China

Happy iPad Release Day, Apple! A Story about the Horrors of Your Chinese Factories Retracted by This American Life

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As a new iPad 3 launches today, This American Life retracts a very popular story about how awful some of Apple's sourcing factories in China are. From their press release:

This American Life and American Public Media's Marketplace will reveal that a story first broadcast in January on This American Life contained numerous fabrications.

This American Life will devote its entire program this weekend to detailing the errors in the story, which was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's critically acclaimed one-man show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." In it, Daisey tells how he visited a factory owned by Foxconn that manufactures iPhones and iPads in Shenzhen China. He has performed the monologue in theaters around the country; it's currently at the Public Theater in New York.

Tonight's This American Life program will include a segment from Marketplace's Rob Schmitz, and interviews with Daisey himself….

Marketplace had done a lot of reporting on Foxconn and Apple's supply chain in China in the past, and Schmitz had first-hand knowledge of the issues. He located and interviewed Daisey's Chinese interpreter Li Guifen (who goes by the name Cathy Lee professionally with westerners). She disputed much of what Daisey has been telling theater audiences since 2010 and much of what he said on the radio….

The response to the original episode, "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory," was significant. It quickly became the single most popular podcast in This American Life's history, with 888,000 downloads (typically the number is 750,000) and 206,000 streams to date. After hearing the broadcast, listener Mark Shields started a petition calling for better working conditions for Apple's Chinese workers, and soon delivered almost a quarter-million signatures to Apple….

Daisey's response–sure, what he says shouldn't be construed as journalism:

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. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out.

What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic ­- not a theatrical ­- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret.

A preview of Schmitz's correction/reporting on Daisey's claims here. An example:

Take one example from his monologue—it takes place at a meeting he had with an illegal workers union. He meets a group of workers who've been poisoned by the neurotoxin N-Hexane while working on the iPhone assembly line: "…and all these people have been exposed," he says. "Their hands shake uncontrollably. Most of them…can't even pick up a glass."

Cathy Lee, Daisey's translator in Shenzhen, was with Daisey at this meeting in Shenzhen. I met her in the exact place she took Daisey—the gates of Foxconn. So I asked her: "Did you meet people who fit this description?"

"No," she said.

"So there was nobody who said they were poisoned by hexane?" I continued.

Lee's answer was the same: "No. Nobody mentioned the Hexane."

I pressed Cathy to confirm other key details that Daisey reported. Did the guards have guns when you came here with Mike Daisey? With each question I got the same answer from Lee. "No," or "This is not true."

I blogged a year ago or so on a weirdly-spun Wired story that also tried to make the Apple facilities seem worse than they are.

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NEXT: Co-Founder of Invisible Children Arrested, Supreme Court Says No to Cameras on Obamacare Arguments, This American Life Retracts Story on Apple Factories in China: P.M. Links

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  1. Double pox.

    Are we sure that Lee has not been intimidated by the Chicoms?

    Daisey sounds like a parallel Kony2012.

    1. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license

      Our kind of philosophy, no?

    2. The blog is absolutely fantastic. Lots of great information and inspiration, both of which we all need. Thanks.

  2. It’s still a target of the KOCHsuckers.

  3. @Suki. Maybe if Daisey hadn’t admitted to the lie. Or maybe the “Chicoms” got to him as well!

  4. Disingenuous, functionally retarded progressives being disingenuous and functionally retarded?

    The sky — blue? Really?

    1. A People’s History of Koch Industries: How Stalin Funded the Tea Party Movement
      http://exiledonline.com/a-peop…..-movement/

      1. So you’re surprised that daddy Koch would do some work in communist Russia & then come back with a passion for freedom?

  5. The Law of Comparative Advantage proves that China and the US benefit from trade.

    Which is horrible for left wing politics and therefor must be destroyed.

    1. DESTROYED BY THE FIRE OF ALINSKY.

    2. For the left, the important thing is the message, and the message is that corporations are evil and so is capitalism.

      They don’t let the facts get in the way of the message–and this is an excellent example of that.

  6. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story…

    In other words, just like every day’s edition of the New York Times and Washington Post, not to mention most of the content on NPR.

    Maybe this Daisley guy is a complete bullshit artist, but the alleged examples of fabrication seem oddly specific for that. It could be that the truth lies somewhere in between.

    Having worked in industry, it’s just a fact that you get exposed to some nasty stuff and don’t always have rosy working experience. Beats hunger, though.

    1. “Maybe this Daisley guy is a complete bullshit artist, but the alleged examples of fabrication seem oddly specific for that.”

