Transcript

460:

Retraction
Transcript

Originally aired 03.16.2012

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/460

Prologue.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life, distributed by Public Radio International. I'm Ira Glass. And I'm coming to you today to say something that I've never had to say on our program. Two months ago, we broadcast a story that we've come to believe is not true. It's a story that got a lot of attention. More people downloaded it than any episode we have ever done.

This is Mike Daisey's story about visiting a plant in China where Apple manufactures iPhones, and iPads, and other products. He's been performing this story on stage as a monologue since 2010. We didn't commission this story. We didn't send him to China. We excerpted the stage show that he's been telling in theaters around the country.

We did fact-check the story before we put it on the radio. But in fact-checking, our main concern was whether the things that Mike says about Apple and about its supplier, Foxconn, which makes this stuff, were true. That stuff is true. It's been corroborated by independent investigations by other journalists and studies by advocacy groups. And much of it has been corroborated by Apple itself in its own audit reports.

But what's not true is what Mike said about his own trip to China. As best as we can tell, Mike's monologue in reality is a mix of things that actually happened when he visited China and things that he had just heard about or researched, which he then pretends that he witnessed firsthand. He pretends that he just stumbled upon an array of workers who typify all kinds of harsh things that somebody might face in a factory that makes iPhones and iPads. And the most powerful and memorable moments in the story all seem to be fabricated.

At the time that we were fact-checking his story, we asked Mike for the contact information for the interpreter that he used when he was visiting China, who he calls Cathy in his monologue. We wanted to talk to her to confirm that the incidents that he described all happened as he describes them. And when we asked for her information, he told us, well, her real name wasn't Cathy. It was Anna.

And he had a cell phone number for her, but he said that when he tried the number these days, it doesn't work anymore. He said he had no way to reach her. And because the other things that Mike told us about Apple and about Foxconn seemed to check out, we saw no reason to doubt him, and we dropped this. We didn't try further to reach the translator. That was a mistake.

I can say now in retrospect that when Mike Daisey wouldn't give us contact information for his interpreter, we should have killed the story rather than run it. We never should have broadcast this story without talking to that woman. Instead, we trusted his word. Although he's not a journalist, we made clear to him that anything that he was going to say on our program would have to live up to journalistic standards. He had to be truthful. And he lied to us.

All this came to our attention because the China correspondent for the public radio show Marketplace, Rob Schmitz, who lives in Shanghai, heard the story and had questions about it, had suspicions about it. And he went out, and he found the translator. And although Mike told us that her name is really Anna, Mike now admits to keep us from finding her, her name it actually is Cathy, just like he says in the monologue. Rob ran the details of Mike's monologue by Cathy and learned that much of the story is not factual. Cathy gave Rob emails between her and Mike that corroborated her version of some of the events.

Today on our radio program, we're going to hear what she said to Rob. And then we're going to talk to Mike Daisey about why he lied to all of you and to me off the air during the fact-checking process. And we're going to end our show with somebody who actually knows the facts of what happens in Apple's suppliers in China, who's going to review those for us.

I should say I am not happy to have to come to you and tell you that something that we presented on the radio as factual is not factual. All of us in public radio stand together. And I have friends and colleagues on lots of other shows who, like us here at This American Life, work hard to do accurate, independent reporting week in, week out. I and my co-workers here at This American Life, we are not happy to have done anything to hurt the reputation of the journalism that happens on this radio station every day. So we want to be completely transparent about what we got wrong and what we now believe is the truth.

And let's just get to it. Here's Rob Schmitz, who usually reports for Marketplace, in Shanghai.

Act One. Cathy's Account.

Rob Schmitz

One of the big things that didn't sit right with me came early on in Daisey's monologue, when he talks about arriving at the gates of the Foxconn factory.

Mike Daisey

And I get out of the taxi with my translator. And the first thing I see at the gates are the guards. And the guards look pissed. They look really pissed. And they are carrying guns.

Rob Schmitz

I've done reporting at a lot of Chinese factories and I've never seen guards with guns. The only people allowed to have guns in China are the military and the police, not factory guards. Later, Daisey meets with factory workers, who he says belong to an illegal union, one that's not authorized by the Chinese government.

Mike Daisey

And I say to them, "How do you know who's right to work with? How do you find people to help you organize?" And they look at each other bashfully. And they say, "Well, we talk a lot. We have lots of meetings. And we meet at coffeehouses and different Starbucks in Guangzhou. And we exchange papers."

Rob Schmitz

Wait, hold on. Rewind.

Mike Daisey

"We meet at coffeehouses and different Starbucks in Guangzhou."

Rob Schmitz

Factory workers who make $15, $20 a day are sipping coffee at Starbucks? Starbucks is pricier in China than in the US. A reporter friend of mine didn't believe this either. He said Chinese factory workers gathering at Starbucks is sort of like United Auto Workers in Detroit holding their meetings at a Chinese tea house.

I talked to other reporters over here. We all noticed these errors. And it made us wonder, what else in Daisey's monologue wasn't true? I decided to track down his translator, Cathy, who's a big character in the story.

I could pretend finding her took amazing detective work. But basically, I just typed "Cathy" and "translator" and "Shenzhen" into Google. I called the first number that came up.

Rob Schmitz

I'm looking for somebody in Shenzhen named Cathy-- and that's why I'm calling you-- who worked with a gentleman named Mike Daisey. And I'm wondering if you've ever worked with a man named Mike Daisey.

Cathy

Yes. He's from America, right?

