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Win a signed live show poster! Get a shout-out during the show!

Apr 12, 2012

Here's your chance to win a poster for our May 10 live show in movie theaters, and get a shout-out during the show. Ten winners will receive posters signed by Ira Glass. If you win, Ira will announce your name during the show, and say which movie theatre you're at. The show is being filmed and sent live via satellite to movie screens all over the US and Canada.

To enter, email thisamericanlife.poster@gmail.com with the following info:
* First and last name
* Movie theater where you will be attending, including city and state

Deadline: Monday May 7th, 2012 - midnight Pacific Standard Time.

Note: You don't have to attend the live show to enter the contest - though it'll be way more fun when you win. If you do win, we'll email you to ask for your mailing address. Good luck!

Aaaaaaaand... here's the poster, designed by the super-talented Claire Keane. Claire and other artists are also busily creating illustrations and animation that'll be included in the show itself.

This American Life - live in movie theatres! May 10th!

Apr 6, 2012

We're thrilled to announce that on Thursday, May 10th, 2012, we will perform an episode of This American Life on stage in New York City and beam it live via satellite to more than 500 movie theatres around the US and Canada! We did a show like this in 2009, and were blown away when 50,000 people came out to see it. A lot of you have asked us if we'll be doing it again.

So yeah, we're doing it again!

The show will feature stories by Ira Glass, writers David Sedaris and David Rakoff, comic Tig Notaro and Snap Judgment host Glynn Washington, plus live music by OK Go. It'll also include things you could never do on the radio, like a new short film by Mike Birbiglia, dance by Monica Bill Barnes & Company, original animation, projected illustration and more. Plus special surprise guests.

Ira writes:

I saw this amazing dance performance by Monica Bill Barnes' company, and I thought - that is totally in the style of our radio show. But obviously you can't have dance on the radio. Then I realized, we have to do another cinema event! We've built this lineup of stories mixed with super visual things, including the dancers I saw, so it's going to feel like the radio show but also totally unlike anything we've done before. I really can't wait to see how it turns out.

Live on Thursday, May 10th at 8:00pm ET/7:00pm CT (tape delayed to 7:00pm MT/ 8:00pm PT). Some theatres will present encore screenings on Tuesday, May 15th at 7:30PM (local time).

Tickets will go fast in a lot of locations. The button links to commercial theatres in the US:

TICKETS

You can purchase tickets at additional, independent theatres in the US here.

The show is also screening at 37 theatres across Canada!

Note: Unfortunately we're not able to add venues to screen the show. Theatres need to have sophisticated satellite receiver equipment, and to have signed on with the distribution network that is sending out the signal.

McCain-Feingold Uncut

Apr 6, 2012

Dear fellow political nerds,

Ben Calhoun and Alex Blumberg here, with something we thought you might enjoy: an extended version of the interview that we, along with NPR's Andrea Seabrook, did with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI). We did this as part of our episode on lobbying and campaign finance, Take The Money And Run For Office.

McCain and Feingold don't need a lot of introduction, and one of the things they’re most well-known for is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act – known to people in DC as BCRA (pronounced bick-RAH), and known to people most other places as “McCain-Feingold.”

We wanted to speak to the two of them because when the US Supreme Court drastically changed American politics with its Citizens United decision, it effectively undid a lot of what McCain-Feingold had done. BCRA’s goal was to limit the flow of money into American politics. The Citizens United decision arguably opened up the door for more money in politics than ever before.

We wanted to talk to McCain and Feingold about how they felt about the reforms they fought so hard to pass, now that they’ve been significantly undermined by the Supreme Court.

We knew both men had a reputations for being candid, and figured they wouldn’t like the decision much, but we walked out of the interview surprised at how blunt and openly angry they were. We were also surprised how openly critical they were of the court. When we talked afterward, we realized that each of us thought, at several points during the interview, "I can't believe that was the 2008 Republican nominee for president talking like that."

The conversation left a real impression on all three of us.

It is also – as far we know, and as far as they and their staffs can recall – the first interview they’ve done together in years.

So, given all that, we wanted to offer this extended version of our conversation with them.

One word of caution, both of them talk like people who have lived and breathed this stuff for years. They assume a certain amount of knowledge about the law they passed, about Citizens United, about how fundraising works. If you're a level 10 political nerd, it won't be an issue, go ahead and hit play right below.

For everyone else, we’ve put together a quick primer of two or three things you should know going into this, so you don't get tripped up. You’ll find it immediately below the audio.

Listen to McCain-Feingold Uncut:
Download Audio. Transcript.

McCain-Feingold – The actual name of the law was Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. This law did a few different things. But in a nutshell, the key things to know about this are:

A long time ago, corporations and unions had been banned from contributing directly to candidates. And in the 1970’s, limits were placed on how much individuals could give to candidates. But even after that, unions, corporations, and wealthy donors would get around those restrictions by giving unlimited amounts of money to the parties. The parties would then spread that money around, using it in elections all over the country. This was called “soft money.” McCain-Feingold attempted to get this unlimited source of money out of American politics by banning the parties from taking soft money.

The law also banned corporations and unions from airing “electioneering” materials in the last 30 days before a primary, or in the last 60 days before a general election. This would have been a way for the corporations and unions to go around the soft money ban and just channel money out of their treasuries and directly into elections.

Citizens United - It'll help to know that the Citizens United case involved a non-profit corporation named Citizens United. In 2008, the group wanted to run what it called a documentary film about now Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who at the time was running for president. The film was essentially an extended negative ad against Clinton, and so airing it would have violated the McCain-Feingold ban on “electioneering” communications.

All of this went to court. In its Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court said McCain-Feingold ban was an unconstitutional violation of freedom of speech.

This cleared the path for the creation of new political funds – enter super PACs – which can take unlimited amounts from corporations or unions – and these groups could then spend very freely in elections.

Anyway, when McCain gets really cutting about saying "this group" made a movie just to challenge this, he’s referring to The Citizens United group and the movie about Hillary Clinton.

527s - These were the super PACs of yesterday. Only they weren't as powerful. They were more like kindofsuper PACs. They were non-profit-type groups that could take unlimited contributions and spend the money doing political stuff – like running commercials. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Moveon.org: both 527s.

These groups, however, were supposed to limit their commercials and advocacy to issues. They were supposed to stop short of saying “vote for or don’t vote for this guy.” So their influence was restricted in some ways.

Bundling – Feingold mentions this. This is a practice that started after legal limits were placed on campaign contributions. It really took off after McCain-Feingold put tougher limits on campaign finance.

Bundlers are people who gather a bunch of smaller, limited contributions from many different donors and tie them together. They then direct the bundle into a candidate's campaign fund, or into a party’s political fund. In a campaign environment where a 100-thousand dollar donation to a candidate is not allowed, these bundlers create really huge, but totally legitimate, pots of money that they can throw around.

We’ve also attached a transcript of the full interview, for anyone interested.

Enjoy!

"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.