      Uh, the specifics were denied by the translator.

      1. It could also be that members of the govt. security agency stopped by and talked to her after the original story came out.

    2. just like…the New York Times and Washington Post, not to mention most of the content on NPR…

      …and Reason.com.
      Or do you believe everything you read here?

  7. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic ?- not a theatrical ?- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations.

    Uh, I love TAL as much as the next feminine guy, but that’s an absurd statement. TAL is not a journalistic enterprise. But there is one significant difference, they take it seriously when they venture into jouranlistic waters.

    1. Don’t get your horn rims in a bunch.

    2. But but they’re being *earnest*

  8. Happy iPad Release Day

    yawn

  9. I’m just going to leave this here, with you…

  10. If you think TAL is annoying, try listening to Radio Netherlands The State We’re In

  11. I’m a retired American living nearly full time in China for the last two years and a frequent part time resident for the last 30. I don’t live in the expat community but in rural China and in a mid size city. In my experience most of the media coverage of China in the US is mainly spin with some fabrication added. Some of the comments even in Reason sound like 1950s propaganda and don’t reflect the current situation at all. The only way to know what is going on here is to come here and take a look yourself, and I don’t mean taking a two week tour. The most common comment I hear from foreigners who come here and actually live in the Chinese community is, “This isn’t what I expected at all.” Like all counties there are lots of problems, but few of the real problems make it into the western media.

    1. You mean the inscrutable China-man isn’t spending all his time plotting to invade our soil and steal our women?

      1. Once he steals our women, it will be like a madcap O Henry story where he winds up begging us to take them back. No!

    2. “Like all counties there are lots of problems, but few of the real problems make it into the western media.”

      OK, now what are they?

      1. Under socialism there was little or no regulation of products or pollution since the government is great and good, therefore no regulation was needed. Needless to say pollution and poor quality control became the norm as it always does during socialism. With the expansion of the free market there is little or no regulation which has some advantages in that there is probably more economic freedom here than in the US, however, food quality control, for example, is spotty at best. We see frequent TV news program stories about products to look out for or avoid and calls for more regulation. We buy our vegetables from local farmers who we know but can’t do that so easy when we are in the city.

        1. We buy our vegetables from local farmers who we know but can’t do that so easy when we are in the city.

          Especially if the local cadre hasn’t been paid off by the farmers. Or if the city’s CPC Chief hasn’t been paid off by local vendors. The corruption at every level of bureaucracy in China must be extremely frustrating. But alas, there is a solution to your problem… Free markets, free people.

          1. Corruption is a problem but hasn’t affected us directly. I’ve never had to pay anyone off, and there is a major anti corruption campaign going on in the country now. However, I don’t have to come to China to see government corruption, I can see all I want in my home state in the US.

    3. Wait, where’s the pitch for the asian dating site?

  12. More ‘fake, but accurate’ commentary from the Dan Rather school of journalism, justified on the basis of advocating a ‘good cause’.

    It’s no surprise, though. With Progressive hero Steve Jobs now dead, and Apple becoming the most successful company in the world, the Left will naturally feel both free and compelled to smear it at every opportunity, and they have never felt any compunction about lying to do so.

  13. The components are worth very litte, assembling the product is worth very litte. The Chinese MF that gets a job is happy he can buy extra rice. You aren’t paying for that stupid shit when you buy an Ipad

    1. Well, if the pay and working standards are raised to American levels you sure will be.

  14. I listened to this broadcast, and a couple of days later, incidentally, I received a new laptop myself. And it had the same thing that was mentioned in the broadcast…

    I guess they were testing the camera, and so the video recording software was left on. So I have a video on my new laptop of all the Chinese people working to test my laptop as it goes down the conveyor belt.

    They don’t look miserable. They’re not talking, but they’re wearing particle masks, so they probably couldn’t say much to each other anyway. They don’t look miserable though.

    When I was 17, I worked on a line saw in a furniture factory. I hated that job. Factory work is demeaning, grueling work, but I’d have traded my line saw job for one on the line I saw on my new laptop, for sure.

    1. I was pretty severely injured working that line saw in Virgina, too.

      It must be nice being an art school type, where you’re so well off that when you see people working for a living, you’re so deeply horrified by it that you assume they must be terribly oppressed.

      Having to work hard, especially when you’re young, isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. …I’m glad I had to work hard when I was young–if that’s what made it so I didn’t turn into the kind of person that sees other people working hard and automatically assumes the worst.

  15. I’m tired. I read, “The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism.” as The tools in theatre are not the same as the tools in journalism, and that surprised me, because they all seem like tools to me.

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