Rob Schmitz

Did you work with him?

Cathy

Sure.

Rob Schmitz

Oh, OK. So that was you, actually?

Cathy

Yes.

Rob Schmitz

Her name is Li Guifen. But with Westerners, professionally, she goes by the Anglicized name Cathy Lee. I tell her that Daisey put her in a stage show about Apple and Foxconn. I ask her if she knows about this.

Nope. She knew Daisey was writing something, but that's it. She hasn't heard from him since 2010, when he hired her in Shenzhen. So I fly there to see her. And the next day, she takes me to the exact spot she took Daisey, the gates of Foxconn.

Rob Schmitz

You guys came here, what, in 2010, right?

Cathy

Yeah, 2010.

Rob Schmitz

The night before, I sent Cathy a link to the This American Life episode with Daisey. And I brought a copy of his script with me to the gates.

Cathy

You know, I listened to the radio of Michael Daisey. I think it's OK he writes things. But some of them he writes are true. Some of them he writes are not true. But he's not telling the whole truth.

Rob Schmitz

She says a lot of details were exaggerated. Some of them were just plain made up. We start with their itinerary. Daisey makes it sound like he talked to lots of workers. In interviews, he said hundreds. But Cathy says it was maybe 50 people on the outside. They were just at Foxconn's gates for two mornings.

And emails between Daisey and Cathy, which she gave me, show that the chronology of the story that Daisey tells on stage is a fabrication. In his monologue, he says he visited Foxconn's gates and then decided to pose as a businessman to get tours of factories. In fact, he visited Foxconn the morning after he arrived in Shenzhen, and the factory called KTC Technology that very afternoon. It was all set up in advance.

Daisey told Ira that he and Cathy visited 10 factories posing as businesspeople. Cathy says it was only three. And then there's the guns.

Rob Schmitz

Did the guards have guns when you came here with Mike Daisey?

Cathy

No. Definitely no.

Rob Schmitz

So he wasn't telling the truth about that?

Cathy

You know, guns are not allowed to be carried by security guards. It's illegal.

Rob Schmitz

Cathy says she's never seen a gun in person, only in the movies and on TV. So she'd remember it. And there are more important parts of Daisey's story that she says didn't happen. The biggest is the children. Daisey describes meeting a worker from the iPhone assembly line.

Mike Daisey

And I say to her, "You seem kind of young. How old are you?" And she says, "I'm 13." And I say, "13. That's young. Is it hard to get work at Foxconn when you're--?"

She says, "Oh, no." And her friends all agree. They don't really check ages. I'm telling you that in my first two hours of my first day at that gate, I met workers who were 14 years old, 13 years old, 12. Do you really think Apple doesn't know?

Rob Schmitz

In fact, underage workers are sometimes caught working at Apple suppliers. Apple's own audit says in 2010, when Daisey was in China, Apple found 10 facilities, where 91 underage workers were hired. But it's widely acknowledged that Apple's been aggressive about underage workers, and they're rare. That's 91 workers out of hundreds of thousands.

Ira asked Mike about this on the This American Life broadcast. And he admitted it might be rare. But he stuck by his story.

Mike Daisey

I know that I met people that were there. And I know that I talked to them. I mean, there weren't very many as a proportion of the total group. I talked to more than 100 people. I met five or six who were underage.

Ira Glass

And they were all in one group?

Mike Daisey

Yes, they were. They seemed like savvy kids, honestly.

Rob Schmitz

Do you remember meeting 12-year-old, 13-year-old, and 14-year-old workers here?

Cathy

No, I don't. Maybe we met a girl who looks like 13 years old. Like that one, she looks really young

Rob Schmitz

Right. Is that something that you would remember?

Cathy

I think if she said she was 13 or 12, then I would be surprised. I would be very surprised. Then I'd be remembering for sure. But there is no such thing.

Rob Schmitz

She'd be surprised because, she says, in the 10 years she's visited factories in Shenzhen, she's hardly ever seen underage workers. Then there's the meeting Daisey says he had with workers from an unauthorized union, a secret union. Cathy confirmed that this did happen.

Daisey told Ira they met with 25 to 30 workers in an all-day meeting. Cathy remembers two workers. She says maybe there were two or three others. And it was a couple hours over lunch, at a restaurant.

Daisey describes a bird-like woman, who showed them a government-issued blacklist of people companies weren't allowed to hire. She remembers the blacklist, but she also remembers that it didn't have an official government stamp. Anything government-issued in China carries an official stamp. So she wondered if the blacklist was real. Here's another part of that meeting with the illegal union from Daisey's monologue.

Mike Daisey

There's a group that's talking about hexane. N-hexane is an iPhone screen cleaner. It's great, because it evaporates a little bit faster than alcohol does, which means you can run the production line even faster and try to keep up with the quotas. The problem is that n-hexane is a potent neurotoxin.

And all these people have been exposed. Their hands shake uncontrollably. Most of them can't even pick up a glass.

Rob Schmitz

"The problem is that hexane is a potent neurotoxin. And all these people have been exposed. Their hands shake uncontrollably. Some of them can't even pick up a glass." Did you meet people who fit this description?

Cathy

No.

Rob Schmitz

So there was nobody who said that they were poisoned by hexane?

Cathy

No. Nobody mentioned hexane.

Rob Schmitz

OK. And nobody had hands that were shaking uncontrollably?

Cathy

No. No.

