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The Agony and the Dishonesty of Mike Daisey’s Apple Story

Last year, performer Mike Daisey sat down with Jeff Brown for Art Beat to discuss his much-talked-about one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” It was revealed Friday by public radio’s Marketplace and This American Life that parts of Daisey’s story that he told to This American Life, the NewsHour, other news outlets and his theater audience were not true.

Here is what Daisey told us:

Conversation: Mike Daisey’s ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’

Marketplace China correspondent Rob Schmitz reported Friday: “It happened nearly a thousand 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’ve met a few of them during his trip.”

This American Life and the show’s host Ira Glass released a statement Friday and will devote this weekend’s entire episode to detailing the errors in the original story, which went on to be the most downloaded podcast in the show’s history.

Here is a section of that statement:

“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.”

Daisey’s Chinese interpreter, Cathy, also disputed several dramatic moments in Daisey’s story: that he met underage workers at Foxconn, that a man was injured at Foxconn making iPads, and that he met workers who were poisoned.

Schmitz confronted Daisey with his questions, and Daisey admitted to fabricating the people he said he met:

“Rob Schmitz: Cathy says you did not talk to workers who were poisoned with hexane.

Mike Daisey: That’s correct.

RS: So you lied about that? That wasn’t what you saw?

MD: I wouldn’t express it that way.

RS: How would you express it?

MD: I would say that I wanted to tell a story that captured the totality of my trip.

Ira Glass: Did you meet workers like that? Or did you just read about the issue?

MD: I met workers in, um, Hong Kong, going to Apple protests who had not been poisoned by hexane but had known people who had been, and it was a constant conversation among those workers.

IG: So you didn’t meet an actual worker who’d been poisoned by hexane.

MD: That’s correct.

Daisey apologized to Ira Glass for not telling the truth to him and his listeners.”

“I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard,” Daisey told 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.”

Said Glass: “In our original broadcast, we fact checked all the things that Daisey said about Apple’s operations in China, 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.”

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