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This American Life Retracts Episode On Apple Factories In China 326

Posted by Soulskill
from the this-means-we-can-ignore-it-now-right dept.
New submitter Hartree writes "This American Life aired an episode in January about visiting Foxconn's factory in Shenzhen China that supplies Apple with iPhones and iPads. It was the most downloaded of all of its episodes. That show helped prompt Apple to release, for the first time, a list of its suppliers and allow outside audits of working conditions at its suppliers. This American Life has now retracted the episode after finding out that Mike Daisey, whose visit to the factory the show was based on, fabricated portions of the story. This included a number of minor items, but also major ones such as his saying that he personally met underage workers and those poisoned by hexane exposure. To set the record straight, this weekend's episode of This American Life will present how they were mislead into airing a flawed story (PDF)."
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This American Life Retracts Episode On Apple Factories In China

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  • by schlachter (862210) on Friday March 16, 2012 @02:55PM (#39381935)

    ...is how I read the headline...how appropriate

    • by dynamo52 (890601) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:05PM (#39382099)
      To be fair, at least the show's producers acknowledge the mistake, are willing to present a full retraction, and are doing so in the same forum and with equal prominence as the original story. If the same had happened on Fox News, the likely reaction would have been a coordinated attack on whoever brought the truth to light.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:08PM (#39382125)

        LOL. NPR gets caught publishing a massive lie by an anti-corporation hipster, and you respond by attacking Fox News?

        • by amiga3D (567632) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:15PM (#39382221)

          Yes. He did exactly what he said that FOX News would have done. Ironic, not to mention hypocritical.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by evilRhino (638506)
            It's also not fair to compare Fox News to this type of situation. Fox News was created to present the conservative angle of the news without the need for fact checking. For them to acknowledge mistakes is antithetical to their core mission to "present the other side".
            • Re:This American Lie (Score:4, Interesting)

              by tripleevenfall (1990004) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:59PM (#39382851)

              I'm starting to wonder if Fox News wasn't created by liberals to provide a convenient "Look at that over there!" out for any discussion.

          • by mooingyak (720677) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:29PM (#39382433)

            Yes. He did exactly what he said that FOX News would have done. Ironic, not to mention hypocritical.

            How exactly did he do that?

            Did dynamo52 make some other, invalid comment, only to be exposed by FOX News, so now he's attacking them?

            He contrasted what happened here with what he expected to happen had it been FOX News instead. He might be wrong (or not. I make no claim to know), but he's not hypocritical.

          • by snowgirl (978879)

            Yes. He did exactly what he said that FOX News would have done. Ironic, not to mention hypocritical.

            But Fox News didn't uncover the story. He said that Fox News would have had a coordinated attack to smear who ever brought it to light, and he didn't smear American Public Media's Marketplace... he smeared someone completely unrelated.

            So, no. Not hypocritical.

        • by dynamo52 (890601) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:22PM (#39382323)
          It's a fair criticism. NPR, when faced with evidence that they presented misleading information immediately took appropriate steps to remedy the mistake. Fox News on the other hand has been repeatedly caught with their hands in the cookie jar and the response is always the same: first try to brush it under the rug and hope nobody notices and should that fail, make every attempt possible to discredit the whistleblower.
        • Not NPR (Score:5, Informative)

          by MushMouth (5650) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:23PM (#39382343) Homepage

          NPR (National Public Radio) doesn't have anything to do with the production or distribution of This American Life. It is produced independently by WBEZ and distributed by PRI (Public Radio International, a direct competitor to NPR)

        • by evilRhino (638506)
          Also, This American Life (Chicago Public Media) != NPR.
        • Re:This American Lie (Score:5, Informative)

          by Macman408 (1308925) on Friday March 16, 2012 @04:04PM (#39382953)

          As has been noted elsewhere, the program is not from NPR; it's from Chicago Public Media (and is distributed by Public Radio International).

          And as a bonus, who do you think caught the "massive lie"? Surely it was one of the great conservative media outlets, looking for an opportunity to discredit the liberals? No, it was a correspondent from another public radio group, American Public Media.