Rob Schmitz

So where did this come from? Two years ago, workers at an Apple supplier were poisoned by n-hexane. It was all over the news in China. But this didn't happen in Shenzhen. It happened nearly 1,000 miles away, in a city called Suzhou.

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 have met a few of them during his trip. Cathy suggests that Daisey saw reports about this in the news and copied and pasted it into his monologue.

Which brings us to the most dramatic point in Daisey's monologue. Apparently, on stage, it's one of the most emotional moments in the show. It comes at this union meeting.

Daisey describes an old man with leathery skin who used to work at Foxconn, making metal enclosures for iPads and laptops. He says the man got his hand caught in a metal press, and it was now a twisted claw. He says he got no medical attention, and then Foxconn fired him for working too slowly.

Mike Daisey

And when he says this, I reach into my satchel, and I take out my iPad. And when he sees it, his eyes widen. Because one of the ultimate ironies of globalism-- at this point, there are no iPads in China. 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 flair 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

No. This is not true. It's just like movie scenery.

Rob Schmitz

It sounds like a movie?

Cathy

Yeah.

Rob Schmitz

Yeah, yeah.

Cathy

Very emotional. But not true to me.

Rob Schmitz

Cathy does remember this guy. But she says the man never told them he had ever worked at Foxconn. There are other details of Daisey's monologue Cathy says never happened when she was with him. The taxi ride on the exit ramp Daisey says petered out into thin air 85 feet up off the ground, the workers with repetitive motion injuries, the factory dorm rooms Daisey claims they saw. Cathy's says they never saw any dorm rooms. The emotional conversation between them, where Daisey touches her hand didn't happen that way, she says.

Even the conversation where Cathy warns Daisey that interviewing workers at the gates of Foxconn wouldn't work. Of course it would work, she told me. She's taken other foreigners to Foxconn and other factory gates for years. It's part of her job. It always works.

Now, of course, Cathy's memory isn't perfect. This was nearly two years ago, June, 2010. And neither she nor Mike took notes. On some of these things, her memory's hazy. She didn't seem mad at Daisey at all.

Cathy

He's a writer. So I know what he says, maybe only half of them or less are true. But he's allowed to do that, right? Because he's not a journalist.

Rob Schmitz

I don't know. You're right. He's a writer. He's a writer and an actor.

Cathy

Yeah.

Rob Schmitz

However, his play is helping form the opinions of many Americans.

Cathy

As a Chinese, I think it's better if he can tell American people the truth. I hope people know the real China. But he's a writer, and he exaggerates some things So I think it's not so good.

Rob Schmitz

I wanted to talk to you about what you saw in China.

It's a week later. I'm in my tiny Shanghai studio, talking to Mike Daisey, who's sitting in This American Life's studio. Ira's there too, with questions of his own.

Rob Schmitz

Mike, how many factories did you visit when you were there?

Mike Daisey

I believe I went to five.

Rob Schmitz

OK, now, you told Ira 10.

Mike Daisey

I know.

Rob Schmitz

OK.

Mike Daisey

But now that I'm looking at it, I believe it is five.

Rob Schmitz

Cathy remembers three. Daisey also revises the number of illegal union members he met. He originally told Ira 25 to 30. Now, he knocks it down to 10. Cathy remembers that it was between two and five.

I asked Mike about the underage workers. I explained to him that Cathy said there weren't any. I tell him that foreigners often think Chinese people look younger than they actually are.

Mike Daisey

Well, they did look young. But the girl I spoke with told me she was 13. And so I took her at her word. And that's what happened.

Rob Schmitz

Why would Cathy say that you did not meet any underage workers?

Mike Daisey

I don't know. I mean, I do know that when we were doing the interviews, a lot of the people were speaking in English. They enjoyed using English with me. And I don't know if she was paying attention at that particular point. I don't know. There was a lot of wrangling Cathy was doing, talking to people and sort of pre-interviewing.

Rob Schmitz

So, Mike, according to what you're saying, these are migrant workers who are 13, 14 years old. Their English isn't going to be very good. You're telling me that they were speaking English to you in a way that you could understand?

Mike Daisey

Well, I only know-- only one of them was really talkative. And that was the main girl that I was talking to.

Rob Schmitz

So you have a clear recollection of meeting somebody who was 13 years old?

Mike Daisey

Yes.

Rob Schmitz

And 12 years old?

Mike Daisey

Yes. Of the girl who was 13 and her friends, who represented themselves as being around her age. And so the spread there is just an effort to cover the ages, that I suspect they are around that age.

Ira Glass

Mike, did somebody actually say they were 12? Or somebody said they were 13, and then you looked at the group, and you were just like, OK, maybe one's 12?

Mike Daisey

Yes. One person said they were 13. The others were with her. And those were the friends that I talk about.

Ira Glass

But none of them said that they were 12, right? Like you have one who gave her age as 13. And then the others didn't actually give their ages, but you're just kind of guessing?

Mike Daisey

That's correct. That's accurate.

Rob Schmitz

Now, let's talk about the hexane-poisoned workers. Cathy says that you did not talk to workers who were poisoned by hexane and were shaking uncontrollably.

Mike Daisey

That's correct. I met workers in Hong Kong going to Apple protests, who had not been poisoned by hexane, but had known people who had been. And it was like a constant conversation that we were having about those workers. So, no. They were not at that meeting.

Rob Schmitz

So you lied about that? That wasn't what you saw?

Mike Daisey

I wouldn't express it that way.

Rob Schmitz

How would you express it?

