what he did was just provide more ammo to those who hate china and those within china that hate the idea of a free press. His apology was less of an apology as it was an arrogant statement of his selfishness.

  4. From a purely objective view of this work as a secondary source… this will irreparably harm them.  It basically says that they don’t fact check.  And that means they are worthless as a secondary source information point.  You may as well be asking your cousin Vinnie for the news.

      1. Amen, I don’t think a lot of these people have listened to the retraction.  Furthermore, can you think of any media source that would go to this length to apologize and put the person that deceived them on the spot?  I can’t.

        1. It was one hell of a retraction. Ideally, you don’t want to make this kind of mistake. But when it does happen again (and it will always happen again), I want other outlets to follow This American Life’s example.

  5. Speaking as someone from Seattle I don’t understand why people are so shocked this came from Daisy, His first big work “doing time at amazon.com” suffered simular criticisms locally from people who worked with him, and I recall Daisy making simular excuses at the time. 

    1. I always detested Daisy’s work. I worked @ amazon at the time he was touring with his exaggerated stories about the company. This is kind of different, though. Making fun of Amazon because he thinks it stinks working there isn’t an Amnesty-Int’l-level issue. Forcing foreign employees to do things illegal in your company’s jurisdiction is. I can see wanting to stir the pot to help focus the lens on criminal activity, but Daisy isn’t a philanthropist. He’s a baby with a self-serving flair for exaggerated comedy.

  6. It bugs me when those I agree with politically cook the data. Back when the anti-nuke movement was trying to stop the Cassini launch, they lied and exaggerated their case to the point where I wanted nothing to do with them.

    Listening to Mike Daisy’s smarm last night, I had the same feeling. I still don’t like how much less valuable Chinese lives seem to be than (rich) American lives, but lying to your allies is not any way to build a movement.

    1. Especially when most of the violations are documented by other sources.  Now people will use Daisey as an excuse to dismiss those working conditions.

  7. Daisey’s excuse was basically that, like many movies, the story was “based on a true story.” The problem that he kept refusing to admit was that when people go to movies or watch TV shows that are based on true stories they know that things have been changed an exaggerated.  It’s not the same with one man or one woman shows.  People believe what you’re saying is fact, and Glass tried to hammer that home to him, but he wouldn’t admit it.

    My favorite parts were the long, awkward pauses after the cutting questions.  Dead air is usually considered a bad thing, but in this case it worked extremely well.

    I also laughed at the end when they gave the customary ad for reputation.com.  I guess because I figured Mike Daisey would need it, badly.

    1. I laughed at that reputation.com ad, too.  I thought Ira should have added that “but, reputation.com cannot help you if your bad reputation is deserved.”

  8. TAL is one of my favorite shows – but my BS meter shot up when Daisey’s story was aired, and had mixed feelings about the show – until yesterday.  I think the retraction and the followup show was an excellent example of someone with guts to own up to one’s mistake, and I really admire them now.  I hope TAL will survive this ordeal and go on gaining more audience (and be more cautious about facts).

  9. Daisey’s tale was so melodramatic (the claw hand is the prime example) and his delivery is so emotively earnest that I am very surprised TAL could have ever swallowed any part of his story as factual. I wouldn’t have touched Daisey for anything, he came across on the show as a pathological liar.

    Kudos to Ira Glass and TAL for the way they handled the mea culpa, but brickbats to them for getting bamboozled by something so obviously fantastic.

    1. oh but yes, you can  still download it from them… google jomamashouse ismymamashouse
      get all your TAL w/out torrent.

  10. Congratulations to the PR staff at Apple for taking down Daisey. Now they won’t have to address those pesky questions about slaves putting together products for Apple’s hip, urbane fans.

    1. Except Apple has been responding to the complaints with investigations and policy changes because of the bad PR element, so it hardly seems likely.

      1. Yes, I saw their “concern” and shock, shock I tell you, that such treatment was going on! I mean, here’s Apple, with a market cap of half a trillion, and they weren’t aware of how their precious gadgets were being produced.

        Now they can call it all an exaggeration (despite the Nightline and NYTimes investigations corroborating Daisey’s accounts) and resume rolling in profits.

        And the hipsters can groove to the iTunes while enjoying their artisinal cheeses without guilt.  

        1. So, when Apple only had $2 billion in the bank, and every other tech company was offshoring manufacturing to Asia, you were supporting them with your bucks, right?

          I know it’s been broken to you time and time again but Apple is actually leading the move to making working and living conditions for the third party workers better. Has Lenevo? Dell? HP? Sony? The answer to that would be hell no. Dell actually just required that Foxconn move their assembly activities OUT of facilities shared with Apple because they don’t want to have to pay a premium for that happy huggy feel good BS. If it saves them 2 cents today, they’ll go for it.

          1. And Mussolini made the trains run on time. 

            If Apple hadn’t been exposed by Daisey and others, they would NEVER have given a second thought to the working conditions at Foxconn.

            Isn’t it strange how they never came out and called Daisey’s work fraudulent? Almost like they knew how bad things were.

          2.  And Mussolini made the trains run on time.

            And there’s the Godwinizing! Thanks for playing, and don’t forget your free voucher for your campsite under the bridge on your way out.

          3.  Actually, Dino, I think that’s incorrect.  I think Apple had already started a program to improve working conditions prior to the Mike Daisey thing.  In fact, I think I remember a lot of people citing that fact in Apple’s defense.

          4. Wysinwyg,

            That is incorrect. Apple had not lifted a finger to inquire about working conditions until the crtiticism started.

            By the way, you used “I think” three times in one paragraph. Perhaps you should aspire to “knowing.”

    2. Yes of course it was the PR department of Apple that brought him down…not the actual journalists who found the half truths and outright lies hard to believe and actually did their jobs. 

      1. It was one journalist, Schmitz from Marketplace, a man who supposedly had been reporting on awful conditions at Foxconn for some time. Funny that it took Daisey’s dramatization to get the story the attention Schmitz could never bring it. I think he’s a jealous whiner.

        My favorite part of the “mea culpa” show is Schmitz asking the Chinese translator on air if things were really that bad. “No, of course not”, she said nervously, “Do you want me to end up in a Chinese prison having my organs harvested?”

        1. nice apologia for the liar, Dino, but others figured out his schtick too. http://www.macworld.com/article/1165948/daisey_revelations_sad_but_not_surprising.html

          1. Yes, I’m sure Macworld was all aflame with rage over criticism of their utopian electronics purveyor.

            It reminds me of urban yuppies and hipsters who will take to the streets to keep WalMart away from their lofts but will suck Whole Foods ass, a company whose business model and employee policies are perhaps even worse than WaalMart’s.

