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'This American Life' Retracts Apple Story

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Apple Abuse Story was Fabricated

Employees work at the Foxconn factory in China. 'This American Life' is having difficulty with an episode on working conditions at Foxconn, spurring a full, aired retraction.

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"This American Life" -- a higher-end radio magazine show -- will "separate fact from fiction" and retract a recent episode that detailed what life is supposedly like at Apple's Foxconn manufacturing plant in China.

The show's website has added this note to the story:

NOTE: This American Life has retracted this story because we learned that many of Mike Daisey's experiences in China were fabricated. We have removed the audio from our site, and have left this transcript up only for reference. We produced an entire new episode about the retraction, featuring Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz, who interviewed Mike’s translator Cathy and discovered discrepancies between her account and Mike’s, and New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, who has reported extensively on Apple. Ira also re-interviewed Mike Daisey to learn why he misled us.

Host Ira Glass penned a statement to subscribers articulating that parts of the story were fabricated, adding, "I've never had to write an email like this."

"Like all our friends and colleagues in public radio, I and my co-workers at This American LIfe work hard every day to make sure that what you hear on WBEZ is factually correct. We will continue to do that, and hope you can forgive this." (Glass' entire statement is at the bottom of this article.)

The show will air an explanation on Sunday, claiming that the episode's narrator, Mike Daisey, misled the show during the fact-checking process, according to Silicon Alley Insider.

In the episode, an excerpt of Daisey's one-man show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," tells how he visited a factory owned by Foxconn. Upon further questioning, Daisey's Chinese interpreter disputed much of what Daisey was telling audiences.

Daisey released his own statement, writing that he stands by his 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."

He maintains that his piece combines "fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story."

"This American Life" is a journalistic show, not theatrical. The show is produced by Public Radio International, nationally.

Several stories have been done on the conditions at the plant, including an expose by The New York Times. Others point to the number of worker suicides at the plant, as well as the very low pay ($1.78 an hour, according to one report).

------ Ira Glass' Statement ------

I’m writing to tell you that tonight, This American Life and Marketplace will reveal that a story that we broadcast on This American Life this past January contained significant fabrications.

We’re retracting that story because we can’t vouch for its truth, and this weekend's episode of our show will detail the errors in the story, which was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." In it, Daisey tells how he visited a factory owned by Foxconn that manufactures iPhones and iPads in Shenzhen, China. He's performed the monologue in theaters around the country; it's currently at the Public Theater in New York.

When the original 39-minute excerpt was broadcast on This American Life, Marketplace China Correspondent Rob Schmitz wondered about its truth. He located and interviewed Daisey's Chinese interpreter Li Guifen (who goes by the name Cathy Lee professionally with westerners). She disputed much of what Daisey has been telling theater audiences since 2010 and much of what he said on the radio.

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 any more. 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.

Schmitz does a 20-minute story on our show this weekend about his findings, and we'll also broadcast an interview I did with Daisey. Marketplace will feature a shorter version of Schmitz's report earlier in the evening. You can read more details on our website, and listen to our show on WBEZ at 7 p.m. tonight, and noon tomorrow.

We've been planning a live presentation of Daisey's monologue on stage at the Chicago Theatre on April 7th, with me leading a Q&A afterwards. Maybe you've heard me advertising it on the air. That show will be cancelled and all tickets will be refunded.

I've never had to write an email like this. Like all our friends and colleagues in public radio, I and my co-workers at This American Life work hard every day to make sure that what you hear on WBEZ is factually correct. We will continue to do that, and hope you can forgive this.

Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly cited NPR as the show's producer. The producer is PRI.

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