Jay Yarow, Business Insider, reports that This American Life is retracting an episode that focused on working conditions at the Chinese factories used to build Apple products. It was the most popular TAL episode ever.
It turns out the person at the center of the center of the report, Mike Daisey, “partially fabricated” key details.
The episode featured Mike Daisey’s monologue, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. It turns out that Daisey lied about several details, including where he visited, what he witnessed, and who he actually met. The full press release can be found here.
In fairness, the monologue was originally created for theater. In that sense, creative license would indemnify Daisey. He speaks to that in his response to the retraction - presented below in its entirety:
“This American Life” has raised questions about the adaptation of AGONY/ECSTASY we created for their program. Here is my response:
I stand by my work. 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.
The problem is that his statement is complete bullshit. He tries to frame his work on the episode as an adaptation - that it was created strictly as a dramatic mashup of fact and fiction. Unfortunately, his media blitz over the previous months hinged on the presumption of fact. He was interviewed by major media companies such as MSNBC, HBO, The New York Times, and more. In each case, a major component was his firsthand accounts of worker abuses. He presented those as fact, never giving any indication otherwise. To now claim that the work was merely dramatic in nature is utter nonsense.
To be clear, I am not an Apple apologist and I do not condone worker abuses. Daisey’s monologue highlights an important topic. The shame is that by falsely presenting a story as fact to shine light on real issues, Daisey ultimately acted to undermine the cause. Shame on Mike Daisey.