Apple, Foxconn Allegations Were More 'Theater' Than 'Journalism'

"This American Life" retracted its program in which performer Mike Daisey described the sins of Apple partner Foxconn in building the iPad. Daisey admits to taking factual "shortcuts."

In a small win of sorts for Apple, This American Life, one of the most well-known programs on NPR, has retracted its January story about some of the more disturbing details behind Apple's iPhone and iPad devices and its manufacturing partner in China, Foxconn.

The January show was an excerpt from performer Mike Daisey's one-man performance, "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," in which he offers upsetting-to-gruesome details about how Foxconn workers have suffered under the conditions deemed necessary to churn out enough iPads to meet the world's demand.

After tracking down the woman who served as Daisey's translator during his visit to the Foxconn factory, TAL discovered that Daisey had exaggerated details, made up events and created people, including a man whom he described as having a hand mangled from an injury sustained while making iPads.

The show, TAL explained in a press release attached to a March 16 blog post by host Ira Glass, was the program's most successful ever, with more than 888,000 downloads, compared with the more typical 750,000, and helped to set off a chain of events. One included the creation of at least one petition, signed by nearly 250,000 people and delivered to Apple, calling on the company to insist on changes at Foxconn.

Another, Daisey hopes, is that it started people really thinking about our disposable culture and where, and at what human price, our stuff comes from.

Daisey told TAL, "I'm not going to say that I didn't take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. 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."

In a March 19 post on his on site, Daisey added:

"You certainly don€™t need to listen to me. Read The New York Times reporting. Listen to the NPR piece that ran just last week in which workers at an iPad plant go on record saying the plant was inspected by Apple just hours before it exploded, and that the inspection lasted all of 10 minutes.If you think this story is bigger than that story, something is wrong with your priorities.If people want to use me as an excuse to return to denialism about the state of our manufacturing, about the shape of our world, they are doing that to themselves."

In late January, The New York Times ran a lengthy exposé on the conditions at Foxconn. It included a description of the explosion, reporting that it had left one worker's features "smeared by the blast, scrubbed by heat and violence until a mat of red and black had replaced his mouth and nose."

Apple CEO Tim Cook responded with a company wide email, telling employees, "Any suggestion that we don't care is patently false and offensive to us." He added that Apple will "continue to dig deeper and we will undoubtedly find more issues," but would not "turn a blind eye to problems in our supply chain."

On Feb. 13, Apple announced that the Fair Labor Association (FLA) would conduct special voluntary audits of Apple's suppliers, including Foxconn's factories.

"The inspections now underway are unprecedented in the electronics industry, both in scale and scope, and we appreciate the FLA agreeing to take the unusual step of identifying the factories in their reports,€ Cook said in the statement.

Daisey's lies have left a lot of people feeling awkward, or worse. TLA's Glass, in particular, said he was "horrified" that a program that didn't live up to NPR€™s high journalistic standards was allowed on the air.

The creators of the petitions, and those that signed them, may also feel a little duped, though the reporting that The New York Times and other sources did confirms there was more than room for improvement at Foxconn, and Apple's fixes are welcome, regardless of the tinge Daisey may have brought to them€”or that have come thanks in part to him.