Mike Daisey

I would say that I wanted to tell a story that captured the totality of my trip. And so when I was building the scene of that meeting, I wanted to have the voice of this thing that had been happening, that everyone had been talking about.

Ira Glass

So you didn't actually meet an actual worker who had been poisoned by n-hexane?

Mike Daisey

That's correct.

Rob Schmitz

Daisey has not just said these things in his show and on This American Life. The script of his monologue, which is called "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," was posted online for anyone to download for free and then perform. In the first 48 hours, 42,000 people downloaded it, according to Daisey.

Since he appeared on This American Life, he's been the press constantly, in newspapers and magazines. He's written op-eds. He's been on television programs and online news sites. He's become one of the most visible, outspoken critics of Apple. And he usually says things like this, from an appearance on MSNBC a month ago.

Mike Daisey

I saw all the things that everyone's been reporting on. I saw underage workers. I talked to workers who were 13, 14, 15 years old. I met people whose hands had been destroyed from doing the same motion again and again on the line.

Msnbc Host

Making Apple products?

Mike Daisey

Yes.

Rob Schmitz

Thing is, people believe he saw these things. Except for the n-hexane, Daisey insisted in our interview that he did see them.

Talking to Daisey was exhausting. There were so many details that didn't check out. And even when he admitted that he didn't see what he claimed he saw, he'd qualify it with something.

For instance, he admitted that he didn't go on the exit ramp with Cathy, like he says in the monologue, but insisted that the whole thing did happen. It's just that Cathy wasn't there. He insisted that he did see the inside of workers' dorm rooms, but admitted, no, there are no cameras there like he claims in his monologue. There are only cameras in the hallways.

It was never simple. He never just said, "I lied."

Rob Schmitz

Does it matter if these things that you've said in this play are untrue?

Mike Daisey

Yeah. I think the truth always matters. I think the truth is tremendously important. I don't live in a subjective universe, where everything is up for grabs. I really do believe that stories should be subordinate to the truth.

Rob Schmitz

Then, in parts of this, why didn't you tell the truth?

Mike Daisey

Everything that's in this monologue is built out of the trip I took and the time I spent on the ground. So I don't know that I would accept that interpretation. I don't know that I would agree with that.

Rob Schmitz

The morning after this interview, Ira and I called Cathy to see one last time if we could square Mike's story with hers. We asked her a bunch of questions.

"Were you and Mike ever separated at the gates of Foxconn? Could that have been when he met the 13-year-old?" She said no. She doesn't remember any time when they were separated.

"Did Mike ever talk to workers in English?" She said no. She doesn't remember that. And it's very unlikely the workers would speak English.

Cathy says some things from Daisey's monologue were true. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. They did pose as businesspeople in the factories they visited.

And before they did that, Daisey did have a conversation with her about his plan. She says this conversation probably happened on June 2, when she first met Daisey. He told her that he would pretend to be a businessman, and he needed her help. Here's how he tells the story.

Mike Daisey

And she listens to this. And she says, "But you are not a businessman?" And I say, "That's true. I am not a businessman."

And she says, "And you aren't going to buy their products?" And I say, "That's true. I am not going to buy their products." And she says, "You will lie to them?" And I say, "Yes, Cathy. I'm going to lie to lots of people."

Rob Schmitz

That part, says Cathy, was true.

Ira Glass

Rob Schmitz is the China correspondent for Marketplace, which comes from APM, American Public Media. Coming up, I talk to Mike Daisey about what happened during the fact-checking process with us, and specifically what he was thinking when he told us that stuff was factual that he knew was not even close. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, when our program continues.

Act Two. Mike's Account.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. If you're just tuning in, we have learned that a story that we broadcast in January that we thought is factual is not factual. This is Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China.

So before the break, we heard Rob Schmitz explain what seems to be factual and what doesn't seem to be factual in Mike Daisey's story. When Rob was done with his interview with Mike, I had questions as well. My questions were about the fact-checking process that Mike went through with This American Life producer Brian Reed and I, when we were first putting his story on the air.

This process of fact-checking took us days. There were long emails and conversations with Mike. Brian spoke with 13 people who were knowledgeable about Apple, or about electronics manufacturing in China. He combed through Apple's own reports about workers' conditions. He combed through reports by watchdog groups.

And as part of all that, as I said earlier in today's program, when Brian and I asked Mike for contact information for his translator, Cathy, to confirm that she'd witnessed the things that Mike describes, he told us that her real name was not Cathy, but Anna, which isn't true. He told us that the cell phone number that he had for her didn't work anymore, that he had no way to reach her. And when I had Mike in the studio, I asked him why he misled us about all that.

And Mike said that he didn't want us to contact her because, he said, he thought that she did not want to be mentioned in his monologue and didn't know that she was mentioned in his monologue. And he thought that the idea of being named in his monologue would frighten her. When we asked Cathy about this, she says that that was not true at all.

So I asked Mike the next logical question.

Ira Glass

Were you afraid that we would discover something if we talked to her?

Mike Daisey

No, not really.

Ira Glass

Really? There was no part of you which felt like, OK, well, the hexane thing didn't really happen when I was there. And did you feel like there was something that we would discover by talking to her?

Mike Daisey

Well, I did think it would unpack the complexities of how the story gets told.

Ira Glass

What does that mean, "unpack the complexities?"

Mike Daisey

Well, it means that-- just like the hexane thing. I think I'm agreeing with you.