          No media group is perfect, but one that is willing to publicize their errors, admit to them, and publicly retract a story with major factual errors is far above a media outlet who regularly blurs the line between their opinion shows (that never live up to journalistic standards of truth and fact-checking) and their factual news shows (that often don't live up to journalistic standards either). And I'm not just poking at Fox here; there are outlets on both sides that are awful. Fox is just one of the biggest, worst offenders.

        • Re:This American Lie (Score:5, Informative)

          by interkin3tic (1469267) on Friday March 16, 2012 @04:14PM (#39383093)

          NPR gets caught publishing a massive lie by an anti-corporation hipster, and you respond by attacking Fox News?

          NPR is publicly apologizing for being wrong. Fox news went to court to defend their right to lie and still call it news. So, yes, that is reasonable given their respective histories. One would have to be naive to hold NPR and Fox as equals. It's certainly not borne out by their viewers. NPR viewers were better informed than the average citizen, while Fox news viewers are significantly less informed than the average, when it came to the Iraq war and the Neocon reasons we were going there. [worldpublicopinion.org] Fox pushed us into a war we didn't need.

          And not for nothing, but there's nothing wrong with being anti-corporation. Hipster, yes.

        • Re:This American Lie (Score:5, Informative)

          by GaratNW (978516) on Friday March 16, 2012 @04:25PM (#39383247)
          I think the main point, that you clearly missed, is the huge double standard that appears to go around on journalistic integrity.

          Dan Rather - Stepped down after a story, which was true, but had a single letter that was falsified, came to light.

          TLA - publicly and loudly retracts, and does a detailed report on what was inaccurate, to set the record straight. Still gets attacked for showing more integrity than any other news outlet has.. well, done in recent history, not sure about ever.

          Fox "News" - We never see any stories on Slashdot, or the major networks, about Fox retracting a story, despite the fact that they make up a ton of shit. Daily. They went to court to FIGHT for the right to fabricate, FFS. So how is it relevant? How do you think? Insightful? You're a troll, sir.

          It's just as well we don't have major sites, including Slashdot, reporting on every fabrication that Fox puts out. Jesus, we'd never see anything else in our RSS feeds.
      • I think you mean that FOX would launch a coordinated attack on Obama and the Democrats....regardless of who brought the truth to light. :)

  • Refreshing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Translation Error (1176675) on Friday March 16, 2012 @02:57PM (#39381973)

    To set the record straight, this weekend's episode of This American Life will present how they were mislead into airing a flawed story

    It really is nice to see that someone has journalistic integrity in this day and age. Rather than ignoring their mistake or trying to hush it up, they're saying they messed up, this is what they did wrong, and this is how it happened.

    • Re:Refreshing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sir_Eptishous (873977) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:01PM (#39382019) Homepage
      Exactly. To think, that a media outlet would have the balls to admit they were wrong, then explain how they made the mistake. That is rare these days...
      • Re:Refreshing (Score:5, Interesting)

        by snowgirl (978879) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:46PM (#39382641) Journal

        Exactly. To think, that a media outlet would have the balls to admit they were wrong, then explain how they made the mistake. That is rare these days...

        Well, as they note on NPR, the stories checked out, and were real events... it just turns out that Daisey didn't personally witness them.

        It's like getting all worked up over a story that is based on real events, and it's like "good! but remember, it's still fictionalized..." They took a theater act and turned it into a journal piece without any augmentation to ensure that viewers understood that while these events were true, they were being dramatized.

    • Agreed, it was a pretty stupid (and damaging) mistake that is unfortunately all TOO common among journalism these days. I guess the modern way of proving yourself as a respectable organization is to have the balls to own up to those mistakes. Apple's response should be interesting... if any. The last paragraph doesn't say much about Apple in this WaPo article [washingtonpost.com].
      • Re:Refreshing (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TapeCutter (624760) on Friday March 16, 2012 @08:37PM (#39385849) Journal

        I guess the modern way of proving yourself as a respectable organization is to have the balls to own up to those mistakes....

        ...and make an honest effort to correct and/or compensate for them.

        As a grandfather I can attest that it is also the old fashion way, and now that I have you trapped on my lawn I'm going to punish you by giving you my long winded opinion on the matter (while my bath robe flaps about in the breeze just enough to make you uncomfortable).

