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This American Life Retracting "Mr. Daisey & The Apple Factory" (thisamericanlife.org)
564 points by tptacek 1958 days ago | hide | past | web | 225 comments | favorite

While reading Daisey's response[1], something jumped out at me: as a defense for "embellishing the truth" he says: "What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism."

Why does that defense (from a disgraced journalist) sound familiar? Oh yeah, David Pogue, when faced with serious charges of conflict of interest: "I am not a reporter. I’ve been an opinion columnist my entire career...I try to entertain and inform."

And where did I read that? The Atlantic Wire piece[2] on Dave Pogue. And how did I find that piece? Oh yeah, Mike Daisey linked to it from his indictment[3] of David Pogue on his blog.

Summary: Daisey endorses a critique of Pogue that calls the defense of "I'm not a journalist" ridiculous, then Daisey invokes the exact same (pitiful) defense. Yechh...

For the record I support Daisey's crusade and think Pogue is a fool on this issue, but it's really irritating to find out that the highest profile critic of Apple labor conditions is both a liar and a Class-A Hypocrite. Now those who want to dismiss critiques of gadget-makers' labor practices have a great new reason to do just that. The campaign to improve working conditions for gadget makers would be better off if Daisey had stayed out of it completely; his contribution was (imo) a net setback.

[1] http://mikedaisey.blogspot.com/2012/03/statement-on-tal.html [2] http://www.theatlanticwire.com/business/2011/05/david-pogue-... [3] http://mikedaisey.blogspot.com/2012/02/david-pogue-is-only-c...

Yeah, but...Daisey really isn't a journalist. He's a playwright and an author. He does one-man shows off Broadway. As far as I know, he's never had any training in journalism, nor has he worked as a reporter.

This is a case where I suspect that both parties were mis-interpreting the intent of the other party; This American Life does a lot of "artistic" work (e.g. nearly everything by David Sedaris, or David Rakoff), and perhaps Daisey felt that he fit into that model. Likewise, TAL seems to have felt that Daisey was venturing into journalism, even though he's clearly an amateur at it (they make skeptical statements to this effect in the original piece).

That said, I think there's a bright-line distinction between "art" and "fabrication" -- when you present your work as a documentary without disclosing it as a work of fiction -- that Daisey seems to have crossed.

The point is that the argument is totally specious. It's built upon the premise that only journalists are held to any standard of honesty or factual integrity. Can you cheat on your wife and say "well to be fair, I'm not a journalist!"?

The question isn't "is he a journalist or isn't he" it's "did he lie and intentionally mislead" and the answer is "yes;" his chosen profession has no bearing on this fact.

What really chaps my butt is that he could have told this whole narrative without lying. To wit: clearly present it as a work of fiction, based on fact, and thoroughly footnote the whole thing to real sources. Awareness raised, emotional connection with consumers made, integrity still intact. This is essentially what he did (the issues he cites are real), he just lied about it and said they were his personal experiences, presumably to sell more tickets and get some insta-gravitas.

"The point is that the argument is totally specious. It's built upon the premise that only journalists are held to any standard of honesty or factual integrity. Can you cheat on your wife and say 'well to be fair, I'm not a journalist!'?"

Oh, come now. You're assuming something critical: that Daisey went into the project representing his work as factual. If he walked into WBEZ and said "hey Ira, this segment is a dramatization of what I encountered in China, but I'm not a journalist, and I don't know all the rules", and the staff ignored that statement, or neglected to fact-check completely, then Daisey has a legitimate defense.

Likewise, if I create a radio show that sounds like an NPR news program, but is actually a fictional simuation of an NPR news program, full of falsehoods and distortions of the truth, am I lying? Technically, yes. But I don't think anyone would hold me to an ethical standard that requires absolute truth in a work of art. And perhaps that's what was going on here (that's certainly Daisey's defense.)

As I said before, I doubt that this is true -- it certainly seems as if Daisey crossed an ethical line with all of his appearances on news programs and whatnot. But there's wiggle room here. There's room for someone else to be wrong.