            It’s all about the style, not the substance, dontchaknow?

        2. Protip: Putting things in quotes means that the person actually said that. Mr Daisey was somewhat unclear on that point, too.

        3. I doubt that was Schmitz’s motivation but you make a good point about Daisey’s work and I agree, it may be an amalgam but it does work to get the point across. It’s not journalism, it’s theater. As he said in Retraction, his mistake was going on TAL, not in putting together his show. But of course, he’s also been on numerous news shows where he tells the same story (lies) and all of this undermines the impact of his theatrical piece. Had he done what Ira Glass suggested: prefaced the piece with a disclaimer that he’s built a monologue the way we remix audio, he could have let it stand as it was as a theatrical piece. The problem was he lied about his own experience and then kept lying to keep the lid on. Reminds me of Bill Clinton… had he just said “I had sex with that woman” history would be different.

          1.  Or like the “Million Different Pieces” (or whatever) guy who got stomped by Oprah.  The problem wasn’t putting together the piece, it was misrepresenting what the piece actually was.

      1. Yes, we should all go naked and make our own electronics, or perhaps live in caves and withdraw from civilized society if we dare to criticize the system.

      2. Well, you see, only Apple products are the issue. If they are made for other companies, it’s totally fine if they are manufactured by actual slave labour. Cazzo doesn’t give a shit about the Chinese, his problem is with “hipsters”.

        1. Don’t get paranoid. 

          What bothers me is how the hipsters rush to defend Apple because of cache’. As I pointed out elsewhere, it’s like people who will march in the streets against WalMart for how they treat workers or conduct their business but lavish praise on Whole Foods, a store that pays bad, has bad benefits and is as agressive as WalMart. The difference? “Demographic desirability.” 

          1. Can you guarantee that whatever you are typing your drivel into is entirely free of parts made in China, or can we safely dismiss you as a hypocrite?

          2.  I’m pretty anti-Apple.  You can see me arguing with an Apple defender upthread.  I also don’t shop at Whole Foods.  But I still think you are full of shit.

            So do you have any defense for your weird conspiracy theorizing other than accusing everyone else of being Apple/Whole Foods zombies?  (And you’re telling other people not to be paranoid…)

        1.  Try and not be a jerk. If Apple is just one of many customers in the same facilities or company, it’s just as relevant to ask about their involvement or culpability. Don’t single out one company just because you’re got a bug up your own butt about them. What kind of a computer or smartphone are you using to post your oh-so-clever diatribes? Chances are really, really good that it was manufactured in what you would consider to be horrible working conditions. I guess that doesn’t matter to you, so long as it’s not Apple, right? Hypocrite.

          1. Dave, you go ahead and close your eyes to slave labor practices because you like having an iPhone. But I think you can  be offended by slave labor and keep the phone.

        2. No, the story is about Daisey and how he lied. You “bait and switched” it into saying his downfall was the result of aggressive PR tactics. FYI: What you are doing is a classic PR move—change the subject to get take pressure off the original topic. Ironic, no?

          Back to the real issue at hand:

          Daisey could have done the same story without lying. He had enough truth in part of his argument to make his point. The credible stories are there. But he needed more compelling, emotional heart-string tugging details and when he didn’t get them, he made them up.

          Then ends DO NOT justify the means in this case and it hurts the overall cause of workers rights when guys like Daisey lie and get caught. 

          And shame on the public if we need entertainers to get us aware of an issue rather that good journalism.

  11. I thought Ira was too hard on himself. Everyone gets bamboozled at some point, having a Mea Culpa show was a good thing. Ira if you read this, (and you will) – Everyone makes mistakes, you have an amazing body of good work, keep it up, you are fine.

  12. i want all the tech & culture blogs (*cough*) who jumped on the original story with glee, just because they have an axe to grind with apple, to issue apologies too. funny how nobody is mentioning the damage they also did.

    1. Oh stop whining about Apple already.  Pretty much everyone I saw second-handing this story was very explicit about the fact that Apple is no worse than other consumer electronics places and probably better than most of them.  You Apple people are getting to be almost as bad as scientologists with the persecution complexes.

  13. I have to admit that I just don’t ever listen to the show, but I feel neutral towards it. I think a mess like this is going to be critically damaging, especially when there has been so much polarizing media with political agendas as of late. One thing I hope is that there will be a shift away from the entertainment/news hybrid.

  14. So ironic that in the original episode Mike Daisey says: “I’m going to lie to lot’s of people” :(

  15. From what I’ve read about the story so far, it seems to me that both TAL, Glass and their more strident critics are being way too hard on the show.  Daisey’s piece was fundamentally true, but not accurate in a journalistic sense. Because they presented it as journalism, that’s a problem and some level of retraction is needed.

    But step back for a moment and ask yourself: given what we now know (c/o Schmitz and TAL fact checkers) about Daisey’s story, do you think that what you used to be believe about Foxconn is wrong? Or does the TAL retraction simply consist of nuance – something happened in a different province and Daisey never met the person it happened to – rather than “oh, everything is just peachy keen!”

    There are some legitimate arguments that one can have about the whole critical-of-Foxconn angle. There’s a guyat Forbes who has made some good arguments in favor of what Foxconn does and how it does it. But those seem fairly separate from the question of what working at Foxconn is actually like, and I haven’t heard anything at all in the retraction that leads me think that my previous understanding of working condition there was at all wrong.

    I’d also note that TAL does EXTENSIVE fact checking. I went to see Glass in Madison last month and he went into a lot of detail about how TAL dropped a story right before broadcast that seemed absolutely wonderful and was being recounted by the son of the primary character. There was no particular reason to have any doubt about the quirky story at all, but as soon as TAL made a very basic fact check, the whole thing started falling apart and it turned out that the father had, for some reason that no-one will ever know, made up the entire thing. It was never broadcast.

    1. Daisey’s piece was fundamentally true…

      No, you still don’t get it. What made Daisey’s piece such a shocking work was that implied in a country that routinely treats it’s workers like crap, Apple went above and beyond the call of duty to “crack the whip” on Foxxconn workers. Remove Mike Daisey’s fabrications and what is left?  Basically what we have always known: Chinese factory workers work in bad conditions in general and Apple’s plants do not do a better or worse job than any other plant. The conditions suck there, but that kind of systemic change will not come from one hamfisted schmuck sitting on a stage and professing that he “saw the truth” and is spreading gospel.

