Over the last 3 months, Apple has been getting hit hard by articles and news stories accusing the iPhone/iPad maker of horride working conditions, specifically in its Chinese factories. The New York Times wrote several stories covering the supposed grievances, we wrote about it here and you can find the Times article here. Yet, the NYT wasn’t the only organization jumping on Apple over worker treatment, others were quick to point the finger at Apple (90% were hit pieces) and one of the loudest was the much beloved podcast: This American Life.
Back in January, This American Life ran a story, with the help of Mike Daisey’s, over the treatment of Apple factory workers in China and possible child labor practices. The piece was hard hitting, very animated (with the help of Mr. Daisey’s theatrical training) and explosive. It was another nail in the coffin for Apple’s continuing PR nightmare but Tim Cook (CEO Apple) didn’t take the accusations lightly, reiterating Apple’s stance on worker conditions:
We think the use of underaged labor is abhorrent. It’s extremely rare in our supply chain, but our top priority is to eliminate it totally. We’ve done that with our final assembly and we’re now working with vendors farther down in the supply chain. If we find a supplier that intentionally hires underage labor, it’s a firing offense….
Yet, accusatory articles kept on coming, with pictures like the one below, as complementary visual propaganda but no one had bothered to provide actual proof, detailing Apple’s explicit knowledge of horrid working conditions or child labor.
So, we turn back to This American Life and Mr. Mike Daisey. As we said before, the podcast was run during a media frenzy over Apple’s treatment of workers in China, and Mike Daisey was brought on the show because he had stated publicly, that he had gone (first hand) to China and interviewed workers. If you don’t know who Mike Daisey is, just google him or: Mr. Daisey is best known for his “one man” play THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS. This American Life structured the podcast around Daisey’s one man show and his interviews with Foxconn workers, in which he stated that he meet underage workers, workers that had been poisoned or injured in factories and that he had gathered information from 10 factories in China. The show was explosive:
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…
This American Life’s podcast and the instant celebrity status that Mike Daisey achieved, only added fuel to the issues Apple was facing over worker conditions but as time past, people started checking the “facts” and the “facts” turned into stories. Fast-forward to now, we bring “Cathy” (Daisey’s Chinese interpreter) and Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz into the picture and things start getting crazy….very quickly. Simply put, with the help of “Cathy” and Rob, the mountains of “facts” and accusations regarding Apple’s treatment of Chinese workers disappears:
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….
So here we are. This Week’s episode of This American Life is titled: Retraction. It features a less animated Mike Daisey, an irate (rightly so) Ira Glass (Host) and Rob Schmitz – explaining the mistakes that the show made in their fact checking – background investigation into Daisey’s accusations and why Daisey did what he did. This American Life is trying to right their wrong and I commend them for that – bravo but Daisey’s excuse is just baffling:
”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.”
Apparently, Mr. Daisey didn’t know the difference between fact and fiction and he regrets not going on the show as a playwright. What can you say? He is a cheat and a fraud and his 15min of fame are up – time to burn up Mr. Daisy. In the wake of this scandal, The New York Times has also retracted Mike Daisey’s Op-End but the damage is done – it’s too late. Sadly, stories like this distract from the real issue, which is working conditions all over the world – this is not an Apple issue or a Nike issue – solely. Apple has never been found guilty of mistreatment of workers but this is not to say that the massive-industrial complex, that is modern China, doesn’t hold some evils. We need to concentrate on facts and evidence - acting on what we know, not what we want.