Blog

"Sleepwalk with Me" Comes to Boston

Mar 23, 2012

Ira writes:

Hello Boston! The movie we made with Mike Birbiglia, based on the sleepwalking story he told on our show, is coming to the Independent Film Festival Boston.

How good is the film? So good it killed at Sundance in January and won an audience award. So good it was listed as one of the best films at SXSW by several reviewers. So good the Independent Film Festival in Boston picked it to open their entire festival on Wednesday, April 25th.

Writer, director, and star of the film Mike Birbiglia is on the road and can't be at the screening, but I'll be there, to present the film and do a Q&A afterwards. It's the first time we're presenting the film without Mike in the room. Finally, audiences will get a chance at a Q&A that doesn't get bogged down in great jokes and charming, self-deprecating remarks. It'll be good to be rid of that dead weight! I feel younger and lighter already!

Hope to see you there. We'll add ticket information once it's available.

The film will play a few more festivals over the next few months, and then will come to a theater near you when it's officially released in the fall by our distributor, IFC Films.

A Website Note

Mar 23, 2012

One upshot of the recent news coverage about our show: we learned that stories by Stephen Glass were in our online archive. We'd taken these down years ago and then they went back up without any of us noting it when we did a redesign of the website in 2010. (The people executing the new design didn't know we'd removed those shows and Ira and the radio producers on staff didn't think to inform them; they hadn't thought about those stories in years.)

We're taking those shows back down again today.

Stephen Glass was a reporter who fabricated stories that appeared in several national magazines. His story was the subject of the film Shattered Glass.

In the very early days of the radio show, we had Stephen Glass (who's no relation to Ira Glass), come on the show and retell stories he'd published in magazines. This is standard practice on public radio. We trust that since we're talking to fellow journalists who already published their work in mainstream publications, the work had been edited and vetted as true. Glass wrote a story for Harper's magazine about working as a telephone psychic and then told it on our episode How to Take Money from Strangers. He told a story in Delivery about Federal Express that had appeared in The New Republic in November 1996. We sent him out with a tape recorder for a story he reported both for The New Republic and for us, about interns who played slaves at Mount Vernon, George Washington's home. We transcribed and edited the tape he recorded (this was in the early days of our program; today we have enough producers that one of us would've gone with him) and now believe that all the recorded quotes he brought back are real, while the ones he didn't manage to record are probably fabrications.

As with Mike Daisey's story, we'll be pulling the audio of these stories down from our website, but will leave the transcripts up, for anyone who's interested.

Retracting "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory"

Mar 16, 2012

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.


This American Life Retracts Story
Says It Can't Vouch for the Truth of Mike Daisey's Monologue about Apple in China

This American Life and American Public Media’s Marketplace will reveal that a story first broadcast in January on This American Life contained numerous fabrications.

This American Life will devote its entire program this weekend to detailing the errors in the story, which was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's critically 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 has performed the monologue in theaters around the country; it's currently at the Public Theater in New York. Tonight’s This American Life program will include a segment from Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz, and interviews with Daisey himself. Marketplace will feature a shorter version of Schmitz's report earlier in the evening.

When the original 39-minute excerpt was broadcast on This American Life on January 6, 2012, Marketplace China Correspondent Rob Schmitz wondered about its truth. Marketplace had done a lot of reporting on Foxconn and Apple’s supply chain in China in the past, and Schmitz had first-hand knowledge of the issues. 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, This American Life staffers asked Daisey for this interpreter's contact information. Daisey told them 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," says Ira Glass, Executive Producer and Host of This American Life. "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."

The response to the original episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” was significant. It quickly became the single most popular podcast in This American Life’s history, with 888,000 downloads (typically the number is 750,000) and 206,000 streams to date. After hearing the broadcast, listener Mark Shields started a petition calling for better working conditions for Apple's Chinese workers, and soon delivered almost a quarter-million signatures to Apple.

The same month the episode aired, The New York Times ran a front-page investigative series about Apple's overseas manufacturing, and there were news reports about Foxconn workers threatening group suicide in a protest over their treatment.

Faced with all this scrutiny of its manufacturing practices, Apple announced that for the first time it will allow an outside third party to audit working conditions at those factories and – for the first time ever – it released a list of its suppliers.

Mike Daisey, meanwhile, became one of the company's most visible and outspoken critics, appearing on television and giving dozens of interviews about Apple.

Some of the falsehoods found in Daisey's monologue are small ones: the number of factories Daisey visited in China, for instance, and the number of workers he spoke with. Others are large. In his monologue he claims to have met a group of workers who were poisoned on an iPhone assembly line by a chemical called n-hexane. Apple's audits of its suppliers show that an incident like this occurred in a factory in China, but the factory wasn’t located in Shenzhen, where Daisey visited.

"It happened nearly a thousand miles away, in a city called Suzhou," Marketplace’s Schmitz says in his report. "I’ve interviewed these workers, so I knew the story. And when I heard Daisey’s monologue on the radio, I wondered: How’d they get all the way down to Shenzhen? It seemed crazy, that somehow Daisey could’ve met a few of them during his trip."

In Schmitz's report, he confronts Daisey and Daisey admits to fabricating these characters.

"I'm not going to say that I didn't take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard," Daisey tells Schmitz and Glass. "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."

Daisey's interpreter Cathy also disputes two of the most dramatic moments in Daisey's story: that he met underage workers at Foxconn, and that a man with a mangled hand was injured at Foxconn making iPads (and that Daisey's iPad was the first one he ever saw in operation). Daisey says in his monologue:

He's never actually seen one on, this thing that took his hand. I turn it on, unlock the screen, and pass it to him. He takes it. The icons flare into view, and he strokes the screen with his ruined hand, and the icons slide back and forth. And he says something to Cathy, and Cathy says, "he says it's a kind of magic."

Cathy Lee tells Schmitz that nothing of the sort occurred.

"In our original broadcast, we fact checked all the things that Daisey said about Apple's operations in China," says Glass, "and those parts of his story were true, except for the underage workers, who are rare. We reported that discrepancy in the original show. But with this week’s broadcast, we're letting the audience know that too many of the details about the people he says he met are in dispute for us to stand by the story. I suspect that many things that Mike Daisey claims to have experienced personally did not actually happen, but listeners can judge for themselves."

"It was completely wrong for me to have it on your show," Daisey tells Glass on the program, "and that's something I deeply regret." He also expressed his regret to "the people who are listening, the audience of This American Life, who know that it is a journalism enterprise, if they feel betrayed."

This American Life and its home station WBEZ Chicago had been planning a live presentation of Daisey's monologue on stage at the Chicago Theatre on April 7th, with Glass leading a Q&A afterwards. That show will be cancelled and all tickets will be refunded.

This American Life episode will air on WBEZ at 8pm EST/7pm CST tonight and will also be available to stream and download on thisamericanlife.org at that time. It can be heard on public radio stations around the country this weekend.


For media inquiries for This American Life, please contact Emily Condon at This American Life: emily@thislife.org

For listener comments to This American Life: web@thislife.org

For media inquiries directed to Marketplace, please contact Bill Gray at American Public Media: 651-734-8239

This American Life is produced by WBEZ Chicago and distributed by Public Radio International.

"Very Tough Love" update – Lindsey Dills

Mar 9, 2012
Last March 25th, we broadcast a story, "Very Tough Love" about the drug court in Glynn County, Georgia that was run by Judge Amanda Williams. Ira interviewed a number of people who’d faced Judge Williams; most memorable was a young woman named Lindsey Dills. Lindsey forged two checks on her father's checking account for $100 total. She ended up in drug court for five and a half years; 14 months of that was behind bars, including an "indefinite sentence" in solitary confinement, where Judge Williams apparently sent her away with no end date named, prohibiting her from contacting anyone, including her family, her doctor, or her lawyer. She told Ira:
I was like, "How is this happening? How is this ethical? Where am I? Like am I in a foreign country? Have I killed someone that I don't know about?" Like, "How does what I did merit that type of treatment?" But there's nothing I can do about it. Because I can't even use the phone. I can't even send a letter. I'm like, "Where do they do this?" I've never heard of it and if it's even legal.
Lindsey had been on anti-depressants, which were approved by the court. While in solitary confinement, she says, she ran out. Isolated and alone, as Christmas neared, she snuck a razor and slit her wrists. Again, Lindsey:
"I actually hoped that I would die. But at the point that I figured then, well if I die, great. If I don't, at least someone will freakin' hear me. They'll have to send me somewhere. You know what I mean? They'll have get me some type of help."
In November of last year, Georgia's Judicial Qualifications Commission filed formal charges against Judge Amanda Williams. The first count consisted of 14 charges relating to Lindsey Dills' case and specifically cited her indefinite detention. Read the full document here. In press coverage about Judge Williams, Lindsey's case was frequently cited.

On January 2nd of this year, Judge Williams resigned after 21 years on the bench. In a consent order, she agreed not to seek other judicial offices.

Then, on February 22nd, Glynn County Magistrate Timothy Barton signed an order that released Lindsey Dills from her probation and expunged her forgery convictions from her record. She would've served four more years of probation.

Last week, The Florida Times-Union caught up with Lindsey Dills. Here’s an update on how she’s doing. She's a new mom and happy and drug-free.