Wrong. Mike Daisey presented his lies AS FACTS to reputable news organizations.

Here’s a transcript of his appearance on the Ed Schultz show on MSNBC:

SCHULTZ: OK. What did you see?

DAISEY: I saw all the things that everyone has been reporting on. I saw under-age workers. I talked to workers who were 13, 14, 15 years old. I met people whose hands have been destroyed from doing the same motion again and again on the line, carpal tunnel on a scale we can hardly imagine.

SCHULTZ: Making Apple products?

DAISEY: Yes. And making products across the electronics industry. All our electronics are made in this fashion.

Wrong. Mike Daisey presented his lies AS FACTS to reputable news organizations.

I'm not wrong. I said that he's not a journalist, and that's true. He's a playwright.

Beyond that, and beyond what I heard him say on This American Life, I have no idea. The man could be a pathological liar. But he's not a journalist, and never pretended to be one.

Thanks for pointing that out. And it still boggles my mind that Pogue has a job at th NYTimes.

From a naive viewpoint: Why is all this reporting about factory conditions focus on Apple, i.e. Foxconn? Is there proof that factories operated by Foxconn are worse than the typical Chinese factory? Or is Apple pushing them to Draconian measures, e.g. guards with guns, child workers, etc.?

How's this any different from any other Made in China electronics product?

EDIT: The replies are aligned with what I was thinking: If anything, Foxcon is above average in factory conditions. The major reason for the Apple focus is because of its high visibility.

I despise this easy targetism! I felt the same while watching Supersize Me, which focused on McDonalds, and some of Michael Moore's films. The basic premise may be correct, but selecting targets to ride on their name (McDonalds, Walmart, Apple) is an easy tactic and in fact puts off the critical thinking people who resist the manipulation (well, at least it puts me off). And what's more, in most of these cases the (more naive) audience is led to believe that the situation is this specific company's fault, leading to behavior like "Man, I'm never gonna eat another BigMac, will go to Burger King instead".

It's not. A generous interpretation: nobody thinks about the branding on their Samsung phone or their LG television, but people feel a personal connection to Apple's brand (or, alternatively, are hit over the head with it every day). So if you're optimizing your story for relevance to a US audience (a perfectly valid thing to do, if you stay within the bounds of the truth), you naturally focus in on Apple.

I think it's demographics-related as well; Apple owners are more likely to be vaguely left-ish, interested in sustainability and fair trade, etc., than a typical Dell owner is. Same reason imo that Starbucks has more image problems with coffee sourcing than Dunkin Donuts does, because Starbucks customers as a demographic care more about things like coffee sourcing, or at least are more sensitive to hearing complaints about it.

> Why is all this reporting about factory conditions focus on Apple, i.e. Foxconn? Is there proof that factories operated by Foxconn are worse than the typical Chinese factory? Or is Apple pushing them to Draconian measures, e.g. guards with guns, child workers, etc.?

Quite the opposite, really. The founder of China Labour Watch has outright said that workers in Apple's factories are a lot better off than those in others (he specifically cites Dell and HP)[1].

Not that Apple is anything close to perfect, but its odd that they catch all the flack when other big names are doing worse. Or not so odd. Apple's famous secrecy seems to keep them from shmoozing the labour groups and journalists, which is part of why they seem to get a much shorter end of the PR stick than the conditions on the ground would dictate.


I suspect it is a combination of two factors. First, Apple customers are considered (rightly or wrongly) to be affluent, and therefore the kind of people who can choose to boycott something for ethical reasons (as opposed to the people queueing for 6 hours on Black Friday to buy a TV, who are deemed to be purely price sensitive).

I suspect the other reason is simply the fact that Apple is a market leader (dominant in certain of its segments) and so as a journalist it makes sense to go after them, as your readers are likely to have heard of them or own one of its products. A lot more consumers have an iPod than a Dell computer.