        Anyone who shows genuine remorse for a mistake (such as stepping on my lawn) gets a +1:respect from me, (in real terms that means I will consider suppressing the flapping of my bathrobe while conversing with them). It's not absolution for irresponsibility or carelessness but it is a very reliable indicator that it was a genuine mistake rather than a mallicious act or an irresponsible attitude. The alternative hit and run behavoiur does nothing but compound the damage of a mistake which is the basic reason hit and run car accidents are so reviled by the public and so harshly punished by the law. OTOH, hit and run journalsism under the guise of "opinion" (eg: Andrew Bolt) seems to be not only tolerated by society, but more handsomely rewarded by it, and it has been that way since the dead sea was feeling a bit off colour.( I danced on the lawn of the "haunted house" when I was a kid, and was a legend at lunchtime for doing it)

        This retraction is as good as journalistic ethics gets. TAL fucked up, and when this was pointed out to them they immediately sought to correct the record, they, like Apple, are victims that played some part in their own "downfall" here. As an Aussie I know virtually nothing about TAL other than the name, in fact I thought it was a 1950's magazine, but whatever/whoever they are, they deserve the upmost respect in this instance for willingly risking their own reputation in an attempt to set the record straight. To do otherwise turns an honest mistake into recklessly causing damage to Apple's reputaion. (Had you walked down the path and knocked on my door I most likely would have retrived your schoolbag from my lawn without a fuss, and consequently my dogs would not be eating your homework right now)

        Of course the reputation of the "showman" who told tall tales about his adventure is in the toilet, and sadly it took his real story on third world working conditions with it. His actions are almost the exact opposite of TAL. He had ample oportunity to set the record straight, but he chose to continue the "showmanship". That choice is the point where he started lying to TAL for the purpose of self-glorification (or self-enrichment) and is therefore the moral vilian in all this. (I suspect you're lying about the schoolbag and just wanted to impress your mates by dancing on my lawn).

        Now get off my lawn and go tell your teacher that a dog ate your homework. If the teacher broadcasts your stroy by giving you detention you'll also get a full 15 minuites of fame, tomorrow, during lunch.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      What gets me is Daisey's acknowledgement that he's not a journalist and that he wasn't doing journalism and was doing theater instead. This same sort of attitude has shown up a few times on the WNYC radio show On The Media, where the person interviewed brushes off fabrications with the assertion that it was just theater or entertainment.

      So what's the deal with all these actors just making stuff up and presenting it as the truth, or pretending to be journalists and later denying that they really are? Are t

  • Theater (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rabenja (919226) on Friday March 16, 2012 @02:58PM (#39381991) Journal

    "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."

    ...as opposed to what we see in the media every day...(?)

  • by icensnow (932196) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:03PM (#39382059)
    This kind of story, where they can go seriously meta about how they fact-check their stories and how they were misled, set to mournful music, is an almost perfect This American Life setup. They will probably want to goof like this every year now. OK, I'm being very snarky, but Ira Glass is just way too sincere for my taste.
  • by minderaser (28934) <{ed.llehseerf} {ta} {resarednim}> on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:09PM (#39382131)
    Ira Glass is a man of honour. Would we EVER see another news agency do this?
  • Truth... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by InfiniteZero (587028) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:10PM (#39382155)

    China bashing is all in vogue these days, since they are supposed to be the next superpower, which doesn't bode well with the current superpower that is the U.S. But realistically, neither side is pure evil, or for that matter, completely innocent. The Chinese are people like you and me, capable of things both good and bad.

    Moral of the story: when deciphering all the spin in the media, truth is always somewhere in the middle.

    • by MobyDisk (75490)

      Moral of the story: when deciphering all the spin in the media, truth is always somewhere in the middle.

      I used to espouse this as well, but I'm beginning to realize even this caveat is too simple.

      After following some war coverage, I realized that the truth is not always somewhere in the middle. There are cases where story A says something like "10 Taliban fighters were killed, and 2 American's were wounded" and story B says "20 unarmed women and children were killed" and the truth is probably not in the middle. One of the two sides is completely lying.