Ira Glass

With the hexane, we approached you and asked you specifically about that. There's an email that Brian sent you about the hexane. He wrote, "Apple's 2011 report"-- this is their responsibility report-- "acknowledges the hexane problem at two plants, one at Wintek, and another at a logo supplier, but not at Foxconn. These workers you were talking to in the monologue, were they from Foxconn, do you remember, or from other plants?"

And at that point, you could have come back to us and said, oh, no, no. I didn't meet these workers. This is just something that I inserted in the monologue based on things I had read and things I had heard in Hong Kong.

But instead, you lied further. And you wrote, "The workers were from Wintek, not Foxconn." Why not just tell us what really happened at that point?

Mike Daisey

I think I was terrified.

Ira Glass

Of what?

Mike Daisey

I think I was terrified that if I untied these things, that the work that I know is really good and tells a story, that does these really great things for making people care, that it would come apart in a way where it would ruin everything.

Ira Glass

When we were getting ready to go on the radio, in the weeks leading up to it, I and Brian told you, and we wrote emails-- I have an email here Brian wrote you at some point with the list of, wait, is this stuff exactly right? It included the population of Shenzhen, tiny little-- like, where'd you get this number from?

And he writes at the top, "Here's a list of things I want to run by you. Some are questions I have just for clarifying facts. And if you have suggested minor language tweaks for accuracy"-- this is for numbers. And he writes, "Being that news stations are obviously a different kind of forum than the theater, we wanted to make sure that this thing is totally, utterly unassailable by anyone who might hear it."

And then you wrote back to him. You said, "I totally get that. I want you to know that makes sense to me. A show built orally for the theater is different than what typically happens for news stations. I appreciate you taking the time to go over this." And so you understood that we wanted it to be completely accurate in the most traditional sense.

Mike Daisey

Yes, I did.

Ira Glass

You put us in this position of going out and vouching for the truth of what you were saying. And all along, in all of these ways, you knew that these things weren't true. Did you ever stop and think, OK, these things aren't true, and you have us vouching for their truth?

Mike Daisey

I did. I did. I thought about that a lot.

Ira Glass

And just-- what did you think?

Mike Daisey

I felt really conflicted. I felt trapped.

Ira Glass

Did you worry that I would either say, OK, well, not enough of this is true in the traditional way that we need it to be, or verifiable in the way we need it to be, and so we can't run it? Or did you worry, OK, you'd accidentally end up with two versions of the story, and that would raise a question about what really happened? Was that the kind of thing you were thinking?

Mike Daisey

The latter. I worried about the latter a lot more. After a certain point, honestly--

Ira Glass

Wait, after a certain point, what?

Mike Daisey

Well, I started a sentence, and then my nerve failed me, and I stopped talking. So that's what you saw. So I'm working on it. It's coming. I can't say it.

Ira Glass

What's the general area that it's in?

Mike Daisey

Oh, I'll just say it. I'll just say it. After a certain point, I would have preferred the first option.

Ira Glass

That we would just kill the story and not do it on the radio?

Mike Daisey

There was a point.

Ira Glass

And then since the show went out over the radio, did you worry that all this would come out? I mean literally-- I don't feel like that's a hard question. I'm just saying--

Mike Daisey

It's not, it's not.

Ira Glass

I'm saying, since then, did you worry that somebody would talk to Cathy, and she would contradict you?

Mike Daisey

No, I worried about it all the time. I don't know if this is a wise thing to be doing, telling you into this microphone, and this conversation. But yeah. I mean, I was kind of sick about it. Because I know that so much of the story is the best work I've ever made.

Ira Glass

You once did a show about James Frey?

Mike Daisey

I did.

Ira Glass

--who's famous for writing-- was it-- it's a memoir, right?

Mike Daisey

Uh-huh.

Ira Glass

--that he claimed was true. And then it came out that it wasn't true. And he famously went on Oprah, and she went at him.

And there's a New York Times review of your monologue about James Frey that says in it-- this is The New York Times-- "Daisey admits in the monologue that he once fabricated a story because it connected with the audience. After telling this lie over and over, it became so integrated into the architecture of his piece that it became impossible to remove, or perhaps to distinguish what really happened." Is that what happened here?

Mike Daisey

I don't think that's precisely what happened here. Because I do remember meeting this girl.

Ira Glass

And the man with the hand?

Mike Daisey

Yes.

Ira Glass

Is that what happened with the hexane?

Mike Daisey

No, no. Because I didn't-- no, I made a choice to put that detail in that scene in that way.

Ira Glass

I have such a weird mix of feelings about this. Because I simultaneously feel terrible for you, and also, I feel lied to. And also, I stuck my neck out for you. I feel like I vouched for you with our audience based on your word.

Mike Daisey

I'm sorry.

Ira Glass

So that was last week. And I told Mike if he had anything else he wanted to say, he should get in touch. And over the weekend, Mike let me know that he did want to come back in. He had something he wanted to say. And on Tuesday, he showed back up at the studio.

And I'll be honest. I thought that he was going to admit more of the monologue wasn't factually accurate, wasn't truthful. But that is not why he decided to come in. He was sticking by his story. But he wanted to explain the context for what he did.

And he said the context was this. He said when he was in China in 2010, there was a lot of coverage of workers' conditions at Foxconn because of a series of suicides there. And then, he says while he was there, the coverage stopped in China and internationally. The coverage stopped, the news cycle moved on.

And he said that made a really strong impression on him, seeing the coverage vanish like that, seeing people suddenly not interested in the workers there anymore. And he he said wanted to make a monologue that would make people care. That was his goal.

