If you’ve been reading the Internet this afternoon you’re probably aware of this already but This American Life has retracted the story Mike Daisey about Apple factory conditions after further fact-checking revealed that some of the more dramatic portions of his story either stretched the truth or were outright lies. I did a post about this story and though I don’t claim to be any kind of journalist, it appears I now used a bad source and for that, I admit it and want my readers to know if you don’t already.
It’s always a shame when one of the few sources of real journalism left in the world has a misstep like this and I will give This American Life credit, they seem to be owning the mistake. They are planning to devote an entire one hour episode to coming clean, pointing out the errors that were made and asking those involved to clarify. You’d never see Fox News or CNN do that. I do think the timing of this is highly suspicious as this is iPad 3 launch day. While it’s easy to say that this shows they were bowing to pressure from a mega corporation and are doing this to appease them, I actually don’t think that’s true. I do think that they are intentionally making this announcement today in the hope it will get drowned out among the sea of other lazy outlets devoting “news” time to covering the lines at Apple stores, something that involves about as much journalism as the Apple advertisements that will likely follow. Honestly, I think that’s kind of a shady thing to do but This American Life of all people know that many are incredibly connected (especially those who would buy an iPad) and word of this is going to make it out regardless. Since their site is currently down due to overloading as I write this, I think it’s safe to say the word is out.
Regardless of the reasons for this retraction, my great fear is that this will give the iCult and those of it who have infiltrated the press like David Pogue cause to go “SEE! There’s no problem in China, it’s all just made up by Apple haters!” Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s true that I have many legitimate reasons to dislike Apple as a company but that doesn’t mean there is no problem. Around the same time as Daisey’s story, other detailed reports were made about conditions in Apple factories, reports that haven’t been called into question. And as I’ve said before, this isn’t just an Apple problem but one that involves nearly every major electronics manufacturer. That one guy misrepresented some things doesn’t suddenly mean there’s no issue and that companies like Apple and many others shouldn’t be doing a lot more than they are to make things better.
As for Mike Daisey, I think his attempt to justify what he did by saying “it wasn’t journalism, it was just theatre” is complete crap. He did what he did to get his story on the air and draw attention to his one-man show about it. By fabricating stuff as he did, he only served to damage the cause he was championing, a cause I believe in and which many more should. Now we have one of the most vocal and rabid fanbases in the world using this as a reason to deny the problem and one of the last bastions of truly great journalism has been shamed and perhaps damaged permanently for what many will say was slandering the world’s most powerful and admired company. Thanks Mike, a lot of good you’ve done. I really hope he’s smart enough to just fade away and not continue to try to defend himself or represent the cause for fair treatment of Chinese workers anymore. He screwed up, he got caught, now he needs to go away and leave the honest people to continue to press the issue. He should be disgraced.
If you’re one of the people who got an iPad 3 today (I almost was but am not going to be for now), please take a moment to think about where it came from and what the people who made it for you went through so you could have your shiny new toy. A lot of this stuff is made in not so nice ways and one guy’s exaggerated tale of those ways doesn’t mean that obscenely rich companies like Apple can’t and shouldn’t do more to address it. We as consumers are the ones with the ultimate power to make things better and there has never been a more important time to do so.
UPDATE: I finally got a chance to listen to the full Retraction episode yesterday. I now have even more respect for This American Life than I did before and even less for Mike Daisey. The show went far and above what was required of them to admit their mistake and it was clear from his tone of voice that Ira Glass is deeply embarrassed and upset. As for Daisey, he did apologise for submitting the episode to them as journalism but still refused to accept responsibility for his lies which he was caught red handed in. He continued to use the “it was just theatre” defense and it clearly demonstrated to me that he has no remorse for what he did, only for getting caught. As I said, the man’s a disgrace to his cause. I was also pleased to hear the third act devoted to talking to the New York Times report I mentioned and addressing the real problems that do exist in China which Daisey used as the stepping stone for his narrative. I am glad they didn’t try to ignore the issue but said “We know we screwed up but this problem is real.” I truly hope that those who listened paid attention to that.
Thankfully, I haven’t seen that much backlash from Apple’s defense force. Even some of those I expected to scream how they’ve somehow been vindicated have either remained quiet or have praised This American Life for doing the right thing. I’m glad for that as the show doesn’t deserve to have its reputation tarnished. If anything, this shows how committed they are to proper journalism. When I have the means, I will be donating money to the show and needless to say, I will keep listening. I hope their listener base doesn’t take much of a hit from this.