Radio show retracts report on Apple factory due to 'significant fabrications'

A popular public radio show on Friday retracted a story about working conditions at an Apple factory in China due to “significant fabrications.”

The episode, which aired Jan. 6 on the program “This American Life,” helped fuel a wave of bad publicity about working conditions at Apple factories in China.

But the show on Friday said it could not stand by the report. The host of the program, Ira Glass, said he was “horrified” that a story with “significant fabrications” made it on the air.

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“We're retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth,” wrote Glass on the website for the show, which is distributed nationwide by Public Radio International (PRI).

The Apple episode featured an interview with Mike Daisey, an Apple consumer who “traveled to China to find out” who made Apple products.

Glass said Daisey “lied” in his descriptions of what he witnessed in China, including his descriptions of a man who had lost his hand making iPads.

“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,” Glass wrote. “That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.”

“This American Life” plans to cover its own retraction on Friday’s program by interviewing Rob Schmitz — a correspondent for the show "Marketplace" who tracked down a translator who disputed Daisey’s claims — and will also dedicate the weekend’s hourlong program to detailing the errors. That weekend program will also feature an interview with Daisey.

“What makes this a little complicated is that the things Daisey lied about are things that have actually happened in China: Workers making Apple products have been poisoned by hexane,” Schmitz will say in the interview, according to The New York Times. “Apple’s own audits show the company has caught underage workers at a handful of its suppliers. These things are rare, but together, they form an easy-to-understand narrative about Apple.”

The episode of the radio series, titled “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory,” had been touted by PRI as one of its most popular. The episode was based largely around the one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” where Daisey dramatically re-enacted the working conditions at Foxconn, a factory in China where Apple products are made. 

An explosion in the Foxconn factory last May killed four people and injured 18, raising awareness of working and living conditions that reportedly included multiple suicide attempts at the dormitory provided for the workers. 

Apple allowed inspectors into the facilities following that incident.

Daisey defended his account of the conditions at Foxconn on his website Friday, writing that his show “uses a combination of fact, memoir and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity.”

But he added: “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. … But this is my only regret.”

The website for “This American Life” was down part of Friday afternoon following the announcement.

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