#1Mar 19th, 2012
A highly popular episode of This American Life in which monologist Mike Daisey tells of the abuses at factories that make Apple products in China contained "significant fabrications," the show said today.
"We're horrified to have let something like this onto public radio," Ira Glass, the show's executive producer and host said in a blog post today. "Our program adheres to the same journalistic standards as the other national shows, and in this case, we did not live up to those standards."The episode, based on excerpts from Daisey's one-man show "The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," was a huge hit. In addition to the coast-to-coast broadcast, it was downloaded over 888,000 times. As NPR admitted this afternoon, the exposure on NPR turned Daisey into "Apple's chief critic." A petition was started at Change.org, which eventually garnered a quarter million signatures. This Google search yields (external - login to view) hundreds of stories published about Daisey and his claims about Apple in the wake of the big push from NPR.
But NPR wasn't the first media outlet which helped promote Daisey's tales. Daisy's show actually debuted in 2010 in Washington, DC. When Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011, the NY Times reached out to Daisey. They published an op-ed by him (external - login to view) the following day in which he related one of the heart-wrenching stories from his show:
I have traveled to southern China and interviewed workers employed in the production of electronics. I spoke with a man whose right hand was permanently curled into a claw from being smashed in a metal press at Foxconn, where he worked assembling Apple laptops and iPads. I showed him my iPad, and he gasped because he’d never seen one turned on. He stroked the screen and marveled at the icons sliding back and forth, the Apple attention to detail in every pixel. He told my translator, "It’s a kind of magic."Magic is the perfect word since it now seems clear that Daisey conjured it out of thin air. Cathy Lee, the woman who served as Daisey's interpreter on his trip to China, says simply (external - login to view) that nothing of the sort occurred. When confronted with the facts, Daisey responded, "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." Much has been made of Jon Stewart's "clown nose on/clown nose off (external - login to view)" defense when responding to criticism. It's all very serious until he's challenged, then he feigns surprise that anyone would take him seriously in the first place. We've seen something similar this week from Bill Maher. In an interview with Jake Tapper, he explained that his comments about conservative women can't be held against him because he's a comic (external - login to view):
I’m a comedian – not just a guy who says he is, like Rush, but someone who – well, you saw me do stand-up last year in D.C. There’s a big difference...Daisey's explanation, "it's theater," is the same thing. Now that his story has been shown to be a fabrication, he retreats behind the curtain and explains that he's a performer to whom journalistic standards should not apply. But there's no doubt that for months Daisey let news outlets believe his stories were, if not journalism, at least accurate accounts of his personal experiences. That was a lie, one that he didn't mind repeating as long as both he and his cause du jour were getting attention.
Ultimately the media is responsible for vetting the claims of the people they promote in their pages and on their airwaves. It was the media that made Daisey "Apple's chief critic." Specifically it was prominent placement by the Times and NPR. Is it a coincidence that fabricated stories indicting one of America's largest corporations got a big boost from two of America's most liberal news outlets? That's a question the media has yet to ask itself.
NPR Retracts Fabricated Apple Story (external - login to view)