By all accounts, Foxconn factories seem to treat their workers significantly better than other Chinese factory owners. Several reports have shown this.

The reason why the media chooses to focus on Foxconn, and Apple in particular, is for the easy clicks.

I'm not saying that conditions in Foxconn factories are ideal - they're not - but they're much better than some of the truly awful factories that can be found in various developing countries. It's a real shame that the media chooses to ignore them.

And the suicide rate of Foxconn employees is about 10x lower than China's national average:


Apple is a very high profile company with an extremely positive image and strong brand loyalty.

If even a well liked company that people regard as being highly ethical can't manage to maintain humane working conditions while building products in China then who can? That story is all the more impactful because many in the audience will own devices made in those exact factories, or have close friends or relatives who do.

If you did a story on how some tiny company nobody's heard of making frobnobbins and how bad their factory conditions were people wouldn't care as much because it lacks that connection and that sense of import. For example, one response to such a thing could be "well, just stop making frobnobbins then! they don't seem so important", but when you own and highly value the output of those factories the tradeoffs get put into a much sharper focus.

My uneducated guess would be that working in the iPad factory is a whole lot better than working in the fireworks factory, but everybody knows the fireworks factory is bad, so there's no story. Apple has created a ponies and rainbows perception.

What's probably really relevant, though, is people read stories about Apple. So if you're a journalist and you want people to read your stuff, you write about Apple and not no name fireworks companies.

Keep in mind Apple has some of the highest profit margins in the tech industry too. It can afford to make conditions better, but chooses not to, given company awareness of the practices of its overseas suppliers.

But it doesn't own Foxconn. There's just as much reason for them to meddle in Foxconn's business as there is to meddle in any other point of the supply chain which they don't control (eg. the mining of the metals used in their products, the transportation of all raw materials, etc.).

THIS. This is my biggest problem with this entire issue. It is ALWAYS reported as an Apple problem, when in reality

(i) There is no evidence presented that Apple is doing something other companies are not doing.

(ii) The reasons for these working conditions are pretty well known: (1) China is still a relatively poor country (2) Electronics customers are very price conscious - you can't compete if your costs aren't low.

I think it's fine to pressure large companies to improve working conditions (even if it leads to higher prices) - but I have not seen the reason why Apple got almost all the scrutiny on this issue.

Because for the last few years, everyone is copying Apple. If you get them to change, you get the copycats to change as well. If on the other hand you get some generic brand shoelace manufacturer to change, no one, not even the protesters, notice, let alone follow suit.

Foxconn apparently has almost 1 million employees in its Chinese factories, so its significant enough in its own right, but I suspect its also a shorthand for all Chinese factories (as McDonalds once was for all fast food).

Foxconn makes a lot of products other than Apple, but focusing on Apple products guarantees that most of the target audience will knowlingly own a Foxconn-made product.

As well, I suspect Foxconn allows greater access to its factories than other Chinese manufacturers (and my guess is conditions there are probably better than the median factory)

It's not. Critics need to generate media attention by attacking a large popular brand. The same thing happened to Walmart. Target does exactly the same things (low pay, poor benefits, kill small downtowns), but Walmart is bigger and draws more media attention.

I agree, the question is simple -- If you think the conditions in Apple's factories are abhorrent, fair enough. But whose products are you going to buy instead of Apple's?

To me, this puts the lie to the idea that any of this has to do with concern for the actual workers in these factories. If you think the conditions in Apple's factories are bad, but then you buy something made in a factory just as bad or worse, what exactly has been accomplished?

All the arguments against what you and I are saying come down to branding. Apple's brand is this, but their factories are like that. OK, fine, Apple's brand misrepresents reality. But who seriously cares about brands?! Wasn't the concern here supposed to be humans?

I'm a Chicago Public Radio member and just got this in my email. Wow:

I’m writing to tell you that tonight, This American Life and Marketplace will reveal that a story that we broadcast on This American Life this past January contained significant fabrications.

