Under the stories title “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” a curious disclaimer appears on This American Life’s website. It reads:
NOTE: This American Life has retracted this story because we learned that many of Mike Daisey’s experiences in China were fabricated. We have removed the audio from our site, and have left this transcript up only for reference. We produced an entire new episode about the retraction, featuring Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz, who interviewed Mike’s translator Cathy and discovered discrepancies between her account and Mike’s, and New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, who has reported extensively on Apple. Ira also re-interviewed Mike Daisey to learn why he misled us.
There is that moment when you realize you’ve been lied too. You know the experience? When that white-heat washes over you. It’s a terrible feeling, especially when the lie impacts your life, your work, your passion. When a source lies to a reporter it cuts deep. Lies threatens the credibility of the journalist (and journalism as a whole). Truth defines a reporter’s credibility. This is what happened to Ira Glass and his staff at This American Life.
In a retraction written by the show’s host Ira Glass and posted on This American’s Lifeblog Friday reads:
I have difficult news. We’ve learned that Mike Daisey’s story about Apple in China – which we broadcast in January – contained significant fabrications. We’re retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey’s acclaimed one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.
“My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it’s not journalism,” said Daisey. “It’s theater.”
This explains Daisey’s professional title: performance artist. He is not a journalist so he is not benefiting (or making money) to fact-check and tell truths. His work may be based on true stories, but truth is negotiable when it enters the arena of theatre, where Daisey works and plays.
What is more troubling is that Glass and This American Life producer Brian Reed knew their source lied prior to broadcast, yet they didn’t go the second mile to confirm Daisey’s story. In fairness, the Glass and Reed requested contact information on a source that could confirm or deny the reporting, but when they couldn’t reach the source, they plowed ahead.
“That was a mistake,” said Glass during his introduction of this week’s episode of This American Life. “We should’ve killed the story.”
But, wait. When Marketplace.org reporter Rob Schmitz attempted to find the source (a Chinese translator named Cathy Lee who worked with Daisy in Shenzhen). “I could pretend finding her took amazing detective work, but I just typed Cathy, translator and Shenzhen into Google and called the first number that came up,” reported Schmitz.
A woman answered. When asked, she said she knew Mike Daisey. One Google search, one phone call and Schmitz found Cathy Lee. He met and interviewed her one day later.
You can hear Schmitz’ story and the entire podcast here:
In retrospect we now know Daisey lied about his story to This American Life — and the one he tells on stage. We also learned a lesson in reporting: never – ever — take shortcuts in reporting a story. If there are inconsistencies, keep going until you get “the best obtainable version of the truth.” The truth is the most important journalism ethics standards.
Who is Mike Daisey? Here he is telling his story on MSNBC …
Are you a fan of This American Life? How does this story, and fact-finding error, impact your trust in this show? I’d love your feedback. Post your comments below. Thanks for visiting the site!