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Mike Daisey and “This American Life”

What You Should Know

If someone stands on a stage and claims a story as non-fiction, would you believe it?

People watching monologist Mike Daisey in “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” believed everything he said about Apple’s labor practices. Daisey spent six-days in China. He wanted to discover the truth about Apple’s labor issues for himself.  In 2010, he began creating a one-man show about what he witnessed at the Foxconn plant. The show became a stunning success. Daisey appeared on HBO, MSNBC, and CBS to discuss what he witnessed.

During his show, he claimed he saw underage employees at the Foxconn plant. He recounts how he introduced an injured worker to the iPad for the first time. The worker claimed that it was “a kind of magic.”

Public Radio International’s “This American Life” invited Daisey on their show to discuss what he witnessed. They interviewed the storyteller, and also broadcast an excerpt from his show. Over 800,000 people downloaded a podcast of the show.

Rob Schmitz, a reporter with American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” heard the episode. Having spent years as a Chinese correspondent, he didn’t believe Daisey’s anecdotes. He began to research Daisey’s claims for himself.

Daisey hired Cathy Lee, a Chinese translator, to help him communicate with Foxconn workers. She disputes his claims about underage workers. Lee also claims that the conversation with the injured worker never happened. Based on what she said, along with reports from other journalists, “This American Life” issued a retraction of the Daisey episode.

Listeners heard Glass explain how they fact-checked Daisey’s work. They also heard Daisey admit that he didn’t meet with the injured worker. The monologist told Glass that he wanted to capture “the totality” of his trip. Daisey also admitted that he didn’t want the program to fact-check his work. He lied to prevent producers from contacting the translator.

Reaction reverberated throughout the tech, media and theater worlds. Commentators took Daisey to task for lying about what he witnessed. Others defended him for reporting what they believed was essentially true about Chinese manufacturing.

Read “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” for free online.

Listen to “This American Life: Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory”

Listen to “This American Life: Retraction”