      What is shocking the levels of non due diligence paid by ‘This American Life,’ ‘The New York Times’ and others.  I’m no genius, but the fact that this guy had so many pitch perfect encounters alone should raise a red flag.

      Daisey is a a schlemiel, ‘This American Life’ is a schlimazel.

      I’d also note that TAL does EXTENSIVE fact checking.

      Not in this case it seems.

      1. i don’t believe that the NYT’s reporting has been based on Daisey’s piece. am i wrong?

        what do you see as the pathway to “systemic change”? 

        1.  Perhaps the Chinese government should reconsider their own internal human rights policies. They are ultimately a communist state with a capitalist economy at this point. Something needs to change.

          Also, I don’t think some blubbering self-important “monologuist” will change anything. Especially when he (aka: Mike Daisey) is so incompetent that he somehow can’t craft a better story on what he saw. I mean, this schmuck did see horrible conditions for Chinese workers, but it wasn’t good enough for him to just write about the whole Chinese factory system. Nope.  He had to “punch up” his script by making it seem as if Apple was the worst company using Chinese labor. That gave him a hook, because it becomes this faux contrarian construct: “Hey folks, Apple is the WORST! But you all like their stuff! I am punk!!”

          Seriously the more I think about this the less respect I have for anyone involved in this mess.  Expect for the interpreter, Cathy Lee.  I have respect for her showing Mike Daisey the world as it exists in China. Mike decided that was not good enough.  Uggh. Repeating myself. The guy is a schmuck.

          1. Yes, I’m sure Miss Lee was free to say whatever she wanted to the American press.

            Don’t worry. You never were concerned about the slaves who put together your tech toys in the first place.

          2. No, China is no longer a Communist state, they are a Capitalist totalitarian state. Communism is an economic system as is Capitalism. Democracy is a form of government as is totalitarianism. The multinationals are now doing everything they can to destroy our democracy here in America and institute totalitarianism where the top 1% have it all and the rest of us become their servants. Neo-feudalism that is where we are headed. The corporate moguls now see how very well capitalism works in a totalitarian state and so they are brainwashing Americans to believe that freedom means “free market” only. Fools all. WAKE UP AMERICA, before it is too late.

        1.  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/06/opinion/jobs-looked-to-the-future.html?_r=2

          “Editor’s Note: Questions have been raised about the truth of a paragraph in the original version of this article that purported to talk about conditions at Apple’s factory in China. That paragraph has been removed from this version of the article.”

          1. No, not that one. It was written by Daisey. This one:


            the one that explains why manufacturing left here and isn’t coming back. They way they can corral the workers in packed dorms, wake them at any hour, have them work 6 days a week and basically make their lives revolve around Apple’s bottom line. Who needs a life?

            I only hope you Apple apologists get to someday see your children and grandchildren live such a drone-like existence right here in America.

        2. If you’re sooooo concerned about the plight of Chinese workers and you’re sooooo eager to vilify anyone who purchases an Apple product, you need to climb down off your high horse and stop using just about any computer or smartphone manugactured in the last decade. Hypocrite.

    2. I’d also note that TAL does EXTENSIVE fact checking. I went to see Glass in Madison last month and he went into a lot of detail about how TAL dropped a story right before broadcast that seemed absolutely wonderful and was being recounted by the son of the primary character.

      Out of curiosity–is this story true, or is it “based on a true story”?

      1. the (never-broadcast) story i was referring to was (re)told by the son of the father at the center of the story. other members of the family corroborated what the son reported the father having told everyone. it turned out that the father had completely fabricated it, even though his children and grandchildren had believed it to be true for years.

        go and see glass while he’s touring with his monologue and you’ll get to hear the saga. he’s (unsuprisingly) a really good speaker. even my teenage daughter enjoyed it quite a lot.

    3.  You should really listen to the show, or at least the last part of it, which consists of a real investigative reporter’s real investigative reporting on the matter.

      Also, your last paragraph has a bit of dissonance in it, between “EXTENSIVE fact checking” and “a very basic fact check”. The degree to which TAL or any other show might do fact checking probably depends on factors such as the amount of lead time they have and how likely or extraordinary the facts in question are. There wasn’t a lot of doubt that conditions at Foxconn were probably quite appalling; Daisey wasn’t the first person to report on them, by a long shot, and although the idea that he talked to these people in person was extraordinary enough, it was also compelling enough that Glass may have decided to go ahead simply because he bought into it on a personal level. The incident that this most resembles in my mind is the public berating of James Frey for his falsified “memoir” by Oprah Winfrey after she’d already had him on her show to praise the book; Oprah’s show was probably a much, much bigger operation than TAL has ever been, and she could have afforded a small army of fact checkers (and may have had them, for all I know), but she obviously bought into his story hook, line and sinker.

  16. I think this is a very good analysis of how the show has matured.  I have also listened to all of their shows (I may not be up to date on the last two or three months).  I found the show with the Friends guy to be more amaturish than their normal standard.  They occasionally run shows where it seems they bring in the farm team and allow them some latitude.  Those are the shows that generally take the kinds of liberties with taste and decorum that point out and come off sounding less polished as well.

    Now if they would only ban short fiction stories from their format.  Especially from David Sedaris.  Most especially any time he writes about animals.

  17. Far be it for me to get in the path of a stampeding herd of Foxcomm and Apple sycophants and apologists, but all that TAL and NPR have really come up with yet is that Daisey got the city in which Foxcomm poisoned its workers wrong. The abusive and exploitative conditions at Foxcomm facilities are well documented by other sources and not in dispute. That Daisey combined some stories of abusive conditions as a narrative device should not be used to whitewash the serial and well documented malfeasance of Foxcomm and Apple.

    1. Oh, but the progressive purists will purse their lips and tell you that he lied so his entire account is tossed in the trash.

      I wonder if they feel that way about the entire Clinton presidency over that oral sex lie?

      1.  Pontificate much? Love to see the Spartan lifestyle you must follow. It must be the epitome of Doing And Purchasing The Right Things Always(tm). Why are you so eager to defend this loser? He did his own reputation more harm than anything. It’s not like the investigation into labor practices in China will evaporate instantly.

        If you’re that concerned that Apple “will get away with this!”, then do something about it besides wailing and gnashing your rhetorical teeth on messageboards. Picket them. Write your congress person. Write your senator. Write to 60 Minutes. Write to Dan Rather. Get a plane ticket to China and storm the bastions of unfeeling worker exploitation right at the source. While you’re at it, make sure you actually determine that what you’re fighting for is real and that you’re not being selective in your targeting, just because you have a mental image of a group of consumers you have a hate-on for.