      • The truth is probably still somewhere in the middle there. It's entirely possible that in one skirmish 10 Taliban soldiers could be killed, 2 American soldiers wounded and 20 unarmed women and children killed as well.

  • by _xeno_ (155264) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:11PM (#39382177) Homepage Journal

    It's important to note that the details that were false all involve Daisey personally witnessing events. He didn't, he just learned about them. So some of the specific examples are dramatizations, but all the basic facts of the horrendous working conditions are true. He just didn't personally talk with the effected workers.

    So, yes, This American Life should clarify the story and should admit that they screwed up in claiming that a dramatization was pure fact. But they did, in fact, check out all the basic facts about the working conditions, and everything claimed is based on things that really happened.

    Don't try and take this as evidence that the troubles at Foxconn were fabricated or that Apple was unfairly targeted based on fake stories. They were not.

    • by samkass (174571) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:20PM (#39382303) Homepage Journal

      It's important to note that the details that were false all involve Daisey personally witnessing events. He didn't, he just learned about them. So some of the specific examples are dramatizations, but all the basic facts of the horrendous working conditions are true. He just didn't personally talk with the effected workers.

      So, yes, This American Life should clarify the story and should admit that they screwed up in claiming that a dramatization was pure fact. But they did, in fact, check out all the basic facts about the working conditions, and everything claimed is based on things that really happened.

      Don't try and take this as evidence that the troubles at Foxconn were fabricated or that Apple was unfairly targeted based on fake stories. They were not.

      Actually, according to the article, some were. No one ever saw armed guards, for example, yet that was a prominent part of his story. Underage workers were also only rumors. And of the facts that were true, they were not nearly so commonplace that a casual trip would find them-- he had to pull together anecdotes across space and time to make it seem like all this stuff was happening casually and consistently. It wasn't.

      • by _xeno_ (155264) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:34PM (#39382489) Homepage Journal

        No one ever saw armed guards, for example, yet that was a prominent part of his story.

        The article just says that the translator never saw any armed guards, it never says they weren't there. Again, This American Life claims they did fact check parts like this, and found that they were true. But I can't find anything else that corroborates "armed guards at the gate" without referencing Daisey so I'll concede that point.

        Underage workers were also only rumors.

        And if you read the article, This American Life addressed that in their original story. The found that there were, in fact, underage workers at Foxconn - but they were rare.

      • The program forgot to mention that each iPad and iPhone is dipped in blood extracted from Chinese infants then wiped clean with the spittle from Foxconn executives before shipment.

        Besides that, the program was totally accurate in all respects.

      • by snowgirl (978879) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:49PM (#39382677) Journal

        Underage workers were also only rumors.

        Apple's own audits show (PDF) [apple.com] the company has caught underage workers at a handful of its suppliers.

        • Apple's own audits show (PDF) the company has caught underage workers at a handful of its suppliers.

          There is just a slight matter of scale here. Apple found evidence that several companies had hired employees when they were underage. In the year before, one company was responsible for more than half of these cases, and that company lost their contract with Apple. Since then, the number of cases has gone down. And the reason that people are employed while too young is that they apply for these jobs and someone doesn't check carefully enough. If anyone figured out they were too young, they wouldn't have bee

    • by shmlco (594907)

      Reducing a story to a single individual is a time-honored journalistic tradition. It puts a face on the issue to which your audience can relate.

      Creating a hypothetical individual in order to demonstrate the problem is also a time-honored journalistic tradition, and fine just as long as you say you're doing it. "Take Joe, a typical, hypothetical worker..."

      Creating a fictional individual and pretending he's real is also a journalistic tradition... that tends to get one fired. Especially when you do a whole se

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:12PM (#39382181)

    The page [thisamericanlife.org] about the retracted episode on the site is not linking to the audio of the show like they do for every other episode.

    However, the well-documented trick still works, so if you want to listen to it you can do so here [thisamericanlife.org].

    I think the URL is supposed to be NPR's way of letting you know they're on to you.

  • by Kamiza Ikioi (893310) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:13PM (#39382197) Homepage

    You know, Foxconn does some shitty things with their employees. But it's stuff like this that takes all the legitimate complaints and paints it over with, "See, it's all a lie." I hope Mike Daisey gets a horrible rash on his balls for this snow job.