Mike Daisey

And everything I have done in making this monologue for the theater was bent toward that end, to make people care. 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.

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. It uses the tools of theater and memoir to achieve its dramatic arc.

And of that arc and that work I'm very proud. Because I think it made you care, Ira. And I think it made you want to delve. And my hope is it has made other people delve.

Ira Glass

So you're saying the story isn't true in the journalistic sense?

Mike Daisey

I am agreeing it is not up to the standards of journalism. And that's why it was completely wrong for me to have it on your show. And that's something I deeply regret. And I regret that the people who are listening, the audience of This American Life, who know that it is a journalistic enterprise-- if they feel misled or betrayed, I regret to them as well.

Ira Glass

Right, but you're saying that the only way that you can get through emotionally to people is to mess around with the facts. But that isn't so.

Mike Daisey

I'm not saying that that's the only way to get through to people emotionally. I'm just saying that this piece, in how it was built for the theater, follows those rules. I'm not saying it's the only way to do things.

Ira Glass

I guess I thought that you were going to come in, and you were going to say that more of it wasn't true. Because there are parts of it I just don't buy, based on what you've said. I don't believe you when it comes to the underage worker. It seems credible that your translator-- if she saw an underage worker, it seems credible that she says that she would remember that kind of thing, because it would be so unusual. That seems credible.

And I don't believe you when it comes to the guy with the twisted hand. Because your translator, who was there, doesn't remember that he said he worked for Foxconn and doesn't remember the incident with the iPad. And I might be more inclined to believe you, but you admit to lying about so many little things-- the number of people who you spoke to, the number of factories that you visited.

You admit to making up an entire group of characters who didn't exist, who were poisoned by hexane. And the only person who was with you said these things didn't happen. And so when it comes to the underage workers and the man with the claw hand, it's like, I don't believe that that happened.

Mike Daisey

All I can tell you is that I stand by what I told you before, that I stand by those things.

Ira Glass

That those things happened--

Mike Daisey

Yes.

Ira Glass

--those specific things?

Mike Daisey

And I stand by it as a theatrical work. I stand by how it makes people see and care about the situation that's happening there. I stand by it in the theater. And I regret deeply that it was put into this context, on your show.

Ira Glass

Are you going to change the way that you label this in the theater, so that the audience in the theater knows that this isn't, strictly speaking, a work of truth, but in fact what they're seeing is really a work of fiction that has some true elements in it?

Mike Daisey

I don't know that I would say in a theatrical context that it isn't true. I believe that when I perform it in a theatrical context in the theater, that when people hear the story in those terms, that we have different languages for what the truth means.

Ira Glass

I understand that you believe that, but I think you're kidding yourself, in the way that normal people who go to see a person talk-- people take it as a literal truth. I thought the story was literally true seeing it in the theater. Brian, who's seen other shows of yours, thought all of them were true. I saw your nuclear show. I thought that was completely true.

I thought it was true, because you were on stage saying, this happened to me. I took you at your word.

Mike Daisey

I think you can trust my word in the context of the theater. And how people see it--

Ira Glass

I find this to be a really hedgy answer. I think it's OK for somebody in your position to say that it isn't all literally true. Do you know what I mean? I feel like, actually, it seems like it's honest labeling. And I feel like that's what's actually called for at this point, is just honest labeling.

You make a nice show. People are moved by it. I was moved by it. And if it were labeled honestly, I think everybody would react differently to it.

Mike Daisey

I don't think that label covers the totality of what it is.

Ira Glass

The label, "fiction?"

Mike Daisey

Yeah. We have different worldviews on some of these things. I agree that truth is really important.

Ira Glass

I know. But I feel like I have the normal worldview. The normal worldview is somebody stands on a stage and says, "This happened to me," I think it happened to them, unless it's clearly labeled, "Here's a work of fiction."

Mike Daisey

I really regret putting the show on This American Life. And it was wrong for me to misrepresent to you and to Brian that it could be on the show.

Ira Glass

Mike Daisey. I wanted to say before we leave this subject that I and my co-workers at This American Life take our mistake in putting Mike's story onto the air very seriously. As I said earlier in the program, when Mike told us that it would be impossible for us to talk to his interpreter for fact-checking purposes, we should have killed the story right there and then. And to do anything else was a screw-up.

This was an unusual situation for us. Generally, if we are working with a non-journalist on a story, one of our producers is actually there for every step of the tape-gathering and the reporting, so we know what is true. And when we do our own reporting, we subject it to the same standards as other reporting that you hear on public radio.

I was a reporter and a producer for the big daily news shows before I started this program. And we follow the same rules of reporting here that I followed there. We vet, and we check our stories. And when we present something to you as true, it's because we believe in its factual accuracy. Which brings us to Act Three.

Act Three. The News That's Fit to Print.

Ira Glass

Act Three, "The News That's Fit to Print." So to end today's program, all of us here at our show, we wanted to review one more time, what exactly do we know about working conditions for the people who make iPhones, and MacBooks, and other Apple products in China?

And to answer that question, we turned to New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg. In January, he and Times correspondent David Barboza wrote the newspaper's front-page investigative series about this very subject. Duhigg says that a lot of what we know about the conditions for Apple workers in China comes from Apple itself, which is issues a report each year on this.

Charles Duhigg

In addition, there's a number of organizations in China that are either advocacy organizations or sort of watchdog organizations that have also gone into factories and have published reports. And so I can kind of walk through what we know and precisely how we know it.

