In what can be described as no less than a stunning revelation, This American Life announced Friday afternoon that it was retracting its acclaimed "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory" episode.
The retraction comes after a reporter for American Public Media's Marketplace, Rob Schmitz, began an investigation into the claims Mike Daisey made in a January episode of This American Life. He concluded they could not be true. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International, who is also the operator of this website.
"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 American Life host and Executive Producer Ira Glass wrote on his blog.
The announcement ricocheted around the social media sphere with Ira Glass, This American Life and Mike Daisey all spending time as among the three hottest topics trending in the United States on Twitter. The announcement also drew an immense amount of media coverage. As of 4:30 p.m. CT on Friday, This American Life remained one of the top trending topics in the United States.
Glass said that after Schmitz tracked down the translator Daisey used in China, Cathy Lee, it became clear that Daisey had said things that — if not outright untrue — were at the very least things he had not seen on his trip. Glass said a This American Life producer had tried to interview the translator during the fact-checking process before broadcasting the episode, but Daisey told them the phone number he'd used to reach her was no longer in service.
"At that point, we should've killed the story," Glass said in the press release. "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 and to audiences about the details of his story. That was a mistake."
According to Schmitz's Marketplace report, which was published online Friday afternoon, as he asked Lee question after question, she said repeatedly that Daisey's claims were not true.
When Schmitz brought Glass the allegations, they together confronted Daisey, who quickly admitted his statements were not true.
"I would say that I wanted to tell a story that captured the totality of my trip," Daisey told Glass and Schmitz.
Daisey apologized to Glass, but remained defiant.
“Look. I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work,” Daisey said. “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."
In further comments on his blog, Daisey said he stood by his product.
"My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity," he wrote.
In addition to the report from Marketplace, Glass said this week's episode of This American Life will be devoted entirely to discussing the inaccuracies in Daisey's report — or at the very least the aspects of his monologue that can not be proven. The episode airs in Chicago Friday night and was to be posted online immediately after its broadcast. It airs on public radio stations around the country over the weekend.
To be clear, many of Daisey's accusations have been reported independently by others organizations as well. Just days after the This American Life piece aired, The New York Times published its own report on harsh working conditions at Foxconn facilities in China. But Glass said it had become impossble to separate what Daisey actually knew from what he didn't, so the program was retracting the entire episode.
According to a statement from This American Life, the original audio episode will be pulled from the program’s archives, podcasts and website, as well as iTunes, Amazon and other podcast providers. The episode will still be in the archive, but with a note that says it was retracted and removed. The transcript of the episode will remain oline, with a note explaining the retraction at the top, so it is available for anyone who wants to quote from it.
The episode was the most popular podcast in This American Life's history, with nearly 900,000 podcast downloads and more than 200,000 live streams.