We’re retracting that story because we can’t vouch for its truth, and this weekend's episode of our show will detail the errors in the story, which was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." In it, Daisey tells how he visited a factory owned by Foxconn that manufactures iPhones and iPads in Shenzhen, China. He's performed the monologue in theaters around the country; it's currently at the Public Theater in New York.

When the original 39-minute excerpt was broadcast on This American Life, Marketplace China Correspondent Rob Schmitz wondered about its truth. He located and interviewed Daisey's Chinese interpreter Li Guifen (who goes by the name Cathy Lee professionally with westerners). She disputed much of what Daisey has been telling theater audiences since 2010 and much of what he said on the radio.

During fact checking before the broadcast of Daisey's story, I and This American Life producer Brian Reed asked Daisey for this interpreter's contact information, so we could confirm with her that Daisey actually witnessed what he claims. Daisey told us her real name was Anna, not Cathy as he says in his monologue, and he said that the cell phone number he had for her didn't work any more. He said he had no way to reach her.

At that point, we should've killed the story. 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. That was a mistake.

Schmitz does a 20-minute story on our show this weekend about his findings, and we'll also broadcast an interview I did with Daisey. Marketplace will feature a shorter version of Schmitz's report earlier in the evening. You can read more details on our website, and listen to our show on WBEZ at 7 p.m. tonight, and noon tomorrow.

We've been planning a live presentation of Daisey's monologue on stage at the Chicago Theatre on April 7th, with me leading a Q&A afterwards. Maybe you've heard me advertising it on the air. That show will be cancelled and all tickets will be refunded.

I've never had to write an email like this. Like all our friends and colleagues in public radio, I and my co-workers at This American Life work hard every day to make sure that what you hear on WBEZ is factually correct. We will continue to do that, and hope you can forgive this.

During the original piece, host Ira Glass gives the impression that they were originally sceptical, saying that they "actually spent a few weeks checking everything that he says in his show." So I guess they need to check a bit harder next time...

Full quote: "When I saw Mike Daisey perform this story on stage, when I left the theater I had a lot of questions. I mean, he's not a reporter, and I wondered, did he get it right? And so we've actually spent a few weeks checking everything that he says in his show."

From http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/454/t... or http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:www.thi...

The public radio broadcaster said that the segment’s creator, Mike Daisey, had fabricated key details in his report. Although Daisey did actually travel to Shenzhen and speak with Foxconn workers, he later told This American Life that he should have been more forthcoming in his work -

adding “this is theater,” he said. “Not journalism.”

unbelievable. shameless.

Daisey responds: "It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity".

Calling to mind Jack Shafer (now at Reuters, formally Slate's media critic) on the problematic nature of narrative journalism:


An M.O. of many fabricators in the world of journalism is to first claim the source(s) can't be tracked down, and then to claim artistic license (this happened with Mike Barnicle of the Boston Globe in the late 1990s, and I recall seeing similar incidents at the New York Times and one of the Chicago papers over the years as well). Plagiarism is another problem area for publishers, but their excuse is often along the lines of "my notes got mixed up".

Whatever the case, the frequency of reported cases in the mass media is significant. Poynter has been tracking it for years; here are some of the reported cases from last year:


I hope you enjoyed your 5-min of fame Mike Daisey because your reputation is now completely and irrevocably ruined.

Not so fast.

Remember James Frey (tricked Oprah and her staff).

He's doing quite well, see "current work":


He's probably sold enough tickets over the last 5 months in NY to retire on.

Interestingly his show's run off broadway is scheduled through the 18th; anyone want to start a pool on that?

He can just rebrand it a comedy.

Macrumors reports that vegetable stands near the theater are running out of tomatoes.

And sell the video on iTunes :)

Oh "one more thing".

There's Henry Blodget as well:


What was Blodget accused of fabricating?

My understanding is that he settled when he was accused of touting stocks he didn't like. But I also understand that he actually lost a lot of money on such stocks.

