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NPR: Mike Daisey’s theatrical piece on Foxconn workers’ plight is mostly theatrics

Marketplace and This American Life retracted their stories based on the work of Mike Daisey due to further reporting and supplemental accounts from his translator. Daisey’s one-man show relived a trip to Foxconn where he claimed, among other things, to have met “14 year olds, 13 year olds, even 12 year olds” who toiled in Apple’s sweatshops for multiple shifts at a time. He also met people deformed from working on Apple products.

Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz, who covers Asia for the news organization, did not believe what he heard—that Daisey was able to find all of this on his first six-day trip to China. He looked for Daisey’s translator, but Daisey conveniently lost the contact information. When he found Cathy Lee (above), she had no knowledge about most of the information Daisey used in his monologue.

It appears that much of Daisey’s show is fabricated from news events and stories that Apple and Foxconn already documented. To their credit, NPR got to the bottom of the story. Here is the transcript of the radio interview on This American Life:

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 was quick to respond on his blog, where he wrote:

“This American Life” has raised questions about the adaptation of AGONY/ECSTASY we created for their program. Here is my response:

I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out.

What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic ­- not a theatrical ­- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret. I am proud that my work seems to have sparked a growing storm of attention and concern over the often appalling conditions under which many of the high-tech products we love so much are assembled in China.

A video interview of Daisey from earlier this year:

[vodpod id=Video.16233269&w=425&h=350&fv=launch%3D46390964%5E68529%5E402736%26amp%3Bwidth%3D420%26amp%3Bheight%3D245]

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