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Guest Blog: Response to This American Life’s Retraction of “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory”

*This guest blog by David Daedalus is a follow up to David’s 1/20/12 entry about a now-retracted This American Life Episode by Mike Daisey.

Guest Blog: Response to This American Life’s Retraction of “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory”

By David Daedalus

Today, I received an email from Ira Glass of the radio program This American Life. It turns out that a recent episode featuring monologuist Mike Daisey, who traveled to China to learn more about the workers and working conditions under which Apple products are made, was largely fabricated. Below is a portion of the email from Glass: 

During fact checking before the broadcast of Daisey’s story, I and This American Life producer Brian Reed asked Daisey for this interpreter’s contact information, so we could confirm with her that Daisey actually witnessed what he claims. Daisey told us her real name was Anna, not Cathy as he says in his monologue, and he said that the cell phone number he had for her didn’t work anymore. He said he had no way to reach her.

 At that point, we should’ve killed the story. But other things Daisey told us about Apple’s operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him. We didn’t think that he was lying to us. That was a mistake.

As those of you who have been following the story already know, the result of the original broadcast of Daisey’s story increased scrutiny on Apple’s labor practices and, in response, Apple improved its auditing practices of its third party suppliers.  

Daisey’s response to the retraction is posted on the Washington Post, found here.

What Daisey’s response amounts to is him saying is: I’m not a journalist, I never claimed to be, the story is a dramatization designed to raise awareness of an important issue, and it did that. In fact, the New York Times ran a story shortly after Daisey’s episode aired that also detailed that working conditions in some of the factories were deplorable.

Until more details come out on this week’s podcast of This American Life, we have no way of knowing to what degree Daisey lied to the producers about the facts in his story. Obviously if he lied to them, he shouldn’t have.

However, the inescapable irony here is that Daisey’s point about the ease with which we ignore the immoral is exemplified by the producers of This American Life in their willingness to ignore their own concerns about the truthfulness of Daisey’s story.

Just as we, the consumers of Apple products, willfully turn a blind eye to the manner in which those products are made, so it seems that Ira Glass and his staff also turned a blind eye to the warning signs that there were issues of factual accuracy in Daisey’s story because the story was so damn good.

Kudos to Glass for taking his lumps and owning up to his mistake. It just goes to show you how readily even the best of us will ignore our conscience if what we get in return is shiny, impressive, and makes us look cool.


Photo by rpongsaj via Flickr.


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