On Friday This American Life, a popular public radio show, retracted a story on Apple factory abuse in China that turned out to be full of fabrications. In January, the show, hosted by Ira Glass, broadcast a story narrated by performance artist and monologuist Mike Daisey. Details about armed factory guards, underage factory workers, and poisoning by chemicals like n-hexane led to even sharper outcry against conditions at factories operated by Foxconn, Apple’s largest supplier of electronics. Within weeks after the January broadcast, the maker of the iPads and iPhones allowed journalists to visit assembly lines in China, joined the Fair Labor Association, released a list of suppliers and announced that it would audit the conditions of factories within its supply chain.
The problem with Daisey’s 39 minute story was that even though incidents similar to what he reported in January had been documented by other reporters, his version of events were false. The story began to crumble when Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz tracked down the translator who accompanied Daisey on his visit to Foxconn sites. Daisey had claimed he changed her name in his story and then said he had lost her number when the show’s fact-checking team asked for her contact information. After Schmitz tracked her down, Daisey’s other lies were exposed: the guards who manned Foxconn’s gates were not armed; they met no underage workers; no one mentioned hexane poisoning; and no worker with a maimed hand brushed his hand over an iPad, emotional at the sight of a device that led to his factory injury.
Daisey defended his behavior by insisting that his work was theatrical and never meant to be journalism. But his misinterpretation of events embarrassed Glass and This American Life’s producers. Meanwhile commentators criticized the show for allowing the blurring of journalism and entertainment at the expense of factual reporting.