'This American Life' retracts report on Apple, Foxconn factories in China

Citing “numerous fabrications” in a report aired on Jan. 6 about working conditions in Chinese manufacturer Foxconn’s factories, public radio program “This American Life” has retracted the show and plans to dedicate an entire, hour-long episode to the issue Friday evening.

“We've learned that Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China -- which we broadcast in January -- contained significant fabrications,” explained Ira Glass, host and executive producer of the show, in a statement online. “We're retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth.”

This American Life is a weekly public radio show broadcast on more than 500 stations to about 1.8 million listeners. It is produced by Chicago Public Media, and distributed by Public Radio International. Daisey’s segment on working conditions in the factories was the most popular podcast ever from the show, with 888,000 downloads rather than the typical 750,000, the show said in a statement.


The report -- excerpted from Daisey's one-man theatrical piece, "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" -- contained numerous errors both small and large, Glass said.

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The number of factories Daisey visited in China was listed incorrectly, for example, as well as the number of workers he spoke with. Daisey also claims to have met a group of workers who were poisoned on an iPhone assembly line by a chemical called n-hexane -- a bigger error, "This American Life" said.

“Apple's audits of its suppliers show that an incident like this occurred in a factory in China, but the factory wasn’t located in Shenzhen, where Daisey visited,” the show's producers explained in a note posted to the site.

Mike Daisey nevertheless stands by his work, stating that the newscast was intended not as news or journalism but as entertainment.

“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,” Daisey wrote in a statement on his blog. “It uses a combination of fact, memoir and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity.”

“What I do is not journalism,” he explained.

Public attention has been focused on Foxconn and Apple both before and after the report -- especially as the Mac maker’s stock has soared to record highs and turned the consumer electronics giant into the world’s most valuable company.

To counter growing worldwide concern, Apple offered ABC’s "Nightline" program a glimpse inside the factory last month that included a tour of half a dozen production lines in Shenzhen and Chengdu.

“We mostly found people who face their days through soul-crushing boredom and deep fatigue,” wrote Nightline host Bill Weir in a story previewing the show. Following a widely reported rash of suicides at the plant, Foxconn hung nets on factories and dormitories -- Weir said they remain “everywhere you look.”

"This American Life" plans a special, Friday evening show to discuss the issue. In it, Daisey reportedly will express feelings of regret over the events.

"It was completely wrong for me to have it on your show," Daisey tells Glass on the program, "and that's something I deeply regret." He also expressed his regret to "the people who are listening, the audience of This American Life, who know that it is a journalism enterprise, if they feel betrayed."