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Audio: ‘Marketplace’ Correspondent and Ira Glass Confront Mike Daisey on Monologue Discrepancies

| March 16, 2012
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This American Life host Ira Glass (Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

Here’s “Marketplace”‘s segment today about the Mike Daisey-Foxconn controversy. The piece is done in conjunction with another radio program, “This American Life,” which said today it’s retracting an excerpt it aired from Daisey’s well-received theatrical monologue about abuses at Foxconn, the giant electronics manufacturer that is an important contractor of Apple’s.

Marketplace’s China correspondent, Rob Schmitz, who first tipped off “This American Life” that some aspects of Daisey’s “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” did not jibe with his experience of Foxconn, reports on what led him to believe parts of Daisey’s show were fiction. In the audio, you’ll hear Schmitz and “This American Life” host Ira Glass confront Daisey personally…

 

From the transcript. (The Cathy mentioned is Cathy Lee, Daisey’s translator during his trip to the Foxconn factory in China, who revealed that various details Daisey used in his monologue were false.)

Rob Schmitz: Cathy says you did not talk to workers who were poisoned with hexane.

Mike Daisey: That’s correct.

RS: So you lied about that? That wasn’t what you saw?

MD: I wouldn’t express it that way.

RS: How would you express it?

MD: I would say that I wanted to tell a story that captured the totality of my trip.

Ira Glass: Did you meet workers like that? Or did you just read about the issue?

MD: I met workers in, um, Hong Kong, going to Apple protests who had not been poisoned by hexane but had known people who had been, and it was a constant conversation among those workers.

IG: So you didn’t meet an actual worker who’d been poisoned by hexane.

MD: That’s correct.

Daisey apologized to Ira Glass for not telling the truth to him and his listeners.

“Look. I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work,” Daisey said. “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.”

Schmitz also reports the following:

What makes this a little complicated is that the things Daisey lied about seeing are things that have actually happened in China: Workers making Apple products have been poisoned by Hexane. Apple’s own audits show (PDF) the company has caught underage workers at a handful of its suppliers. These things are rare, but together, they form an easy-to-understand narrative about Apple.

Read the full transcript here.

Update

KQED’s Kelly Wilkinson this afternoon talked to Rob Schmitz about the Daisey situation. Edited transcript:

HOST KELLY WILKINSON: Walk us through what happened when you heard about this. How did this all start?

ROB SCHMITZ: Well, this started because I’m a listener to “This American Life.” I listen to the podcasts at my home in Shanghai. And I heard the broadcast that featured the adaptation of Mike Daisey’s play. And when I heard that, there were a few things in it that didn’t ring true to me as somebody who lives and works in China.

One of those things was he mentioned that he went to the gates of Foxconn and he saw the guards outside with guns. And I reported from several factories in China and I’ve never seen security guards with guns. In fact, security guards cannot have guns in China. It’s illegal. Only the military and the police can have guns in China.

There’s also another part where he talks about meeting with factory workers who met in secret unions and have these meetings at Starbucks. And factory workers in China make about $200, $300 a month, and Starbucks is pricier here than it is in the States. So it didn’t make sense to me that factory workers who make so little would be meeting at Starbucks.

WILKINSON: So then you found his translator, and what happened from there?

SCHMITZ: I was able to find his translator, and I called her and confirmed she worked with Mike Daisey.

WILKINSON: Rob, how hard was that to find her?

He’s allowed journalists to treat him like a journalist.

SCHMITZ: It wasn’t difficult at all. I did a Google search, and within about 10 seconds I found her phone number. When I found her, I asked her some of the details that were in the monologue, and she said that she didn’t remember it that way. And so at that point I decided to fly to Shenzhen to talk to her in person. And I downloaded a transcript of Mike Daisey’s monologue.

I went to the gates of Foxconn where he went with his translator, Cathy Lee, and while we were there in front of Foxconn I went point by point through the transcript with her to confirm what happened and what didn’t happen. And I discovered that many of the details in his play, according to his translator, did not happen.

WILKINSON: What kind of details?

SCHMITZ: Well, for example, there’s a point in the monologue where he meets workers who he says were poisoned by a neurotoxin called N-hexane. He says their hands shake uncontrollably, and they can’t pick up a glass. She doesn’t remember meeting workers like that at all. And when I confronted Mike Daisey about this, he admitted that he did not see that.

