The public radio show* "This American Life" has retracted a show broadcast in January that described inhuman working conditions at Apple's i-Phone plant in China. TAL is produced by Chicago Public Radio, an independent radio station and distributed by Public Radio International.
The episode, as described by the show's blog, "never should have aired":
I have difficult news. We've learned that Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China - which we broadcast in January - contained significant fabrications. We're retracting the story because we can't vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.
The China correspondent for the public radio show Marketplace tracked down the interpreter that Daisey hired when he visited Shenzhen China. The interpreter disputed much of what Daisey has been saying on stage and on our show. On this week's episode of This American Life, we will devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory."
Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That doesn't excuse the fact that we never should've put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.
We're horrified to have let something like this onto public radio. Many dedicated reporters and editors - our friends and colleagues - have worked for years to build the reputation for accuracy and integrity that the journalism on public radio enjoys. It's trusted by so many people for good reason. Our program adheres to the same journalistic standards as the other national shows, and in this case, we did not live up to those standards.
To their credit, "This American Life" will devote this week's episode to the retraction and correcting the record.
Daisy has an incredible explanation for his fabrications, essentially saying "I am not a journalist" -- despite being broadcast on a show where the audience expects basic journalistic standards:
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.
Shorter Mr. Daisy: I knew that TAL was a news show but I fictionalized my work anyway to make a dramatic statement. I didn't tell TAL producers that my story wasn't true because I wanted it to get on the air.
In other words, Mr. Daisy is a charlatan and a liar.
Does this exonerate Apple, Nike, and other manufacturers whose factories in China, Viet Nam, Indonesia, and elsewhere feature degrading and near slave-like working conditions for their workers? Of course not. But if you're going to document this travesty, you owe it your audience to be accurate and truthful.
American corporations are under no legal obligation to make sure the third party manufacturers of their goods follows basic international labor standards. But they have a moral obligation to do so and to take advantage of the low cost, low wage, inhuman working conditions in some of these factories is a blot on their company's good name.
*A previous version of this article inaccurately said that TAL was an NPR show. The show is produced by Chicago Public Radio which is not affiliated with NPR.
AT regrets the error.