        Oh, and make sure that you do all this without using any personal electronics manufactured in the past decade – wouldn’t want to be supporting the corporate tyrants in any way with your hard-earned money, right?

        1. Nice red herring. I suppose that one should also give up eating before they dare criticize abusive practices in the food industry. As well, it isn’t the Chinese that are forcing Apple to produce its products in China, they’re doing it to increase profits for their shareholders. The simple fact is that Apple makes about $600,000 in profits per worker, they would suffer little loss from manufacturing in the US with unionized labor without significantly affecting the cost of the end product. Sure, their profit margin would be less, but wait and listen to me play a wistful lament on my tiny violin for their idle rich shareholders.

          1.  Red herring? Right. Whatever.

            No, I’m pointing out that this guy is a hypocrite, pure & simple.

            Before you start waving your magic wand and insist that Apple, or any other modern electronics company, can easily relocate their factories to the U.S., take a little time and do some research. Like it or not, these companies have forced themselves into a corner. There is literally NO OTHER manufacturing region that can respond with the sheer speed and efficiency that China has developed. Everything they need is easily (from a purchasing perspective) designed, developed, modified and manufactured in with ridiculously short turnaround times.

            The U.S. and just about every other so-called First World country has forfeited the responsiveness and infrastructure that’s become necessary in the current manufacturing climate. I, personally, would be ecstatic if these types of jobs came back to the U.S. I’m not holding my breath. We’ve lost that edge and it doesn’t appear holding our breath and stamping our feet will bring it back any time soon.

        2.  Ignore Dino. He’s this thread’s self-appointed threadshitter. (Note his evocation of Mussolini above.)

        3. Talk about pontification.

          Thought that was more a tantrum-by-proxy for Apple.

          S’ok. You can keep the iProducts. No one is asking you (or me) to give them up.

        4. As for your breathless conclusion that no one else ever again in the history of humankind can ever, never ever no way produce electronics here because China has it all wrapped up you see: Are you for real?

          I seem to remember Mexico and Japan being the favored low labor countries before China. Vietnam is rising as well. But China, ah China, their society is less free making it the perfect capitalist culture. A desperate supply of potential workers forced to show up every day.That’s what the greedy people at Apple like.

  18. Am I the only person who’s feeling that ‘net shenanigans has been called?  Where’s this Daisey fellow??? Hie me to my broom.

  19. I have been highly unimpressed by Mike Daisey since he first appeared and did his “I Worked at Amazon” monologue. I really do not understand how anyone could take one person—with very little evidence, but a lot of charisma—seriously like that.  But I really didn’t say much because I learned the hard way that when in the comedy/performance world the “mob” has decided someone is good, there is nothing you can say against them.  At least nowadays.

    When I heard the ‘This American Life’ piece and read the resulting pieces elsewhere where Mike Daisey did not shun away from his story or the spotlight I knew something was wrong, but couldn’t pin anything on it.  When places like NPR & the New York Times echoed his reports, I assumed that his story had to go through enough vetting and fact checking to get that far. But apparently the word of a long monologuist is enough to get this guy cred. I mean, doesn’t anyone question the fact that ONE person could have so many amazing experiences that happen to all fit nicely into a monologue?  Worked at Amazon, buys an iPhone, sees factory worker pictures on the iPhone, goes to China cold and finds an interpreter who magically connects him to all of these magically wounded foreign people.  And he—Mike Daisey—is the one to witness this.  Does he think he’s Forrest Gump?

    I read the press release last night, and heard the ‘This American Life’ podcast on the incident this morning.  Disgusted by all sides.  Ultimately the fault really falls on Mike Daisey’s vanity, but Ira Glass and his crew should really know better.  The level of non-fact checking they admitted to in today’s podcast was speechless.  I have had to write PayPal claims that had more solid facts.

    Disgusted by this.

  20. So, Rob Schmitz found the translator by googling her name. Funny… you would think Apple’s or Foxcomm’s PR folks would have done that as well.

    1. I heard a radio program yesterday (BBC, but I can’t unfortunately remember the name) on the world’s largest employers and statistics in general.  One example that they mentioned was the suicides at Foxconn. It turns out that the 10 reported suicides at Foxconn factories are significantly below the suicide rate for the general population in China.  They have 400,000 employees. 

      I’m no apologist, but think that nuances make for really boring journalism, so they often get the short shrift.

      1. I like nuance in my journalism too, but with a side order of logic.

        For that comparison to have any meaning, either Foxconn employees work 24 hours per day, or all suicides in China occur in the workplace.

        1. At the facilities in question, employees live “on campus” so to speak in company-owned dorms. They eat in company-owned cafeterias, shop in company-owned stores, all “on campus” – I’m sure they leave once in a while to go into town, but most probably don’t, to save money.

          So if they’re going to commit suicide, they’re probably going to do it where they live – and work, in this case – because they’re there almost all the time.

          So yes, it is fair and meaningful to compare the rate of Foxconn employees committing suicide at the factories (again, which is where the workers live) to the rate in China (or any other country) as a whole.

          1. At the facilities in question, employees live “on campus” so to speak in company-owned dorms.

            No, at the facilities in question, some of the employees live “on campus”. About three-quarters do not.

            So if they’re going to commit suicide, they’re probably going to do it where they live – and work, in this case – because they’re there almost all the time.

            Your hypothesis could do with some refinement: not many people live and work on the Golden Gate Bridge, and yet…

          2. For those of us alert to weasel-words, you’ll notice that a “dorm” is not a “factory”.
            Factories are shared spaces. Dorms are places where you have some level of privacy.
            China’s overall rate is 22/100kpop/year (via wikipedia).
            If 10/100k suicide at Foxconn factories, then either:
            – at least 45% of Foxconn suicides choose to kill themselves in public, in the workspace, and the rate is lower than national average. Perhaps they choose this location because it was the workspace that drove them to it; perhaps because the workspace is so deadly, it make a good place to do it.
            – at least 55% choose to die in the privacy of their dorms, and the suicide rate is higher than the national average.

    2. As long as factory labor practices in China center around one company, 100% conditions will never change.

  21. Am I the only one seeing the sweet irony that this retraction piece aired on St. Patrick’s day? As an old Irish friend of mine told me one day, “what I’m about to tell you is absolutely true. Maybe not completely accurate, but it’s 100% true”. 

    I was also a bit stunned that Ira didn’t seem to be getting the difference between what’s theatrically true and journalistically true, and that he let his own assumptions about theatrical truth blind his judgement about journalistic truth.

    1. isn’t the whole reason why there is a retraction that TAL is recognizing the difference between “theatrical” and “journastic” truth?