Ira Glass

Great.

Charles Duhigg

So in 2005, Apple created what was called the Supplier Code of Conduct. And the Supplier Code of Conduct said, these are the standards that we expect anyone who's making an Apple product to abide by. One of those-- and in fact, the one that's probably most violated-- is that they said that no one should work more than 60 hours per week that's working inside a factory that's making an Apple product.

We know from Apple's own audits and the reports that they have published that at least 50% of all audited factories every year since 2007 have violated at least that provision. More than half of the workers whose records are examined are working more than 60 hours per week.

Ira Glass

Now, is that necessarily so bad? Aren't a lot of these workers moving to the city to work as many hours as possible? They're away from their families. They're young. And they're there to make money, and they don't care.

Charles Duhigg

That's exactly right. When we talked-- my colleague, David Barboza, as well as a number translators have spoken to a number of employees in these factories. And that's exactly what they say.

And Apple says that, as well. They say, look, one of the reasons why there is so much overtime that's inappropriate-- and in some places is illegal-- is because the workers themselves are demanding that overtime.

Now, workers don't always say that. What workers often say is that they feel coerced into doing overtime, that if they didn't do overtime when it's asked of them, that they wouldn't get any overtime at all, and that financially, they would suffer as a result. So there are two stories here about how much people have to work.

And there's a number of people that we have spoken to, The New York Times has spoken to, who have told us, for instance, they had to do two 12-hour shifts in a row. So they're effectively working almost a full day. They're called continuous shifts.

So I think when we talk about the conditions inside the plants where Apple products are made, we can sort of put them into two buckets. There's basically harsh working conditions-- people being asked to work shifts that are too long, people being asked to stand or sit in backless chairs, people being asked to work in plants are still under construction.

Or people living in dorms that are provided by the companies-- Foxconn and others-- where they say that those conditions, the living conditions, are harsh. Workers have told us that they live in dorm rooms where there's anywhere from 12 to sometimes 20 or 30 people stuffed into a single apartment. So it's very, very crowded, very, very unpleasant conditions. That's the first bucket of issues.

And those are all kind of-- we wouldn't like to work there. It sounds really unpleasant. I do not think that you would find any factory in America where you would find those same conditions. And you would not find any Americans who would tolerate those conditions.

That being said, I think that China is a little bit different and that the expectations, particularly as a developing nation, of workers are a little bit different. I don't think holding them to American standards is precisely the right way to look at the situation.

The second bucket, which is much smaller, is actually safety and life-threatening issues. And what we know about those conditions are isolated incidents that either injured or claimed lives.

So one of the best examples of this was last year, within a seven-month period, there were two explosions inside factories where iPads were being produced that killed four people and injured 77 others. Both of those explosions were caused by dust that's created through the process of polishing the aluminum that makes up the case of an iPad. Prior to those explosions, there was a report released by this group, SACOM, or Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior--

Ira Glass

An advocacy group?

Charles Duhigg

An advocacy group-- warning about safety conditions within at least one of the plants and saying, there's dust here. And dust is a known safety hazard.

Ira Glass

In all kinds of plants?

Charles Duhigg

In all kinds of plants, right. All types of dust. You have to remove it, or else it can explode.

SACOM had sent a report, SACOM says, to Apple and to Foxconn weeks before this explosion occurred, saying, things need to be changed. The explosion that occurred in a city named Chengdu that killed four people preceded by a number of months a second explosion that happened in Shanghai at a completely different plant, in a completely different factory, but that has the same root cause.

And so what critics of Apple have said is, if Apple had taken this first explosion seriously enough, they could have gone in, and they could have required every company, every plant where aluminum polishing was occurring to improve conditions. And they could have prevented or averted the second explosion.

Ira Glass

Yeah, you write in your article-- you point out that the second explosion happened seven months after the first one. And you quote a man named Nicholas Ashford, who's a former chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, which advises the US Department of Labor. He said, "It's gross negligence, after an explosion occurs, not to realize that every factory should be inspected."

He said, "If it were terribly difficult to deal with aluminum dust, I would understand. But do you know how easy dust is to control? It's called ventilation. We solved this problem over a century ago."

Charles Duhigg

That's exactly right. That was what Mr. Ashford had told us. But again, these two buckets-- I think the important thing here is that some of these are simply very, very harsh conditions, and some of these are life-threatening situations. And the life-threatening conditions, as far as we know, seem to be limited to a relatively small number of incidents.

Ira Glass

In the investigative series that Duhigg did with David Barboza for The Times, they note that in Apple's own reports, year after year, Apple finds that violations of its own labor standards continue in its Chinese plants. Last year, there were some slight improvements, but these go up and down. And the problems include some very serious ones.

And in their series, they quote an unnamed former Apple executive, who has first-hand knowledge of all this, as saying, quote, "If you see the same pattern of problems year after year, that means the company's ignoring the issue rather than solving it. If we meant business, core violations would disappear." Then when I asked Charles Duhigg about this, he says that not everyone at Apple sees it that way.

Charles Duhigg

When I talk to Apple sources, they sort of respond to that in two ways. First of all, they say, "We feel, as a company, we are limited in how many changes we can make. We can only push our suppliers so far." Others, from within Apple, former Apple executives, say that's a self-imposed limitation. If Apple demanded X and said, "We're willing to fire you if we don't get X," then X would happen immediately.

Ira Glass

One of the things that you and David Barboza write about in your series is you write about the tight profit margins for Apple's suppliers. Could you just explain how that works and how that factors into this?

