'This American Life' Retracts Apple Critic's Foxconn Tale

Credit: Almin Karamehmedovic/ABC News

Public Radio International's show "This American Life" announced today it will retract one of the most popular episodes in the show's history after finding numerous falsehoods in an monologue by a prominent Apple critic, Mike Daisey.

In 2010, Daisey launched a one-man show called "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." In it, Daisey, a  self-proclaimed Apple fanatic, described a dramatic journey to Shenzhen, China to better understand working conditions at the computer giant's top manufacturer, Foxconn. While standing outside the factory gates, he claimed to have met several Foxconn workers who described horrific tales of abuse. He said he spoke with a 13-year-old who spent her days cleaning iPhone screens, a group poisoned by toxic cleaning chemicals and a man whose hand was mangled building iPads.

After a 39-minute excerpt of Daisey's show was featured on "This American Life" in January, the podcast was downloaded a record 880,000 times. A listener named Mark Shields said he was so moved that he launched a petition drive calling for Apple to build the first "ethical" iPhone. Over 250,000 people signed and protests were planned at Apple stores around the world.

But according to a press release, Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz tracked down Daisey's Chinese interpreter, a pivotal character in the monologue, and she said the most dramatic details of Daisey's story never happened.

Back in January, when "This American Life" fact-checkers asked Daisey for the interpreter's contact information, he told them he had no way to reach her.

"At that point, we should've killed the story," said Ira Glass, executive producer and host of "This American Life," in a release. "But other things Daisey told us about Apple's operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him. We didn't think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story. That was a mistake."

"I'm not going to say that I didn't take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard," Daisey told Glass and Schmitz when they confronted him with their findings. "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."

On his website, Daisey writes, "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."

Last month, ABC's "Nightline" was allowed unprecedented access into Apple's Foxconn factories, as the Fair Labor Association conducted the first-ever external audit of working conditions. The results of that audit are expected in coming days.

Here's our exclusive report from inside Apple's Chinese factories:

On the reported suicides and explosions inside the factories:

On what Foxconn employees say about factory work: