Parts of “This American Life” Radio Story on Apple Factory Working Conditions Were Fabricated

Concerns over the working conditions in the Chinese factories that pump out our beloved electronics--particularly those electronics with the Apple logo emblazoned upon them--have certainly been raised before, but an episode of the radio show “This American Life” back in January sparked very focused interest on the subject.

TAL brought in Mike Daisey to convert his one-man show about the working conditions in Apple's Shenzen factories and other locations into a compelling radio program, which generated enough attention that major media outlets such as the New York Times looked into it. Public pressure on Apple to take more responsibility over its overseas factories and increase transparency about who it does business with, safety records, and how factory workers are treated, lead to unprecedented (for Apple, anyway) third-party audits.

Mike Daisey (Image credit:

However, on Friday TAL host Ira Glass posted a blog entry on the show’s site retracting the original story, because the show learned that Mike Daisey fabricated crucial elements of his story.

Ira Glass (Image credit:

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

The lies were uncovered by Rob Schmitz, the China Correspondent for Marketplace (another American Public Media program), who heard the show, questioned some of Daisey’s details, and checked them out for himself. Among the made-up details were the number of factories Daisey visited on his trip to China, his account of meeting a group of workers who were poisoned on the assembly line, a vignette about a man with a mangled hand who made iPads but had never used one, and meeting underage workers.

This week’s episode of TAL is dedicated to addressing the factual errors from the January episode and includes a one-on-one interview between Schmitz and Daisey.

Daisy apologized to TAL but also posted a statement on his own website, which says in part:
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.
Daisey is gifted as a storyteller, as evidenced by the statement he posted on his website defending himself. Whatever justifications he posits, the fact remains that he made some things up to give his story a little more zing (which is essentially what storytellers do) but then lied about it when pressed.

Whatever his passion for this cause, Daisey has benefited a great deal from the attention he's garnered. His one-man show has been extended, you’ll probably go check out his site when you’re through reading this (as we did prior to writing it), and frankly, most of us had never heard of him until TAL put him on the air and exposed him to its 1.8 million weekly listeners.

Another 1.8 million (or possibly more) will listen to him squirm on this week’s episode of TAL.