Civil Rights Media

Foxconn, Apple, This American Life….and Reactions to the Great News Retraction

On January 6, of this year Ira Glass’s This American Life aired a show about the FoxConn factory
in China, where so many of our nice, shiny, perfect Apple products are made (including, I assume, my brand new iPad), and which has become infamous for its brutal working conditions.

The TAL broadcast, which was to become the most downloaded in the show’s history, centered around monologuist Mike Deasey’s popular one man show about Apple and Foxconn called “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.”

The TAL segment was such a powerful and disturbing portrayal of factory conditions that it triggered a slew of other media reports on the Chinese factories used by Apple and other American tech companies.

Then last Friday, TAL’s creator and host, Ira Glass, announced that although the show had vetted a lot of Deasey’s material, it hadn’t been able to vet it all, and Glass and crew had now discovered that some of Deasey’s “facts” were far more theatrical than truthful.

But Glass didn’t stop with the written statement. He and his producers turned all of this past weekend’s show into one giant retraction that included a deconstruction of the various errors, an interview with Deasey’s Chinese translator, and a painfully uncomfortable conversation between Glass and Deasey— all of which turned out to be wildly compelling radio.

The retraction, and Deasey’s subsequent blogging remarks after the TAL broadcast has triggered a flood of commentary from other journalists and media types.

The collective discussion about truth, facts and journalism has been largely a very good one, and worth your while to wander through if you have a mind.

But first listen to the two TAL episodes. They are utterly fascinating, especially given what we know now.

Here are some links to and clips from some of the better commentary.

This is from the NY Times’ David Carr:

Is it O.K. to lie on the way to telling a greater truth? The short answer is also the right one.


It’s worth examining that question now that we have learned about the lies perforating the excerpt of Mike Daisey’s one-man show on Apple’s manufacturing processes in China, broadcast in January on the weekly public radio show “This American Life.”

No one is suggesting that everything about Apple’s supply chain is suddenly hunky-dory, but the heroic narrative of a fearless theater artist taking on the biggest company in the world is now a pile of smoking rubble.

Mr. Daisey’s one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” closed its very successful run at the Public Theater in New York on Sunday. The show played a significant role in raising public consciousness, not just about the ethics of offshore manufacturing, but about whether those of us who fondle those shiny new iPads every day are implicated as well….

And this is also from the NYT, this time from Charles Isherwood:

in his own statement on Friday Mr. Daisey said: “What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism.” He also said he regretted allowing parts of his work to be heard in the context of a factual program.

Mr. Daisey may not claim to be a journalist, but there is little question that in his show, which he has been performing since 2010, he gives no indication that some of the events he describes as having witnessed himself were embellished or based on incidents that took place elsewhere. The program at the Public Theater described it as “nonfiction.”

Nonfiction should mean just that: facts and nothing but the facts. For its part the Public released a statement saying: “Mike is an artist, not a journalist. Nevertheless, we wish he had been more precise with us and our audiences about what was and wasn’t his personal experience in the piece.”

Certainly Mr. Daisey uses language more evocative than a reporter would in describing his encounters with workers at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen. But in an hourlong segment of “This American Life” released for broadcast on Friday that delved into the reasons behind the retraction, it became clear that this was not a matter of reordering events or using colorful description for maximum theatrical effect, but of presenting as firsthand experience incidents that never happened.

Rebecca Greenfield has some good stuff to say at the Atlantic.

Here’s a link to the story by Rob Schmidt, the NPR Marketplace reporter who flagged some of Deasey’s truthiness in the first place.


The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday in the matters of Jackson v. Hobbs and Miller v. Alabama, the twinned cases that aim to test the constitutionality of sentencing a 14-year-old killer to life without parole.

Professor Douglas Berman of Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University, along with a group of second and third-year students at Moritz filed an amicus brief in the two cases. In the video above, Doug Berman explains in layman’s terms what’s in the brief and what are some of the things you should know is you’re watching these cases. (Doug Berman also runs the wonderful Sentencing, Law and Policy.)

With an eye toward the SCOTUS hearing of the cases, Sandra McElwaine at the Daily Beast interviewed former inmates who were convicted of murder as teenagers but who did not get life. Their insights regarding the paths of their own individual redemption is very much worth reading.

Andrew Cohn over at Atlantic Wire has a well-reasoned look at which justices might go what direction in the juvenile LWOP cases, and that the fact that Chief Justice Roberts has two kids who are about to become teenagers may have bearing on the matter. (But in the end, it’ll likely come down to Justice Kennedy—again.)

The Guardian’s story on the twinned cases features a video with an incarcerated man in his 20’s named Quantel Lotts who killed his stepbrother when he was fourteen.

Here’s a clip from the Guardian’s article on the cases:

There is a singularly brutal quality to this aspect of US justice. America is the only country in the world, bar none, that is known to sentence children to die in prison without any hope of release. Even in a country that practices the death penalty it has the ability to shock, because this is a living death.

“All I want is another chance,” says Lotts. “A shot at living an actual life. I’ve been in prison since I was 14, so I don’t know too much about anything – I’ve never been anywhere, done anything. I’ve never lived a life.”


  • The frequent publishing of misleading and false stories is a good reason to become a skeptical reader applying logical analyses to outrageous claims rather than remaining a knee-jerk liberal who readily accepts stories of injustice and takes up phony offenses.

Leave a Comment