Mike Daisey first came to prominence when he turned his experience working for Amazon into a book and one-man play entitled " 21 Dog Years


Mike Daisey the Monologist is Outed by This American Life as a Liar (and He Agrees, sort of)

Mike Daisey first came to prominence when he turned his experience working for Amazon into a book and one-man play entitled "21 Dog Years." For the past two years, he's been performing another monologue, entitled "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." This one is about workers in China's Foxconn factories who make, among many things, Apple's iPhones and iPads. The play brought him immeasurable fame and attention, but it's also now bringing him unwanted notoriety.

In January, This American Life produced an entire episode on Daisey's monologue. Then today, in an unprecedented retraction, TAL host Ira Glass published an apology to his listeners, claiming that many of the facts Daisey had told him were untrue:

We're retracting the story because we can't vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. 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.

The correspondent, Rob Schmitz, was suspicious of Daisey's story because he'd spent a year reporting on the local supply chain, so he started making calls. Schmitz eventually tracked down Daisey's interpreter who proceeded to disputed many of the details in Daisey's tale. Among them:

  • Daisey described a man who lost his hand in the factory working on iPads:

I talk to an older man with leathery skin. His right hand is twisted up into a claw. It was crushed in a metal press at Foxconn. He says he didn't receive any medical attention, and it healed this way. And then when he was too slow, they fired him...

And I ask him what he did when he was at Foxconn, and says he worked on the metal enclosures for the laptops, and he worked on the iPad. And when he says this, I reach into my satchel, and I take out my iPad. And when he sees it, his eyes widen, because one of the ultimate ironies of globalism, at this point there are no iPads in China...

He's never actually seen one on, this thing that took his hand. I turn it on, unlock the screen, and pass it to him. He takes it. The icons flare into view, and he strokes the screen with his ruined hand, and the icons slide back and forth. And he says something to Cathy, and Cathy says, "He says it's a kind of magic."

In reality his interpreter said nothing of the sort occurred.

  • Daisey talks about workers who have been hurt by chemicals:

Then the workers start coming in... I interview all of them. Some of them are in groups--there's a group there talking about hexane.

Hexane is an iPhone screen cleaner; it's great because it evaporates a little bit faster than alcohol does, which means then you can run the production line even faster and try to keep up with those quotas. The problem is that hexane is a potent neurotoxin, and all these people have been exposed. Their hands shake uncontrollably; some of them can't even pick up a glass.

I talk to people whose joints in their hands have disintegrated from working on the line, doing the same motion hundreds and hundreds of thousands of times. It's like carpal tunnel on a scale we can scarcely imagine.

TAL responds that Apple's audits show this incident actually happen, but in a city nearly a thousand miles from where Daisey conducted his interviews.

"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," says Glass. "That doesn't excuse the fact that we never should've put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake."

Daisey's response to the incident? When confronted by Schmitz and Glass, he said,

I'm not going to say that I didn't take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it's not journalism. It's theater... It was completely wrong for me to have it on your show, and that's something I deeply regret."

"What I do is not journalism," he clarified in a statement posted on his website today. Here is the whole non-apology:

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.

Because TAL now knows Daisey lied to them, they are not only retracting the full Foxconn episode, but dedicating this entire weekend's show to the retraction, pointing out his embellishments, what is real but he didn't see, and how he misled reporters. A laundry list of these errors was released just this afternoon. The episode, entitled "Retraction," is already available online. It can be listened to here.

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