The Washington Post

‘This American Life’ retraction goes deep

“This American Life” will air a program that’s dedicated entirely to retracting its January excerpt of a monologue by Mike Daisey on conditions in Apple’s Chinese manufacturing facilities. (The show is planning to post the transcript here.)

If you’ve got some time, that is. It is complete. Following a quick read, I am partial to the passage excerpted below. It relates to a part of the monologue in which Daisey claims to have interviewed people who’d allegedly been exposed to the dangerous N-Hexane while laboring on iPhones. Daisey described them as shaking ”uncontrollably.”

But Daisey’s translator later said that Daisey had never met people who “fit this description.”.

So Ira Glass, the executive producer of “This American Life,” cross-examines Daisey about why he allowed this hexane story to air on the program. Here you go:

Ira Glass: I mean with the hexane, we approached you and asked you specifically about that. There’s an email that, that Brian [a producer for the show] sent you, about the hexane. He wrote, “Apple’s 2011 report” — this is the responsibility report — “acknowledges the hexane problem at two plants, one at Wintek and another at a logo supplier but not at Foxconn. These workers you were talking to, in the monologue, were they from Foxconn do you remember or from other plants?”

And, and at that point you could have come back to us and said ‘oh no no no I didn’t meet these workers, you know, this is just something I inserted in the monologue based on things I had read and things I had heard in Hong Kong’ um, but instead you lied further and you said, you wrote, “The workers were from Wintek and not Foxconn.”

Why not just tell us what really happened at that point?

[long pause]

Mike Daisey: I think I was terrified. [breathing]

Ira Glass: Of what?

[long pause]

Mike Daisey: That. . .

[long pause]

Mike Daisey: I think I was terrified that if I untied these things, that the work, that I know is really good, and tells a story, that does these really great things for making people care, that it would come apart in a way where, where it would ruin everything.

Soul-searching self-investigations by news organizations are a genre unto themselves. Think of the investigation by Washington Post ombudsman Bill Green on the Janet Cooke scandal and the team job by the New York Times on the Jayson Blair case. What sets this particular institutional mea culpa apart is the level of cooperation and introspection it secures from the protagonist, Daisey.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.


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