This American Life Retraction of the Fabricated Mike Daisey Episode on Apple and China

A very interesting episode, which strikes me as a generally admirable, thorough (hour-long!), and well-presented work. This American Life erred in not checking more thoroughly, but they seem to have done a good job of apologizing for, and to the extent possible correcting, their error. I’ve long been fascinated with exposures of fabrications and even of mere mistakes (if sufficiently serious); I much liked Shattered Glass, for instance, and for that matter the work of many, including our own Jim Lindgren, regarding Michael Bellesiles’ Arming America. Here’s Ira Glass’s introduction to a press release about the episode, which captures well the tone of the piece:

Ira writes:

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.

The China correspondent for the public radio show Marketplace tracked down the interpreter that Daisey hired when he visited Shenzhen China. The interpreter disputed much of what Daisey has been saying on stage and on our show. On this week’s episode of This American Life, we will devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory.”

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.

We’re horrified to have let something like this onto public radio. Many dedicated reporters and editors – our friends and colleagues – have worked for years to build the reputation for accuracy and integrity that the journalism on public radio enjoys. It’s trusted by so many people for good reason. 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.

A press release with more details about all this is below. We’ll be posting the audio of the program and the transcript on Friday night this week, instead of waiting till Sunday.

Edward Champion (Reluctant Habits) has a summary of the episode, which strikes me as generally sound, though I recommend that you listen to the whole episode. Champion also reports that the theaters in which Daisey usually performs his monologues — which make much the same assertions as Daisey’s This American Life item did, and which appear (at least according to Ira Glass) to be presented as fact — are not stepping up to correct the errors or apologize for them. That strikes me as quite troubling, though I’d certainly be glad to hear more facts on the subject. Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.