A Rare Retraction

A few weeks ago, in January, I wrote a post about worker conditions at various factories in China that make Apple devices. One of the main catalysts for that post came from an episode of This American Life that aired on Jan 6 which excerpted the findings of Mike Daisy, a performer and self-professed Apple fan-boy, when he visited the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China. Mike Daisy adapted his trip to the Chinese factory into a one-man monologue which he performed throughout the country. The story he narrates is powerful, emotional and it raises a lot of questions about our own priorities and the compromises that we are willing to make. His monologue and his story got picked by many national media outlets and internet portals, including the New York Times and is being adapted into a Broadway show. That episode from This American Life became the most downloaded episode in TAL history.

This weekend, This American Life has taken that episode down. Visiting TAL’s site page for that episode will report that it has been retracted. Turns out Mike Daisy made up some of the things that he said he did. While he did visit the Foxconn factory and he did interview the workers, some of he specifics he mentions, like talking to a worker who confesses to him that she is 12 years old, or meeting a man whose hands shook uncontrollably due to n-hexane exposure were fabricated. The host of the show, Ira Glass, admitted that their fact-checking process slipped up and has apologized for, for what he calls, not living up to his station’s and Public Radio’s journalistic standards. For anyone who is aware of Ira Glass and the stuff that TAL produces, this is a rare occurrence. It is no accident that this was the first time in the show’s history when they had to issue a retraction.

But the follow up for this is what makes TAL an absolutely amazing show. In this week’s episode, Ira brought back Mike Daisy, and along with the show’s correspondent from China, Rob Schmitz, who, through his own investigation, revealed that Mike had lied , puts in an honest and deep conversation with him about the things Mike lied about and why he did it. The episode departs from the usual format – no segway music, zero humor and dead silence in the background – and it only enhances the uneasiness in which the men find themselves and the slow and painful noose that keeps tightening around Mike throughout the interview. I thought this particular exchange crystallized the awkwardness and frustration in the interview room.

Ira Glass: You understood that we wanted it to be completely accurate in the most traditional sense ?

Mike Daisy: Yes, I did.

Ira: You put us in the position of going out and vouching for the truth of what you were saying and all along in all of these ways you knew these things weren’t true. Did you ever stop and think ‘Ok, these things aren’t true’ and you have us vouching for their truth?

Mike: I did, I thought about that lot.

Ira: And, What did you think?

Mike: I felt really conflicted. I felt trapped.

Ira: Did you worry that I would say ‘Well, not enough of this is true in the traditional way that we need it to be verifiable in a way so that we could run it’ or did you worry that you would accidentally end up with two versions of the story and that would raise a question about what happened?

Mike: The later. I worried about the later a lot more.[long silence] After certain point, honestly…
[really long silence]

Ira: Wait, after a certain point what?

Mike: I started a sentence and my nerve failed me and I stopped talking and that’s what you saw. So..I’m working on it. It’s coming.

The whole interview is a show case on how powerful and raw an interview can be without being dramatic, insulting or pompous. It’s weird how an episode about the show’s possible failure can wake you up to why you liked it in the first place.

The episode can be streamed for free here.


[Post: 234 of 365] [Days Missed: 66]
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