He paid $4m in restitution to investors, but apparently the total amount of lost money that could be traced to his transactions was less than the interest on the $4m over the half-decade after the fine. So the case looks a lot more complicated than the capsule version.

what do you think about James Frey and Henry Blodget?


That they're making their way in the world just fine despite their histories, rendering any imaginary cosmic retribution impotent?

The voice of the people is the voice of God.

Big difference.

James Frey lied about his own personal experience and Henry Blodget was involved in securities fraud. They are relatively unknown outside their industry.

Mike Daisey told lies that he presented to news organizations, blogs, etc. as facts -- for money and self-promotion at the expense of a well respected company. CNN, NYTimes, The Washington Post, etc. wrote articles based on Mike Daisey's lies. In my view this is similar to what happened to Dan Rather a few years ago. People will forget, but they will remember.

The public at large has a very short memory. Dan Rather was different: he stuck to his guns rather than dive for the exit by calling it art.

There was enough of a backlash, especially in the literary community (who silently give all memoirs wiggle-room for truthiness), to Oprah's public castigation that James Frey isn't really thought of negatively. More people remember Oprah's childish need for revenge over Frey changing the way a character committed suicide.

Not in America. There's no such thing as bad publicity. Sure he won't get hired by 'This American Life' or anyone that cares for facts but there's always reality tv.

Not sure about that. See Jason Russell, who has just had a spectacularly bad day. http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/03/16/10721745-report...

He just needs a publicist. Oprah then 'Celebrity' Apprentice = new career.

For me it calls to mind Upton Sinclair. While working on Boston, Sinclair met with the lawyer of Sacco and Vanzetti, who told him they were guilty as sin and he the lawyer) fabricated an alibi for them.

By the time the novel was finished, Sinclair was convinced the pair were guilty; but he released it anyway because of its "higher truth".

Up until very recently, I was a long-form narrative non-fiction feature (:)) writer at a very prominent Israeli magazine; I'd like to share a bit of my experience and respond to the remark about "the problematic nature of narraive jounalism".

I have always considered Truman Capote, Tom Wolf, Terry Southern and their ilk my heroes and sources of inspiration, even though I have been well aware of their use of composite characters and other "embellishments" that are frowned upon in modern magazines and newspapers. While I have never created a composite character myself, a couple of times I did describe a composite scene: say I had spent a week with my subjects and one night one of the characters made a remark at dinner, and the next night someone else said something else during dinner, I chose to recount those two events as taking place the same night during the same meal. I made that decision (which I'd discussed with my editor) becaue either the two events occured on two different nights randomly, and could have just as easily taken place on the same night, and I didn't want to interrupt the flow of the story or the reader's image of the scene, or, they may have been a good reason for these two events to have occured separately, but that reason was complicated, and explaining it would have detracted from the story. Did I do a disservice to the truth? I don't think so. Here's why.

To explain it in terms familiar to the readers of this forum, journalism is a "reverse problem". The journalist's job is not listing facts, but extracting a model of the truth from a sample set of observation data. This is a very difficult problem. In contrast to what many critics think, a good journalists must not only stick to "the facts", because the facts are simply a biased sampling of reality. Sticking to the facts is just like connecting sample points with lines - it's called overfitting and it's as gross a mishandling of the truth as negligent interpolation or extrapolation is. Neither sticking to facts nor "completing" them is "the truth". A good journalist is one who is able to recreate a good model of reality, a fine approximation of it, by relying on observed facts as well as on gut instinct and genuine emotion, and who's able to convey the model as clearly as possible to his audience, introducing neither outright fabrications nor irrelevant and confusing facts.

There's a big difference between the (apt) metaphor of a model you describe and this case.

To extend your model, you're conflating direct data collection/experimentation with literature assessment, and essentially saying that's acceptable. It's not.

A journalist interviewing an expert (academic, or other specialist) is analogous to the literature review in a research context: you do not have direct observation, but you are assuming that peer review and other mechanisms have ensured the literature is grounded in direct observation.

