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2:46 pm
Fri March 16, 2012

'This American Life' Retracts Show on Foxconn Working Conditions

An email received from This American Life producer Ira Glass.

I’m writing to tell you that tonight, This American Life and Marketplace will reveal that a story that we broadcast on This American Life this past January contained significant fabrications.

We’re retracting that story because we can’t vouch for its truth, and this weekend's episode of our show will detail the errors in the story, which was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." In it, Daisey tells how he visited a factory owned by Foxconn that manufactures iPhones and iPads in Shenzhen, China. He's performed the monologue in theaters around the country; it's currently at the Public Theater in New York.

When the original 39-minute excerpt was broadcast on This American Life, Marketplace China Correspondent Rob Schmitz wondered about its truth. He located and interviewed Daisey's Chinese interpreter Li Guifen (who goes by the name Cathy Lee professionally with westerners). She disputed much of what Daisey has been telling theater audiences since 2010 and much of what he said on the radio.

During fact checking before the broadcast of Daisey's story, I and This American Life producer Brian Reed asked Daisey for this interpreter's contact information, so we could confirm with her that Daisey actually witnessed what he claims. Daisey told us her real name was Anna, not Cathy as he says in his monologue, and he said that the cell phone number he had for her didn't work any more. He said he had no way to reach her.

At that point, we should've killed the story. But other things Daisey told us about Apple's operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him. We didn't think that he was lying to us. That was a mistake.

Schmitz does a 20-minute story on our show this weekend about his findings, and we'll also broadcast an interview I did with Daisey. Marketplace will feature a shorter version of Schmitz's report earlier in the evening. You can read more details on our website.

We've been planning a live presentation of Daisey's monologue on stage at the Chicago Theatre on April 7th, with me leading a Q&A afterwards. Maybe you've heard me advertising it on the air. That show will be canceled and all tickets will be refunded.

I've never had to write an email like this. Like all our friends and colleagues in public radio, I and my co-workers at This American Life work hard every day to make sure that what you hear on WBEZ is factually correct. We will continue to do that, and hope you can forgive this.

Best,
Ira Glass

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