Charles Duhigg

Absolutely. Because that has a huge impact on this. So Apple's known within the supply chain as being one of the most aggressive negotiators in terms of the prices that they're willing to pay. Because everyone knows that if you land Apple as a client, it helps youor reputation enormously. So essentially every supplier out there wants to work with Apple, because it's like a badge that they can bring.

Ira Glass

That they can bring the quality, they can bring the volume?

Charles Duhigg

Exactly. Apple's the gold standard. As a result, Apple has this enormous negotiating power. And they use it, I am told by our sources, very aggressively to come in and basically say, "Show us your entire cost structure, every single part of what you pay and piece of your internal economics. And we are going to give you a razor-thin profit margin that you're allowed to keep."

Now, a number of companies and a number of activists outside of companies and other companies have said this is part of the reason why conditions are so harsh among Apple suppliers, is because they literally don't have the money to pay for better conditions, that once Apple comes in and says, "We're going to give you a razor-thin profit margin," that's when companies start cutting corners. Or they can't afford to hire more people in order to work on the line, so that you don't have to work these long stretches.

Ira Glass

One of the most interesting things, and one of the newest things that I think you pointed out in this series is that the cost of labor in an iPhone, if it were made in the United States, would be only about $65 more per phone. I mean, that's a lot of money if you're manufacturing stuff.

But with iPhones selling with hundreds of dollars profit in each phone, Apple could still make a profit if it were manufacturing in the US. And you have an entire article where you lay out, that is not actually the main reason why these are made overseas at this point

Charles Duhigg

That's exactly right. And that $65, that's the high-end estimate. Some people told us that, from a labor perspective, you could build the iPhone in the United States for just 10 extra dollars a phone, if you're paying American wages.

But labor is such an enormously small part of any electronic device, right? Compared to the cost of buying chips, or making sure that you have a plant that can turn out thousands of these things a day, or being able to get strengthened glass cut exactly right within two days of this thing being due-- that's what's important. Labor is almost insignificant.

What is really important are supply chains and flexibility of factories. You want to be able to be located right next to the plant that makes the screws, so when you need a small change to that screw factory, you can go next door and say, "Give it to me in six hours." And they can say, "Here you go."

Because if that factory was in another state or on another continent, it would take two weeks. It's the flexibility within the Chinese manufacturing system. That's what you can do in Asia that you can't do in the United States.

Ira Glass

There's a bunch of incredible stories you tell in that article. And one of them is you talk about the number of industrial engineers needed to oversee 200,000 assembly line workers. You say there's 8,700 industrial engineers that you need.

And so to get this particular operation going that you're writing about-- I can't remember which one it is-- you said it would take nine months to find those 8,700 industrial engineers in the United States. And in China, how long it took?

Charles Duhigg

15 days. And that 15-day figure, the guy who told me that also told me that that's basically because they kind of drug their heels on it a little bit. They probably could have done it faster.

Ira Glass

To get to the normative question that's kind of underlying all the reporting and all the discussion of this, the thing that we all want to know when we hear this is, like, wait, should I feel bad about this? You know what I mean? As somebody who owns these products, should I feel bad? And I don't know that I feel so bad when I hear this.

Charles Duhigg

So it's not my job to tell you whether you should feel bad or not, right? I'm a reporter for The New York Times. My job is to find facts and essentially let you make a decision on your own. Let me pose the argument that people have posed to me about why you should feel bad, and you can make of it what you will.

And that argument is-- there were times in this nation when we had harsh working conditions as part of our economic development. We decided as a nation that that was unacceptable. We passed laws in order to prevent those harsh working conditions from ever being inflicted on American workers again.

And what has happened today is that, rather than exporting that standard of life, which is within our capacity to do, we have exported harsh working conditions to another nation. So should you feel bad that someone is working 12 to 24 hours a day in order to produce the iPhone that you're carrying in your pocket--

Ira Glass

Well, when you say it like that, suddenly I feel bad again. But OK, yeah.

Charles Duhigg

I don't know whether you should feel bad, right?

Ira Glass

But finish your thought.

Charles Duhigg

Should you feel bad about that? I don't know. That's for you to judge. But I think the way to pose that question is, do you feel comfortable knowing that iPhones, and iPads, and other products could be manufactured in less harsh conditions, but that these harsh conditions exist because of an economy that you are supporting with your dollars?

Ira Glass

Right. I am the direct beneficiary of those harsh conditions.

Charles Duhigg

You're not only the direct beneficiary. You are actually one of the reasons why it exists. If you made different choices, if you demanded different conditions, if you demanded that other people enjoy the same work protections that you yourself enjoy, then those conditions would be different overseas.

Ira Glass

Charles Duhigg. You can find the series that he did with David Barboza about Apple in China at the New York Times website. It's called "The iEconomy."

[MUSIC - "CONVINCE ME" BY VAL EMMICH]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Brian Reed, Senior Producer Julie Snyder, and myself, with Alex Blumberg, Ben Calhoun, Sarah Koenig, Jonathan Menjivar, Lisa Pollak, Robyn Semien, Alissa Shipp, and Nancy Updike. Seth Lind is our production manager. Emily Condon is our office manager. Production help from Matt Kielty. Music help from Damien Graef and from Rob Geddes.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

WBEZ management oversight for our program by our boss, Mr. Torey Malatia. And I think this is a week I am just not in the mood for an extra quote here from Torey.

I'm Ira Glass. We'll be back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.