WILKINSON: How did you come to interview Mike Daisey?

SCHMITZ: I’m the China correspondent for “Marketplace,” so the reporting that I do, I present to my editors, and my editors then presented what they had to “This American Life.” At that point, they decided that a collaboration would be a good idea. I was then called by Ira Glass the next day, and at that point Ira set up an interview with Mike Daisey for both of us at the same time. We actually interviewed him on two separate occasions in the past week-and-a-half.

WILKINSON: Talk about what he said when you confronted him with your investigation.

SCHMITZ: Some of the details he admitted that he did not tell the truth about. He also admitted that he lied to the producers of “This American Life” when they were fact-checking this.

However, he stood by a few of the details in his monologue, and he disagrees with his translator’s account of them. They are the two most emotional parts of his play. One of them is when he’s talking about underage workers that he says he met. The other part is where a man with a hand that’s been twisted into a claw talks to him and plays with his iPad. Those two parts Mike Daisey claims are true, but his translator Cathy insists — and she says she is certain about this — they never happened.

Mike Daisey admits that in the monologue, he says he spoke with 12-year-old, 13-year-old and 14-year-old workers within the first two hours of his time outside Foxconn. When I questioned him about it he changed it to just one 13-year-old, because he wasn’t sure how old the other women were who he was talking to. But his translator Cathy says they did not speak to any underage workers. He says that she would know if they were underage, because she goes to factories all the time and this is her job. She’s been doing this for 10 years, and she would be shocked if she saw an underage worker of that age.

WILKINSON: You say in your piece on “Marketplace” that the reality is complicated because the things that he mentions in his play actually have happened in China, but not necessarily in the way that he describes them.

SCHMITZ: That is correct. Yes. Everything, well not everything… but, for example let’s talk about the hexane worker. That’s a story that I myself covered as a “Marketplace” reporter. I interviewed those workers. There were more than 100 workers poisoned with this chemical at a factory outside of Shanghai in the city of Suzhou. So when I heard that part of the story I thought to myself, how did these workers travel 1,000 miles away to be interviewed by Mike Daisey? It just didn’t make any sense, because these are workers that don’t have money to travel that far, plus the workers that were poisoned were not employed anymore. It just didn’t make any sense to me.

WILKINSON: Mike Daisey, I’m sure you’ve seen, has released a statement that he regrets airing this on “This American Life,” because it’s a journalism show, not a theatrical show. What do you make of his explanation?

His message resonated with people because it was a simple message.

SCHMITZ: Well, I think it’s an interesting explanation, and I think it’s disingenuous primarily because if you look at the media appearances he’s made since the running of this show began, he’s been in newspaper articles, he’s written op-eds, he’s been in magazine profiles, he’s been on CNN, he’s been on MSNBC and the list goes on and on. And in each appearance he’s allowed journalists to treat him like a journalist. And so on these appearances he says, “I have seen underage workers, I have seen poisoned workers.” He says what he saw, and then that media or that news organization takes that message and gives it to their viewers or their listeners or their readers as journalism. So I think that, in many ways, he is playing the role and has played the role of a journalist. And now what he’s saying is that he is an artist and what he’s doing is theater. I think the message seems to be changing.

WILKINSON: And what has the reaction been like for you as you revealed that at least some of this story was fabricated?

SCHMITZ: I’ll tell you something. I’ve had a long relationship with China. I first came here in 1996 as a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ve been back frequently. China is sort of the reason why I became a journalist. It inspired me to want to write about it and tell stories about it. I’ve invested a lot of my career in trying to accurately portray and explain this country to my listeners. So when someone like Mike Daisey comes to China, spends less than a week here and later on tells people that what he thought he saw is in fact not true, that makes my job and the job of other China correspondents here much more difficult.

WILKINSON: Daisey’s account of being in China and talking to workers has gotten so much attention. How does that undercut the work journalists are doing in China?

SCHMITZ: I think his message resonated with people because it was a simple message. It’s easy to understand if it’s a black and white message where you know that children are making your iPhones and that the people who made your iPhones are being poisoned.