    • You know, Foxconn does some shitty things with their employees. But it's stuff like this that takes all the legitimate complaints and paints it over with, "See, it's all a lie."

      Exactly. It's just provided ammunition for the people who want to preemptively dismiss all the legitimate complaints regarding third-world working conditions.

      It's similar to how people have used Al Gore's over-the-top claims about hurricanes to poo-poo all global warming data.

  • by oh_my_080980980 (773867) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:15PM (#39382219)
    "...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. 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."

    So the event happened - workers poisoned by n-hexane - he just didn't visit that factor and that's the big lie? Seriously.

    Read the series of New York Times articles or are those fabricated too.

    Yeah kill the messenger....
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      According "an incident like this". Two important things here: singular as in one incident documented and like as in the one person may have been gotten a rash from a hole in protective gear. The thing is I don't know and neither do you, but the lie may be much more than location.

  • Daisey says, according to the press release. "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."

    Sounds like the Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl excuse when he was caught in a bald faced lie on the floor of the Senate: his remark “was not intended to be a factual statement.” Just another bald faced liar who thinks lies are OK.

  • It's been a while since we've seen a Foxconn story around here. No, I'm not being sarcastic. Since the focus is on Apple, the story died down, just waiting for a story like this to come along. Dead story == Workers not getting relief.

    So can we finally start raking the numerous other companies that are using Foxconn over the coals already?

  • The overall idea presented in the story, that you should care about what's going on in the new global economy, is correct. It seems that the stories he got from actually interviewing workers were not, in his mind, compelling enough to move people to action. Most of the real stories are things that happen here: people working overtime, people who are underpaid, repetitive stress injury, worker accidents and the like.

    So he made up some plausable sounding stories to make his point. It's not false in spirit, bu

    • A major problem with what Daisey did is that it undermines the credibility of future investigations. If Foxconn or any other company ever got caught with abuses, they can cite Daisey's example of how people can distort the truth.
    • by slew (2918)

      So he made up some plausable sounding stories to make his point. It's not false in spirit, but he had to present it as literal truth for people to take it seriously.

      Well, Mr. Daisey apparently attempted to humanize his story, but in a twist, the human in the story is him, but it isn't a news story, it's now just a poor retelling of the "boy who cried wolf" fable...

      In the attempt to humanize the (alleged) victims of this particular industrial march, he steps over the line and dehumanizes his audience as he thinks he knows what is best for them and must "hide" the truth. It is a tragedy that many people often can't see that problem before they take these kind of steps.

  • by pbjones (315127)

    I'd like to hear from the hundreds of slack journalists that passed on the original story as truth. I know that things are not great in many countries, cheap labor is the reason that they build stuff there and not anywhere else, maybe they should look at some of the sweat shops in the US and other countries too.

  • by symbolset (646467) * on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:41PM (#39382585) Journal
    Now... who paid.?
  • by nick357 (108909) on Friday March 16, 2012 @03:42PM (#39382601)

    YES!!!!

  • Tonight's episode of This American Life is brought to you buy Apple...

  • I was suspicious of Daisey's story when I heard it on This American Life (which is not NPR, but American Public Media, btw), as I'd seen earlier coverage on Financial Times with video http://retroworks.blogspot.com/2012/03/odm-opportunity-is-in-wind_04.html [blogspot.com] The video looks pretty fair, and it was nothing like the textile factories and other really tough places to work in China. The work is boring, but people do it to save money to buy a house and then go home after a couple of years.
  • by Raven268 (2597179) on Friday March 16, 2012 @05:30PM (#39384041)

    At the very bottom of the story on the retraction, there is a link to a sourced New York Times story, which is nearly as damning as the retracted one. This is called "burying the lede," and it is biased reporting.

    Reportedly, the TAL correction also confirmed most of what Daisey claimed; he wasn't there, but the stories turn out to be true after all. The TAL broadcast will be available for download on Sunday

    Here's the link to the NYT story:
        http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/26/business/ieconomy-apples-ipad-and-the-human-costs-for-workers-in-china.html [nytimes.com]

    This is were the TAL correction will be available:
        http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/460/retraction [thisamericanlife.org]

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