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This American Life Retraction

March 17, 2012

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled Apple, Foxconn, Shenzhen, $100 billion, and a request.  My inspiration for the post was the This American Life podcast entitled Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.  The events that Mr. Daisey described were absolutely fascinating.  The “facts” that he relayed were extraordinary, however, each of his claims were backed by tens and in some cases hundreds of other media outlets.

I was extremely surprised to discovery that Ira Glass and This American Life retracted the story and apologized because much of the information presented by Mike Daisey was simply not true.  If you listened to the original show (episode 454) can should also listen to the follow up entitled Retraction (episode 460).  Here’s the transcript and a quote form Ira Glass about what is true and what is not:

But in factchecking, our main concern was whether the things Mike says about Apple and about its supplier Foxconn, which makes this stuff, were true. That stuff is true. It’s been corroborated by independent investigations by other journalists, studies by advocacy groups, and much of it has been corroborated by Apple itself in its own audit reports. But what’s not true is what Mike said about his own trip to China.

So what Mike Daisey did was travel to China and claim that he witnessed workplace violations first hand when he actually did not.   He now asserts that the show was merely a “theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge.”  My response?  Tell the truth.  Your piece was compelling.  It summarized nearly everything wrong with how our electronic devices are manufactured.  Most importantly, the information was presented in a way that appealed to our emotional self rather than our rational, intellectual self.  I’m sure that this was not a coincidence as it is exactly how Apple markets its products to us.  If Mr. Daisey would have disclosed what was truth and what was exaggeration from the beginning, the story may have had the same impact.  And, Mr. Daisey would have retained his credibility.  You can read more reaction to the retraction at NPR, Forbes, New York Times, Huffington Post, USA today, The Wall Street Journal, CNET and in over 600 other articles.

The silver lining may be that the underlying story (i.e., Apple’s labor violations) gets even more attention.  Maybe more people will read the research conducted by New York Times journalists Charles Duhigg and David Barboza?  They wrote an investigative series on Apple working conditions earlier this year.  Ira Glass interviewed Mr. Duhigg as part of the Retraction.  Ira Glass asks Mr. Duhigg if he should feel bad for owning an iPhone?  I think we all need to read Mr. Duhigg’s response:

Charles Duhigg: So it’s not my job to tell you whether you should feel bad or not, right? I’m a reporter for the New York Times, my job is to find facts and essentially let you make a decision on your own. Let me, let me pose the argument that people have posed to me about why you should feel bad, and you can make of it what you will.

And that argument is there were times in this nation when we had harsh working conditions as part of our economic development. We decided as a nation that that was unacceptable. We passed laws in order to prevent those harsh working conditions from ever being inflicted on American workers again.  And what has happened today is that rather than exporting that standard of life, which is within our capacity to do, we have exported harsh working conditions to another nation.

So should you feel bad that someone is working 12 to 24 hours a day in order to produce the iPhone that you’re carrying in your pocket—

Ira Glass: Well, now like, when you say it like that, suddenly I feel bad again, but okay, yeah. [laughter]

Charles Duhigg: I don’t know whether you should feel bad, right? I mean—

Ira Glass: But, but finish your thought.

Charles Duhigg: Should you feel bad about that? I don’t know, that’s for you to judge, but I think the the way to pose that question is… do you feel comfortable knowing that iPhones and iPads and, and other products could be manufactured in less harsh conditions, but that these harsh conditions and perpetuate because of an economy that you are—

Ira Glass: Right.

Charles Duhigg: —supporting with your dollars.

Ira Glass: Right. I am the direct beneficiary of those harsh conditions.

Charles Duhigg: You’re not only the direct beneficiary; you are actually one of the reasons why it exists. If you made different choices, if you demanded different conditions, if you demanded that other people enjoy the same work protections that you yourself enjoy, then, then those conditions would be different overseas.

Well said Mr. Duhigg.



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