The thing is, these things have happened, but the fact is these occurrences are quite rare. China has 1.2 million people right now making Apple products in the country. I think that in order to understand what life is like for all of these people, you have to just sit and think about the scale of this. At what point in our own country’s history have we had 1.2 million people making one product? Or one product for one company? I don’t think we’re ever had that. And so this is something I think that’s very complicated to understand. It’s complicated to understand that, on one hand, working at a factory in China is very grueling, and when you’re ramping up production your bosses will ask you to work more time than you might be willing to. But at the same time, these workers who I’ve talked to on many occasions, for the most part, are satisfied with the work they’re doing, and if they’re not, they can go somewhere else, because right now there’s a labor shortage in many of the factory towns in China.

So I think that’s a complicated message, and that doesn’t resonate as easily as this simple message that he’s putting out there which is: iPhones are made by children, Apple bad, Foxconn bad. One of my sources told me, “sign a petition, and now you’re good.” That’s a simple message.

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Category: Arts and Culture, News

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  • Lynx636

    Schmitz says, “These things are rare, but together, they form an easy-to-understand narrative about Apple”. Actually, these things form an easy-to-understand narrative about manufacturing in China. Apple is actually one of the most progressive of U.S. electronics firms, who ALL currently outsource their manufacturing to China. China needs much better worker-protection laws, and enforcement of them.

  • http://twitter.com/thaddle Thaddle Sharing Net

    I have been to Shenzhen and the FoxConn City. It is huge, and an amazing facility. There are issues, however. Remember, China is still in the Human Rights Violations eye. That said, I have the iPad2 and I really like it. But I am going after an Android tablet to see what they are all about. I see that Haleron has a new 9.7 inch tablet with 10+ hours of usability and Android 4.0. The Haleron Tablet uses the same display as the iPad 2, (Thats good!) dual cameras (also nice!), 1GB RAM, 1.2GB processor, and all less than at half the price I paid for my iPad. But really, for me, it is the content that Apple offers that makes the difference. I believe if an Android maker offers a nice content package, they could have a competitive device. Little Haleron has some content with the device, but not near Apples Content. But here is the Kicker. Haleron has announced that they will begin assembly in the U.S. in September, 2012. Is this the start of a trend? Perhaps we can work toward re-assembling America! Buying Assembled in America!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks to Rob for clarifying this story. As someone from China, I too was a bit surprised by Daisey’s story. It struck me as not having the ring of truth, particularly the part about underage female workers. The fact that he was not doing a documentary, but was performing a one-man play struck me as odd and too self-serving. His story sounded too much like a hash of many stories that have been published over the years about labor conditions in China. In fact, I was surprised that he actually went to China since it seemed to me that he could have made it up completely from stories he read in the NYTs over the last 5 years.

    The ends do not justify the means. It’s a slippery slope if one embellishes the truth to make the story more salacious or interesting. As Rob notes, it makes true journalism that much harder when there are people like Daisey masquerading as journalists, and then copping out by saying it was artistic license and theatrical. The damage has been done.

  • Ken S.

    The noteworthy part of this story is the left’s obsession with tearing down successful companies, and the intellectual laziness – in this case, deceit – with which they do it… Apple is by far the most responsible manufacturer in China… Why not report on GM, or HP, or GE, or thousands of other companies who manufacture in China? Oh, yeah, they lack a ‘simple’ narrative…

    Instead, you can see a play! Read an op-ed! Sign a petition! And then feel good about yourself! No actual work required…. These are the young adults who received self-esteem trophies as children just for showing up, who believe that successful individuals and companies all must have cheated to get there… At their core, these individuals are unhappy, cynical, self-indulgent children still too lazy to do their homework but desperately seeking attention and trophies from their like-minded friends… In the meantime, the real world continues to pass them by…

    (This post was written in China on an Apple product)

    • Anonymous

      Your reply is equally self indulgent and lazy. You commit all the same rhetorical errors that you attribute to the people you disagree with. The situation in China may be more complicated than Mr. Daisey presents it as being, and he may have conflated events or not personally witnessed everything he presents, but no one disputes that these things have in fact happened. You make these comments as of they are truth, but you have no first hand knowledge of the lives, experiences, or states of mind of the young adults you are so gleefully condemning, do you? Shall I conclude that you are a liar as well?

