Despite the popularity of Mike Daisey's THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS, which has celebrated sold-out and extended runs across the country and twice in New York, it seems some old fashioned fact-checking is raining on an otherwise unstoppable parade.
The public questioning began in January when a portion of Daisey's theatrical monologue aired on This American Life public radio broadcast. On January 6, the program ran “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” which included a 40-minute excerpt from The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, tailored and performed specifically for broadcast.
Within hours of its release, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” broke the record for most downloaded episode of This American Life, which is consistently the most popular podcast in the country. After hearing the broadcast, TAL listener Mark Shields was moved to start a petition calling for better working conditions, and soon delivered almost a quarter-million signatures to Apple. A week after the broadcast, Apple released its list of suppliers for the first time ever. In another first, the company also announced that it will start allowing an outside third party to check on working conditions at those factories, and to make its findings public. Twenty days after the broadcast, The New York Times ran a massive, front-page investigative report about Apple’s overseas manufacturing. A month and a half after the broadcast, Foxconn, the company that Daisey visited and chronicles in his show, announced a 25% salary increase for many workers.
A statement from This American Life reveals:
"We've learned that Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China - which we broadcast in January - contained significant fabrications. We're retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.
The China correspondent for the public radio show Marketplace tracked down the interpreter that Daisey hired when he visited Shenzhen China. The interpreter disputed much of what Daisey has been saying on stage and on our show. On this week's episode of This American Life, we will devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in 'Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory.'"
Ira Glass, host and producer of This American Life, had seen the show during its debut run at The Public Theatre last fall, and immediately wanted to adapt it for radio. At the time, Glass had stated: “Mike’s full show is a very different experience from what we put on the radio...For starters, there’s an entire story line about Steve Jobs that we didn’t touch. Add to that the pleasure of seeing Mike joke and sweat and spin this amazing tale in person—I loved this when I saw it on stage...”
For the full retraction statement, click here.
As a result of these revealations, Daisey's Chicago engagement of the show on April 7 at the Chicago Theatre, which was to be presented by WBEZ and This American Life, has been cancelled.
For his part, Daisey has taken to his blog to respond:
"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."