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“Significant Fabrications”: Apple Critic Mike Daisey Under Fire

Aaron Task
Editor in Chief
Daily Ticker

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Mike Daisey is making news again, but the focus is now on his practices rather than the labor practices of Apple, which he examines in his one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs."

Citing "significant fabrications" in Mike Daisey's account of working conditions at Apple's Foxconn plant, the popular public radio program This American Life on Friday retracted its story featuring Daisey, which first aired on The Daily Ticker in January.

"We're retracting the story because we can't vouch for its truth," This American Life host Ira Glass writes on his blog.

About two months prior to Daisey's appearance on This American Life, he was a guest on The Daily Ticker. (See: The Darker Side of Apple: The Human Cost of Your iProducts)

To the best of my knowledge, Daisey did not lie to me or our producers about any specific incident cited in his show, which I saw prior to his appearance on the program.

That said, the reports about errors in Daisey's show -- and This American Life's retraction -- are troubling and raise major concerns about the credibility of Daisey and his performance in "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs."

"Some of the falsehoods found in Daisey's monologue are small ones: the number of factories Daisey visited in China, for instance, and the number of workers he spoke with," This American Life said in a press release accompanying Glass' blog. "Others are large. In his monologue he claims to have met a group of workers who were poisoned on an iPhone assembly line by a chemical called n-hexane. Apple's audits of its suppliers show that an incident like this occurred in a factory in China, but the factory wasn't located in Shenzhen, where Daisey visited."

Glass also declares that 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."

The New York Times and several labor right groups have also raised concerns about conditions at Apple's Foxconn plants.

Rob Schmitz, the China correspondent for the radio show Marketplace, also questioned several of Daisey's claims in the piece, including:

  • That Foxconn workers gathered at Starbucks to discuss organizing a union. (Starbucks are very expensive in China and likely out of the reach for factory workers.)
  • That Foxconn guards carried guns, which only the military and police are allowed to own in China.
  • That Daisey met several underage workers at the Foxconn plant including those as young as 12 or 13, one of several claims challenged by his interpreter, who was tracked down by Schmitz.

In a statement, Daisey says: "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...What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism."

While we agree that the tools of the theater are not the same as journalism, Daisey's show is clearly presented as a work of non-fiction. Henry Blodget says Daisey is "delusional" if he thinks he can hide behind the 'I'm not a journalist' defense.

What's really unfortunate is that by misrepresenting what he really saw in China -- and then lying about it when This American Life tried to fact-check the account -- Daisey has made the story about his credibility, rather than the working conditions he sought to reveal.

Aaron Task is the host of The Daily Ticker. You can follow him on Twitter at @aarontask or email him at altask@yahoo.com