  22. Hopefully this whole episode will continue the death spiral for “public radio”. It hasn’t been truly public in years, especially with the rise of “underwriting” ( read: corporate ads)  and the rampant cronyism that occurs across a vast swathe of the major networks, NPR, PRI, APM. If all of the people who donated to their local stations had even an inkling of the financial hanky-panky that goes on at some public radio stations, you’d hear a lot less phones ringing in those pledge rooms. I think they might also be surprised at how many right-wing people work in the so called “liberal” newsrooms at places like NPR. Radio is a dying form. The podcast is the future.

    1.  Please dish on the “hanky-panky” otherwise I’m going to assume you’re secretly Mike Daisey  . I somehow doubt that most NPR listeners think of it as a “liberal” newsroom where they cleanse themselves of all right wingers, most listeners tend to think of it as an informative non-partisan news source, the “worthless liberal rag” talk seems to come mostly from rush types who have rarely listened.

    2.  I would be surprised if there was an NPR radio show that did not also have a podcast. Also, podcasts cost money. So I’m not sure what you’re point is.

    3. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  But I guess you’re right.  Babies are overrated.

    4. As a liberal, I’m glad there’s not an ideological mandate that everyone in the newsroom believe in the same things.  I think they work pretty hard on the news shows at being nonpartisan.  Given the incredibly biased right wing radio like Rush is considered by some to be a news source, I think NPR should be treasured and has very little to apologize for.

    5.  You don’t know many people who listen to public radio, do you? NPR regularly reports on various scandals connected to it, e.g. the whole Juan Williams thing. As imperfect as the current system is, it’s preferable both to more commercial radio of the Clear Channel variety and to podcasts, some of which are truly great but a lot of which are the province of cranky obsessives who expect you to listen to their half hour rants about the gold standard or why the ending of Mass Effect 3 sucked. (In other words, podcasting is no less subject to Sturgeon’s Law than any other medium.)

    1.  Of course it goes on; after all, James Frey is still writing, or maybe that should be “writing.”

  23. The Nightline report on Foxconn didn’t create the impression that the workers were living the dream.

    I just read a Macworld review of the Nightline story and they were all chirpy about it, even offering ominous warning about how prices would “skyrocket” if they were made here. You mean like how Apple products were produced for years?

    I don’t recall, when they shipped manufacturing to slave labor, did we see a big price drop for Apple products? No? Hmm. that’s odd.

    1. “I don’t recall, when they shipped manufacturing to slave labor, did we see a big price drop for Apple products?”

      You don’t follow Apple product prices and specs very closely, do you?

    2. Leaving aside your choice of terminology – yes, yes we did. Given that we went from the pricing of the Sculley/Spindler era to the pricing of the Jobs era (with the Amelio era as a transitional period there), there was an impressive price drop over time.

  24. Micheal, THANK YOU for calling out the Georgia Rambler episode.
    I’ve been a fan of This American Life for many years and that specific story in that episode never sat right with me. I’m from Georgia, and the tone of that story felt condescending. A couple of guys in a bar were nice enough to talk to Eugene and he turned around and called one of them gay, on national radio, without asking if it was even correct. Eugene talked like he was self-justified in doing so, as if he were so enlightened he could do these southerners a favor by outing one of them to a national audience, and if he wasn’t gay, who cares right?

  25. From TAL’s transcript:

    Mike Daisey: 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. I use the tools of theater and memoir to achieve its dramatic arc and of that arc and of that work I am very proud because I think it made you care…

    it’s not theatre. it’s propaganda.

      1. Huh? How are they comparable? Daisey’s story is an amalgam of facts, hearsay, rumor, and outright lies, which are, by his own admission, bent in a way to manipulate a listener’s point of view. This is almost the exact definition of propaganda.

        A news story by any reputable organization, like NYT or Nightline is, or supposed to be, reported events and facts.

    1. I am so bookmarking this for future use.

      “Honey, I wasn’t lying to you.  I was using the tools of theater and memoir.”

  26. I detected something between exaggeration and fraud when I heard Daisey on TAL and wondered at the time why Ira Glass, who normally has such a discerning ear, couldn’t hear it, too.  But what really riled me was Daisey’s blatant imitation of Spalding Gray. The phrasing, the pauses for effect – everything he said and the way he said came out as a bad copy of a truly unique artist.  Then I saw a picture of him on stage.  Black background, simple spotlight, basic table on which sits a microphone, a glass of water, even the yellow legal pad. Hey, I miss Spalding, too, but I don’t want to hear him parodied by a clown who wants to be his clone.

      1. All art is not derivative. There may be little new under the sun, but artists can and do express themselves in ways that are original. My point is that Spalding Gray did that. Mike Daisey imitated him.

  27. Every news outlet makes a mistake now and then, no matter how hard they try.

    But this is a perfect illustration of how to handle a mistake CORRECTLY: Admit to it, explain how it occurred, analyze how you could have prevented it, publish those facts, and then go back and report what the story should have been. All of which they covered in this week’s episode.

    When’s the last time you saw anyone else in the media attempt to hold themselves to this standard?

    Take note. This detailed correction is what responsible journalism looks like.

  28. Well…it has been a while since unethical behavior compounded by media amplification caused a stir of righteous indignation, hasn’t it?   I’ll keep supporting TAL in hopes they effect change as seen in a Drug Court Judge’s recent peer review, and decision to retire.  

    It seems lesser individuals’ and organizations’ behavior serves to illustrate their moral standards:  issue a simple correction, act somewhat contrite, maybe defensive,
    but ultimately unapologetic.   

    Thus the difference between TAL and Mr. Daisey.

    “….but honestly…..Monica…..”

  29. Hold on!  This article moves really far, very fast.  I think you could report that someone claiming to be Mike Daisey’s translator, didn’t see everything he claims to have seen.  The Author moves to discredit Mike almost entirely in the first few lines.  I think it’s obvious that there is a lot more to this story.  Honestly, it reads like an article intentionally written to discredit Mike.

    1. If you listen to the “Retraction” episode, you’ll find the translator Schmitz found is confirmed by Daisey as the very same he hired in his 2010 Shenzhen visit. And, while neither she nor Daisey took extensive notes, emails exchanged between them at the time corroborate the translator’s version of events.

      Further, any discredit to Daisey is clearly demonstrated to be of his own making. He did such a thorough job of it, no one need exaggerate.

      I still like Daisey as a performer, and I can understand the half-baked reasoning that led him to make such spectacular mistakes. If he could grasp that the truth makes for a better story after all, his work will mature considerably. I also feel TAL did an amazing job at being even-handed with Daisey, given how much is at stake with their integrity.