      • Ken S.

        Accidents happen, for sure… People die mining coal in the U.S., building bridges, transporting goods, etc. I’m not asserting safety issues should be ignored… (On a statistical rather than theatrical basis, you’ll find that FoxConn factories are doing very well…)

        But I am asserting that people who so quickly condemn a company who is doing more than any other to improve working conditions in China should do some serious homework first, and certainly not fabricate stories and intentionally and deceitfully present such storytelling as journalism…

        The one and only reason why Apple is targeted is because of their success… Period… And that intentional targeting is precisely the result of a mindset that is cynical, envious and unhappy…

        Apple should be congratulated for what they are doing… Instead, because of their success, they are targeted… What a disgrace…

        • Anonymous

          Why do you assume that this cynicism and envy that you refer to originates with the young adults you are criticizing, (who two month ago were being raked over the coals for their “mindless” worship of Steve Jobs) rather than a strategy of Apple’s competitors to bring it down a peg? Did you see the way this particular meme about Apple blew through social media? Why target did the meme target Apple, when every electronics and technology firm has the same issues? What better way to undermine Apple’s reputation and (hopefully) market share? Young adults are punching bags for every group or interest with an axe to grind. Marketing is evolving in very insidious ways and I think young adults are being used here as “cannon fodder” by others with far more cynicism and envy.

          • Ken S.

            I’m obviously not criticizing all young adults, I’m commenting on those like Mike Daisey – who was clearly deceitful – and the thousands of people who quickly saddled up and blogged and signed petitions and tweeted (oh! The personal sacrifice!) without even caring to consider Apple’s actions relative to all other manufacturers… Why? Because it was such an easy, lazy narrative – no critical thinking required…

            You’re right that it is not just young people – a number of equally lazy, self-promoting politicians hitched their wagons too… Shared between both groups is an anti-corporate bias and an egregious (undeserved) sense of self- entitlement… Full circle to my original post…

            Apple itself, on it’s own, will do 1,000 times more to improve manufacturing safety in China… While all the bloggers and petition-signers will continue to believe that they are the heroic ones… Instead, theywagons imply the lazy ones, craving attention and credit before doIng actual homework… And 99% of them – guaranteed – owns products made in China… The personal hypocrisy is never a concern – like the lie that ostensibly serves a higher truth, it’s always up to other to change their behavior while they continue to sign petitions and do nothing that actually matters…

            On the outside, they brag to their friends about their nobility, while on the inside they know how lazy they actually are… Ask yourself how many of these perpetually unhappy people you know… You might be right – they are cannon fodder too… Their choice…

  • Dagmar20

    And why are 1.2 million Chinese being employed by Apple, instead of Americans?

    • Anonymous

      Because the customer likes Apple products made with Chinese labor.

    • Ken S.

      Dagmar,

      Do you own socks? Made in China. A TV? Made in China. A refrigerator? On and on…

      IPhones would not exist without Chinese manufacturing…

    • US worker

      Because US deregulation allows companies to disregard the environment and workers

    • His Shadow

      You are kidding right? Have you been paying attention to the nature of consumer manufacturing for the last 30 years?

  • Artshay

    When I was a staff reporter for Life Magazine  and a questionable story- with suspicious “set-up” pictures  surfaced, some of us fell back on a spurious expression  I had devised:  “Wasn’t Life lucky to come along when  all that was happening.” It was mockery of the first water.  When I first considered  the Foxconn- Apple  debacle  I recognize the genre-and half expected to see a perfectly staged photo of a suicide’s body being thwarted by an anti-suicide net. It’s terrible to have such a cautious journalist as Ira Glass victimized by a con artist like Mike Daisey.   Art Shay  Deerfield, Illinois

  • guest

    Well done, Rob Schmitz.  I suspect that critics may use this as a weapon against NPR but appreciate your correcting the record and the more in-depth examination of conditions at factories.  A friend asked why companies don’t hire more workers.  I recall from the correction that Apple is an aggressive price negotiator, examining factory pay structures and allowing razor-thin profit margins, but that doesn’t entirely explain the decision not to hire more people (which you may have explained but I forgot).