Ira says: "Before I found Lindsey, I was in a situation where people would tell me things Judge Williams had done to them, but they wouldn't go on the record. Lindsey was still incarcerated at the time. Her family warned her that there could be repercussions if she spoke to me. But she spoke anyway. It was brave and I was grateful. I think it's because of her that the radio story made such an impression, around the country and especially in Georgia, where a number of well-known lawyers including a former state Supreme Court Justice became involved in the investigation of Judge Williams. I'm really glad to hear the news about her probation. I'm really glad for Lindsey. After Judge Williams stepped down I contacted Lindsey and she told me she was barely following the news. She didn't seem to think she played much of a part in this. Which, I thought, was way better than if she'd been obsessively watching every twist and turn and newsbreak. I'm glad for that too, that she was able to walk away from this bad moment in her life."

"Very Tough Love" wins Polk Award

Feb 20, 2012

Our episode "Very Tough Love" is among the winners of the George Polk Awards in Journalism announced today by Long Island University.

From the press release:

Ira Glass with the public radio show "This American Life" earned the George Polk Award for Radio Reporting for "Very Tough Love," an hour-long report that showed alarmingly severe punishments being meted out by a county drug court judge in Georgia. Drug courts were set up to emphasize rehabilitation instead of incarceration, but Glass’ investigation revealed that Judge Amanda Williams strayed far from the principles and philosophy by routinely piling on jail sentences for relapses. One 17-year-old girl, initially in trouble for forging two small checks on her father’s account, was facing more than 10 years in jail. Following the airing of "Very Tough Love," Georgia’s Judicial Qualifying Commission filed 14 ethical misconduct charges against Williams. Within weeks of the filing of charges, Williams stepped down from the bench and agreed never to seek other judicial offices.

The Polk Awards, which place a premium on investigative reporting, were established in 1949 by LIU in honor of George Polk, a CBS correspondent who was killed in 1948 while covering the Greek civil war.

Please take our listener survey

Feb 17, 2012

This American Life listener survey If you have a couple minutes to spare, it would be very helpful to us if you would take this listener survey. It will allow us to learn more about our audience, in order to reach new listeners and better serve you folks who are already listening. The survey was designed in collaboration with the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. It should take about five minutes to complete. Thank you!

NYC: Come Beat Ira in Poker

Feb 8, 2012

Ira writes:

Come beat me in poker this Saturday, Feb. 11th. It's a charity tournament for 826NYC, the literacy group. If you are reading this and wondering if you in fact can kick my ass at poker, I want to meet you at the felt, mano a mano. Let's see what you've got. For the kids. It's all for the kids.

David Cross is also in the event. If you're not in the NYC area, you can donate to one of the players who will be competing against Ira and David.

News Flash: The Real Inventor of "Self-Deportation"

Jan 31, 2012

On last week's show, we took up the subject of "self-deportation," the new, supposedly gentler anti-illegal immigration movement that’s been embraced by various Republican presidential hopefuls, including Mitt Romney. In our report we credited Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach with inventing “self-deportation.”

But we were reminded by a twitter feed that he was not the first person to come up with this idea.

In fact, the concept can be traced to the mid-1990's. That’s when a group called “Hispanics Against Liberal Takeover” (HALTO) started running tongue-in-cheek political ads in California, calling for the self-deportation of all illegal immigrants in the United States.

At the time, the founder of HALTO, a Mexican-American called Daniel D. Portado, came onto our very own radio show in November 1996 to promote this idea.

Daniel D. Portado: We feel that the immigrants are taking too many jobs, are bringing down the quality of life. They're not allowing our young American teenagers the character-building experiences of picking fruit and cleaning hotel beds.

Later Ira asks him:

Ira Glass: Daniel D. Portado, if you actually believe in deportation, what are you, yourself, still doing in California?

Daniel D. Portado: Well, I am here to help everyone get out. I hope to look forward to the day where I will stand at the border and say, will the last Mexican out of California please turn out the lights? That will be me.

Mr. Portado has been trying to set the record straight lately, in interviews like this, but to little avail.

Mr. Portado told Ira he got the idea for his self-deportation movement when he read about Mexican-Americans who were in favor of Propostion 187, a ballot initiative in California that prohibited illegal immigrants from using public health care, public education, and other social services in the state.

Coincidentally, Mr. Kobach told us that Proposition 187 is also what got him interested in immigration reform, which ultimately led to his idea of “attrition through enforcement,” aka self-deportation.

Luckily for Mr. Portado, his ads claim to have trademarked the term.

HALTO and Daniel D. Portado are reportedly the creations of political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz.