      There is indeed a lot more to this story, in the episode itself. Seriously, give it a listen.

  30. I see three separate issues being conflated in the comments.

    1. Was it acceptable or justifiable for Daisey to present as factual something that was only inspired by the facts?

    2. What is the most ethical position for developed world consumers to take on developing world manufacturing practices?

    3. Is the consumer electronics sector in general or Apple in particular a particularly egregious example of developing world manufacturing practices?

    1. and 3. are easy – no and no. If something is only inspired by the truth then you better be up-front and explicit about the fact that it is only inspired, and conditions for all factory workers across the developing world are pretty terrible by developed world standards. In fact, more high-tech manufacturing is almost certainly better than most, as it is more skilled.

    2. is a lot more difficult. The naive reaction would be to say “we accept nothing that comes from conditions we would not accept for ourselves” (though, I guess, this would also have to extend to US-grown fruits and vegetables, or goods shipped from US warehouses – see Mac McClelland’s recent story in Mother Jones). A more thought out take would note that a nation, region, or other community of people has never been able to (and, indeed, physically cannot) move from “terrible” to “comfortable” quality of life without passing the intermediate stages (well, I guess there is always some equivalent to winning the lottery…). Take away the intermediate rungs and everyone will be stuck at “terrible” (e.g. substance farming in the Chinese countryside). On the flipside, there will always be people benefitting from keeping as many people as possible on the lower rungs, so some help pushing upwards is absolutely required. In other words (to mangle Einstein’s expression) rich consumers should try to make sure that the conditions in which their products are made advance as quickly as possible, but not quicker.

    The exactly right pace – the one that best raises the quality of life for people in developing nations without strangling development opportunities – is difficult to determine, let alone sloganeer about. Context, symmetry, and balance seem to me to be important. As soon as one region or group starts shooting far ahead of the others to which it was previously closely linked, abuses, inefficiencies, and destabilisation are likely to follow. From one side, it gives us something to watch out for – if there are great asymmetries (like between the developed and developing world, or between the owners of the Chinese factories and their employees) then something somewhere is likely going wrong. On the other hand, it also means that any attempt to bridge one gap by creating another one nearby is unlikely to be a sustainable solution (e.g if a particular push to advance Foxconn’s working conditions puts no pressure on the advancement of Pegatron’s then its long-term costs may end up outweighing its short-term benefits).

    Significant power (and developed world consumers do have significant power) is complex to wield and comes with significant responsibilities. Let’s not betray these responsibilities and the interests of those affected by our power by giving into our desire for some simple good vs. evil narrative. On the other hand, let’s also not betray these responsibilities by saying “it’s all too complex, so I give up”.

  31. Maybe this was all a ruse by Ira Glass to grab geek liberal demographic.  For a few days at least, John Stewart was the second biggest name in Fake News.  

  32. yep Mike Daisey screwed up.  Should have admitted that he was telling a story.  Now he’s given ammunition to all the murdering idiots who want to justify slavery to increase their quotient of gadgets. 

    I’ve visited third world factories, mines, export-farms and moderately high-tech manufacturing plants ( not in China).  Every single one of them provided a work experience that was so close to slavery that the differences aren’t worth discussing.  The idea that high-tech means better working conditions is an idea born of ignorance in order to justify excess consumption.  Sure, some of the people in the factory have to be skilled, but the people doing the dirty and repetitive jobs are interchangeable and disposable and treated as such.

    My brother works for an enginering firm that designs widgets and gadgets that are made in China and used as compnents in everything from computers and copy machines to guitar tuners.  He likes to tell me that once he visited a factory and walked down the line with the factory president and a translator.  They asked the workers if they liked their job.  Every one said, “yes this is a very good job.” So my brother reports that his company is responsible. I’ve done the very same thing (in Brazil) but then a week later sought out the same workers with a different translator in their shanty towns and there they told the truth about their jobs, and the truth wasn’t so rehersed or pretty.  Why is it that Mike Daisey is the only one lying when the truth is being more obscured by the reporters who follow my brother’s example?

    Mike Daisey assembled a story rather than reported facts, that is unfortunate, but not nearly as unfortunate as the situation on the ground.

    1. “Sure, some of the people in the factory have to be skilled, but the people doing the dirty and repetitive jobs are interchangeable and disposable and treated as such.”

      Pretty sure this applies to damn near anyone, anyplace, who works for another.

  33. Apple – like any other powerful corporation – has succeeded in keeping the sheeple confused about their slave labor.

    1.  Wow. “Sheeple.” Never heard that one before. And… what brand of non-“slave labor” computer did you type your entry on?

  34. I’m puzzled by this whole episode.    Since when has TAL been about hard core fact based journalism.  I always assume they are telling stories that are true, but I’ve never assumed that they were fact checking journalists.  Daisy is absolutely right to contrast the truth of the theater with the truth of journalism.   If you asked anyone what kind of truth TAL purveys, I think their first and spontaneous reaction would be “theatrical truth”, “emotional truth”, “subjective truth.”  Give that, at the very least it is easy to imagine how a guy like Daisy who is after the “essence” of situations and, willing to ride rough shod over the specifics and facts, it is easy to imagine how when approached by TAL he would see it as a natural partner for his brand of agitprop story telling.    

    To hear Ira Glass getting all high and mighty about how he was deceived, and to hear Daisy confessing to lying, seems very very strange.
    Furthermore, why is the testimony of a Chinese translator whose life and family may be at risk as a result of providing evidence against Corporate China, taken as the standard of “truth” in this case?    I felt like in this show I was listening to Ira Glass and TAL cowering in the face of legal and political assaults by Corporate China and Apple Corp., and engaged in some kind of communist self criticism session, and dragging Mike Daisy along with them.  It was surreal.   I was glad that Daisy came back in the end and said basically, I was portraying a different kind of truth.  And yes, he probably was right to say the kind of truth I was portraying is not journalistic truth, the kind you expected.   But he also would have been well within his rights to say “you are not the kind of outfit that is known for purveying only the truths of fact checked journalism, so you know, you could cut me some slack for thinking my stage presentation of reality might be your kind of thang.  And yes, I got sucked in, and when you pressed me for evidence, I misled you… but I think you bear some responsibility in this situation.”  If Daisy had said that, he would have been right to do so.

    I find Glass et al’s contrition to taste very very weird.   It feels pressured.  It feels dishonest.  It feels like someone got to them, and they betrayed their own artistic standards and a fellow artist by deciding, only now, that they are above all, first and foremost, journalists.     Really?  Who got to you Ira?    Weird.   

