This American Life retracts Foxconn story

Posted on Friday, March 16th 2012 at 8:50 p.m.

This American Life has issued a retraction of the story we talked about in January regarding Foxconn and its treatment of its workers.  The retraction came after a reporter for  Marketplace , another NPR program, tracked down monologuist Mike Daisey’s Chinese interpreter, who disputed some of the events in Daisey’s story.

Daisey intentionally misled This American Life’s fact checkers by providing an incorrect name and phone number for the interpreter and by saying she couldn’t be reached.  Ira Glass, host of the program, said in the blog post announcing the retraction that Daisey’s subterfuge didn’t excuse  This American Life’s  responsibility.

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.

The program was  This American Life’s highest-downloaded episode ever, and had many repurcussions outside of the program.  A Change.org petition about Foxconn conditions achieved 250,000 signatures, and Apple has announced unprecedented steps in how they manage and inspect their vendors.

Regardless of Daisey’s fabrications, several truths about Foxconn still exist.  Chinese workers still work in conditions that most North Americans would consider unacceptable, and that our demand for cheap gadgets is what makes Foxconn successful.  We still need to ask hard questions and think about where our money goes.

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