Help us get Mike Birbiglia's movie into theaters

Jan 28, 2012

Ira writes:

For two years, I've been working with Mike Birbiglia to turn the sleepwalking story from our "Fear of Sleep" episode into a feature film. On Monday, the movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and it's been a long time since I've had the feeling I have right now, a mix of excitement and curiosity about what's going to happen next. Audiences are telling us they love the film; it's on a few lists of must-see films at Sundance. Click here to watch a scene from Sleepwalk With Me, and for instructions on how to help it get to a theater near you.

1/28/12 UPDATE. Sleepwalk With Me won the Best of NEXT Audience Award at Sundance!

A response to the news from Apple

Jan 13, 2012

3/16/2012 UPDATE: This American Life has retracted the story referenced below because we learned that many of Mike Daisey's experiences in China were fabricated. We produced an entire new episode about the retraction.

Producer Brian Reed writes:

There's news from Apple today, relating to some of the issues discussed in our program last week “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.”

For the first time, Apple has released a list of companies that build its products around the world. In another first, the company also announced that it will allow an independent third party to check on working conditions at those factories, and to make its findings public.

We don’t know that our show inspired these moves from Apple, but both of the changes are things that Mike Daisey called for in Act Two of our episode.

Apple announced these changes today when it released its latest Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, which the company has published every year since 2007. In the past, the reports have typically come out in February.

The organization that will oversee independent audits of Apple’s assemblers is a nonprofit called the Fair Labor Association, which already checks on suppliers for other American companies, including Nike, New Balance, and Adidas. Apple is the first technology company to work with the FLA. Apple says it will "open its supply chain" to the FLA, who will do unannounced factory visits. It will do these without coordinating with Apple, and will then post the results on its website.

“It’s a level of transparency and independent oversight that is unmatched in our industry,” Apple wrote in its progress report.

That said, this isn’t actually what Mike was asking for at the end of our show. While Apple is listing the names of its suppliers, it still does not identify which facilities it found to have work standard violations.

It doesn’t appear that Apple’s partnership with the FLA will increase transparency in this regard either. The FLA will audit 5% of the factories that make Apple products, but like Apple, it will not name which ones it checks or where it finds violations. The president and CEO of the FLA, Auret van Heerden, wasn’t available to talk to me today about why this is, though it's standard practice for the FLA with all the companies it investigates.

I ran all this by Mike Daisey, and here’s what he had to say:

Apple has released a list of its suppliers, but it still hides the companies it audited with anonymity. This makes it impossible to learn anything new about what is going on in Apple's supply chain, to verify anything, or hold anyone responsible. The FLA will audit a tiny percentage of Apple's factories, and also won’t make public which factories they audit.

If Apple would spend less energy finessing its public image, and instead apply its efforts to real transparency and accountability, it could be a true leader for the electronics industry. Apple today is still saying what it said yesterday: trust us, we know best, there's nothing to worry about. They have not earned the trust they are asking for.

Some people are saying that what Apple is doing is still a big move. Keith Wagstaff, who covers tech for Time, writes that at least now reporters can do their own investigations on factories that make Apple products.

“It’s almost certain that Apple will face increased scrutiny if stories of worker suicides and other labor issues start surfacing about other factories where Apple parts are made,” he writes.

Although the Fair Labor Association will not name the suppliers it assesses, its reports on the 5% of Apple facilities that it will audit will provide independent verification for the first time of Apple's claims about its supply chain. The audits posted by the FLA on its website are impressive and revealing, citing dangerous working conditions, attempts by suppliers to quash unions, unfairness in wages and hiring and much more. Go to its tracking charts page, pick a company like Adidas or Eddie Bauer or Nike and you find what seem like frank and detailed assessments.

Following up on a few other things we reported last week:

Apple conducted nearly twice as many audits in 2011 as they did in 2010.

They found fewer instances of child labor than in 2010: It was 91 cases in 2010 vs. 19 in 2011.

In our show last week we noted that in 2010, Apple found that only 32% of the suppliers it audited followed its rules about excessive working hours. According to the new report, in 2011 things did not get much better – 38% of facilities followed the rules. 37 facilities lacked basic systems to make sure that workers took off at least one day out of seven. In the report, Apple says that the problem of excessive working hours “has been a challenge throughout the history of our program. While this problem is not unique to Apple, we continue to fight it.”

The report goes on to say that “reducing excessive overtime is a top priority for our supplier responsibility program in 2012.” But again, Apple doesn’t say which facilities were in violation of these rules.

Like they did when we invited them on last week’s show, Apple declined to talk us on the record about this news, or to respond to Mike Daisey.

Apple Responsibility Reports

Email that Apple CEO sent to employees about the news

Fair Labor Organization press release

New York Times coverage

Business Week coverage