    1.  Ok. A journalist actually admits that they relayed a story that didn’t have a factual basis once it was investigated, the source of the information admits that they lied and this is somehow an example of being “gotten to?”

      I think this is actually a refreshing thing and other news agencies should be taking note. Investigate your sources, confirm your information and if you make a mistake, admit to it and move on. I’d much rather have a human, fallible journalist ‘fess up to a “whoops,” than to have them ignore it or bury a retraction on the back of page 39.

      Just because this Mike Daisey guy is a loser doesn’t detract from other investigations done by other news organizations. Basing one’s opinions solely on this one person or your perceived opinion of his subject matter is the silly thing to be doing.

      Still convinced Apple is the Evil Empire? Cool. Use other sources for your arguments, back them up and don’t focus all of your vitriol on just them. There are a lot of companies in the same boat, some much worse I suspect. We’re only hearing about Foxconn because of the juicy Apple connection. How many investigative reporters are looking into Samsung, Amazon, Dell, HP, Gateway, etc., etc., etc.?

      I have no doubt that Foxconn would be mind-numbingly boring and depressing to work in. I’ve also worked in textile mills (back when we still had a textile industry) and they were horrible, hot, dirty, noisy, dangerous and mind-numbing places to be. I find it interesting that there always appears to be a huge number of people waiting outside the front gates at Foxconn’s various factories to be hired. Says a lot for the lives they’re leaving behind that they’re willing to work in places like that.

      Are the wages decent there? It sounds like they’re better than the average wage in that country. Given their cost of living, it sounds like they’ve at least got a chance to get further ahead than they would if they’d stayed in their rural homes.

      China’s working conditions aren’t going to get solved by outside forces. They’ll get solved by Chinese workers getting fed up and deciding to do something about it themselves.

      1. I don’t think Apple is the evil empire.  But I don’t understand why you think, or thought a priori, that Ira Glass was a journalist.  I never did.  I thought he was a story teller, a subjective story teller, indeed concerned with a different kind of truth.   Mike Daisy isn’t a loser.  He’s a performer.  What is loser about this is Mike Daisy letting himself be held to journalistic standards of truth telling, and Ira Glass suddenly (so it seems) proclaiming himself a journalist.   That was news to me… and not necessarily good news.

        As to the fact of the case, I believe that Daisy presented a large truth about Apple and other technology companies, and if he combined some stories, or reported as first hand what he heard second hand, well, he wouldn’t be the first, and doing that well is its own kind of art.  It may not be what we call journalism in the modern sense, but it is worthy of respect on its own terms. 
        Daisy tried to make that case, but he was caught up in the mea culpa and didn’t do so as forcefully as he could have or should have.

    2. Howard789 feels Daisy’s a good match for TAL because he’s only after the ‘essence’ of truth and is willing to ‘run rough shod’ over the facts. While it’s true This American Life is about stories, more and more they are covering larger issues.  Many of those ‘stories’ are investigative in nature and do require extensive fact checking. 

      Some of the programs that come to mind: #430 (the drug courts), #414 (about NYPD officer Adrian Schoolcraft), #408 (Haiti), #391 (health care), #403 (the auto industry), and #387 (arms dealing). Most of these programs devoted the entire hour to cover the subject.  There have been many programs dealing with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well (#416, 445, 266, 335, 311..) and all of the programs done in partnership with the Planet Money Team (#373, 375, 377, 382, 390, 410, 418, 423, 435, and 441) no doubt required fact-checking out the wazoo. 

      That said, there is a home at TAL for exaggeration and whimsy.  I don’t agree we have to demand a retraction for the Santaland Diaries.

      1. You make my case.  Given that TAL routinely mixes journalism with theater it is positively strange to hear it be offended by theater.   Surely they, if anyone, must understand the difference, and know when they are doing one or the other.    What could be more amusing or absurd than an outfit that dances on the line between subjective and objective truth telling suddenly finding its undies all in a bunch because it treated a subjective truth teller as an objective truth teller.    Mike Daisy may bear some responsibility here (maybe), but when you get the call from TAL to air your production you have every right to assume they “get it” for what it is.    Daisy should have gotten suspicious about whether TAL grokked his art when they got all fact checky on his ass (he admits as much… he admits there was a point where he should have said something), but you can forgive a guy for getting sucked into a big national radio presentation by an outfit that should have been an ideal vehicle for an artistic representation of a social problem.

        And then Ira Glass comes up with this nonsense about journalistic truth standards as if the Santaland diaries never happened… as if most of what TAL does never happened.    I’m sorry, but it just feels fake.   Or perhaps it feels like Ira Glass is not who he presents himself to be.   Something about this picture does not add up.   

  35. While this story is about TAL, as people point out, terrible things are going on in China. We’re all complicit. But I just want to mention, in Santa Cruz, just 30 miles away from Cupertino, The VP of the iPhone and Macintosh groups at Apple is trying to build a ginormous mansion on the top of a hill in Bonny Doon. The reason why the north coast of Santa Cruz is so beautiful and doesn’t look like San Jose is because we have open space rules and parkland that has been protected for decades by sweat, tears, and money. For VP Bob Mansfield, however, who made millions building iPhones in China, the rules don’t apply. It seems to me that a man who would do what he has done in China wouldn’t have a problem despoiling a mountain, and one of the most most precious viewsheds in our nation. 

    1. Uh, the reason Santa Cruz doesn’t look like San Jose is because San Jose isn’t on the coast. I think your comparative skills might need some work, try after you’ve calmed down about this local politics issue.


  36. While I’d quibble with one or two of your details (Mike Daisey didn’t call attention to anything about Apple that hasn’t been on every tech blog for several years), you do make a point that TAL has to elevate its game a bit if they’re going to play in this sort of league, even if it’s part-time. For the most part, I find that it’s usually pretty easy to distinguish straight-up fiction from non-fiction on TAL most of the time (as with this bit from David Rakoff, which is delivered entirely in rhyme), and it’s always important to note that Mike Daisey didn’t just deliver the material to Glass and say “here it is, take it at face value or not”, he deliberately lied to Glass and others about the factuality of the information on more than one occasion.

    Also, WRT the Georgia Rambler bit, yes, it was stupid and tacky, but nobody bats a thousand and sometimes you get stuff that slips under the radar. 

  37. Isn’t it interesting that a company like Apple, run by someone known to be a control freak, would simply outsource the manufacturing of their products to someone else and then claim they knew nothing about how that production process was being handled? I mean, we’re talking about a company that wouldn’t license its operating system, something that almost killed it. A company that had strict controls for years on who was allowed to sell their products (licensed dealers), ultimately opening up their own corporate stores to gain better control over their corporate image (and, screwing the aforementioned licensed dealers in the process, but I digress). 

    Does that sound like an organization that would let the manufacturing process remain a mystery? Or did they just forget to ask about workplace conditions?

    In the world I live in, when we hire a subcontractor, we put them through several screens- liability insurance, credit history, safety record, etc before we’ll use them. It’s called due diligence. I guess when we’re talking about massive manufacturing operations, some guy at Apple just picks up the phone and orders a couple million iPhones from Foxconn like he was ordering takeout? That sound about right?

  38. The reason why this can happen is because there is enough consumers in the West who too easily and willfully scoop up every outrageous story they read about China.
    It is called ‘fear’.

  39. I’ll just leave this here:  http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/1997/03/in_praise_of_cheap_labor.html
    This whole business smacks of economic protectionism under the guise of humanitarianism.

      1. And you would strip away the one competitive advantage that Chinese workers have–the willingness to work longer and harder for less money under worse conditions–because it doesn’t correspond with your privileged notion of The Way Things Should Be. Why not let the Chinese people decide this for themselves?

        1. Who’s stopping them? But this isn’t about economic development in China, it’s about the questionable ethics of Apple’s corporate behavior.

          It’s quite disingenuous to frame this as Apple offering the downtrodden their big chance to shine. That smacks of exploitation under the guise of charity.

          1. It isn’t about charity; it’s about self-determination. Apple is running a business. You’re the one who is treating these people as if they’re a charity case.

        2. Apple knows that they’re free to do whatever they like- slave labor practices, environmental destruction- to run their business, it’s their call. They’ll just have to put up with the fallout.

          I’m glad you’re willing to admit that it’s not about economic protectionism since it’s about Apple’s freedoms. You’re such a humanitarian, at least when it comes to greedy capitalists.

          1. I am in favor of strong labor and environmental laws. I would love to see China make improvements in both of these areas. But I have a problem with singling out one company for what is an industry-wide issue. Changes made by Apple alone will only put Apple at a disadvantage relative to its less visible competitors. We saw the same thing when Greenpeace targeted Apple for environmental finger wagging despite the fact that Apple’s products were not demonstrably worse than anyone else’s.

            Competition can flourish when all companies are held to the same environmental and labor standards. But when one company is skewered in the court of public opinion while others get a free pass? Not so much.

            Of course, it’s a lot harder to effect legal change than it is to get on the Internet and complain about “hipsters” and “slave labor.” But hey, whatever floats your boat.

        3. So now it’s about poor, mistreated Apple? The story is about APPLE. Not Dell or anyone else. But I don’t think they’ll be at a disadvantage anyway, what with their half a trillion market cap and enormous bank account. 

          Care to shift your rationale  again? Perhaps you think it’s wrong draw attention to Apple because its logo is a piece of fruit and that’s not fair to the companies whose logos are also fruit. Or vegetables. Or something, I don’t know, but you’ll think of it.

          1. So I’m not allowed to have more than one problem with this? I think there’s something very disingenuous about privileged westerners purporting to know what is best for Chinese workers. Encouraging one company to pay artificially high wages (or to pay the same wages and enforce better conditions, which is essentially the same thing) is not a longterm solution because other less scrupulous companies will be given a competitive edge. Furthermore,  the fact that this has been presented as an Apple problem means that if Apple does clean up its act people will likely forget about the whole thing.
            But the Chinese government can improve things by enforcing legal standards that create a level playing field for all companies. People line up for jobs at Foxconn because it is a hell of a lot better than subsistence farming. Maybe now that China has attracted a critical mass of production facilities, agglomeration effects will mean that they’ll be able to start competing on other grounds than cheap labor. But it is China’s prerogative to decide when they’ve reached this point. When they do, I have little doubt that they will begin to enforce stricter labor standards. Just like we did in the United States after we became wealthy enough to start exporting our shit work overseas.

  40. I wasn’t happy to hear about the lies, but I wish other news sources were this up-front and thorough with their retractions. Compare TAL’s response to Dan Rather’s initial reaction when presented with evidence that the Killian documents were forged.

  41. Fresh off their victory over the corpulent slave labor whistleblower, Apple is now whining about mean old Uncle Sam and his gosh darn taxes:


    But why CAN’T we bring back the billions we made with slave labor and not pay taxes on it? We’re special, we make the toys of the creative class so we shouldn’t have to pay taxes! Why, Apple is keeping thousands of baristas out from behind the milk steamer by making them $10/ hour so-hip-they-hurt sales folk! It’s not quite the deal we get from our manufacturing slaves but it’s about as good as it gets in America! 

  42. As a theatre artist, I was surprised that Daisey’s story was taken as journalistic truth (which IS different from theatrical truth).  As a long-time listener of This American Life, I was surprised to realize those stories are taken as journalistic truth, by both the creators of the show and by listeners – I have never thought of TAL as a news show; rather, I guess I thought of them as occupying a space between human interest and fiction (especially considering some of their regular guests).  Daisey’s show does not, for me, lose its legitimacy (and the story Daisey is telling has been backed up with fact-checked investigations by NYTimes and others), and I hope his continued (and altered) performance of it sparks some good discussions on the nature of truth, fact, fiction, reality, theatre, etc.  It certainly seems as though Daisey was not up front about some details, and I hope he learns from this experience going forward.  And I actually think that his requirement that the sentence “This is not a work fiction.” be placed in the programs of his show is a more egregious incident that what aired on TAL.  TAL should not have aired the episode in the first place (as hey have admitted), if they were unsure of its journalistic accuracy (because apparently TAL is a news show).  The burden, in my opinion, lies a bit more with TAL – and I will certainly listen to TAL with more uncertainty (though not villification) now than I ever experience when I sit in the audience of a theatre.  And I will also certainly think more about what sort of ‘truth’ audiences are expecting when they come to see shows I have worked on.  It is a complex and complicated situation, one that warrants more discussion than finger pointing, but I do hope the TAL folks continue to examine the place of truth and fact in their show as much as theatre folks are now.  Surprise, both Mike Daisey and Ira Glass are human, and so are we all – this is a very human drama we are seeing played out.  I think we will be talking about this for some time.  And not forgetting about the workers in China who, any way you tell it, do not have the working conditions that they should.  I write this on a Mac, and I do not exempt myself as a player in this important discussion that should move beyond finger pointing as soon as possible.

Comments are closed.