A journalist recounting first-hand experiences or recounting those of people he/she has interviewed is really doing direct data collection or experimentation: the reason you try to get multiple sources for a significant claim is precisely why scientists run experiments multiple times.

A journalist claiming second-hand experiences as first-hand is equivalent to claiming to have observational data when in actuality you are relaying the conclusion of another experiment.

Take this neuro-toxin example: it happened to N people, but by claiming to meet them personally, he's implying it happens more often but is covered up, which would mean the real prevalence is higher (when in reality, we have no evidence that they are).

Or take the suicide rates. By claiming concentration via personal experience, the claim is contrary to what we know through more rigorous data collection, which is that the rates firm-wide are lower than for the Chinese population in general.

Also, the problem of your metaphor is you presume that the model f(observed facts, gut instinct, emotion) yields more valid inference than the sum of multiple journalists' f(observed facts). This is crap. If f(gut instinct, emotion) skew systematically -- a more reasonable conclusion than the counterfactual -- then no, your approach is less valid.

Nassim Taleb had a nice bit about how he doesn't read the news; instead he reads textbooks or other long-production-cycle reports. This is because, he says, the frontier of knowledge doesn't change very often. So what you get in the news is a fundamentally biased sample of only the outliers (which sells papers) and never the consensus that is generally 99% of the body of knowledge.

TL;DR: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyFpOp8Ft0Q

Oh, sure, I wasn't referrimg to this case but to tptacek's remark about narrative journalism and the article on Truman Capote he linked to.

And just to make sure: I'm not claiming that a longer, more careful and more rigorous observation does not yield a more accurate approximation. I'm just responding to a common complaint against journalists that if only they would stick to what they've actually observed and can prove that would necessarily produce better journalism; this is wrong.

And as for Nassim Taleb not reading the news, only textbooks - well, I don't have a problem with the first part, but if the obsessive, anal Mr. Taleb insists on only the most rigorous sources for learning about this world, than he has a very limited soul, indeed.

How'd you get started doing long-form print journalism? Why'd you stop? What are you doing now?

Hmmm :), it's a long story, but I can tell you the gist of it. My bachelor's degree is in math and computer science, but after 9 years in professional software development, I came to realize that it wasn't fulfilling enough. I went back to university and studied medieval history (which proved to be a tremendous help in my job as a journalist) and started working for a small web magazine. After a year of doing that, I began pestering a lot of people, walking the streets of Tel-Aviv with hard copies of my stories that I gave out to any big-name journalist that I happened to bounce into, and eventually I was lucky to get an interview with a magazine editor who hired me as a fact-checker; things started rolling quickly from there. Alongside that I worked on a big personal software project, my reporting sustaining me just barely, and not taxing the math circuits of my brains too much - I needed those for my software. After four years at the magazine, with my software project nearly finished, I realized it was time to either turn it into a business or let it remain an interesting algorithms research. I chose the former, and since January have been putting the finishing touches. I've applied to YC, I'll be launching my startup later this week with an announcement here on HN, and will be releasing a big, and I think very interesting, open-source product (an important component of the main software) later in April. I hope to go back to writing eventually, if only part-time.

Actually, I've learned a lot of interesting things about the startup culture (specifically that of Silicon Valley) from reading HN comments (seriously, it's fascinating). There's probably a story there, one that hasn't been told yet.

The journalist's job is not listing facts, but extracting a model of the truth from a sample set of observation data.

A lie is still a lie.


Journalists report. Pundits opine.

You're one, or the other. You cannot be both. Or act like one while claiming to be the other.

First, just a technical correction: pundits, like editors and and photojournalists, are journalists. The journalists whose job it is to report are reporters.

No journalist should lie, even pundits, and it is indeed a reporter's job to report rather than opine, or, as I prefer to call it, "pass judgement". However, even when reporting, and especially in long-form non-fiction pieces (be it a magazine feature or a documentary film) it is is the unintelligent reporter who limits his audience's perspective to the clearly observable facts. The camera, as the saying goes, truly does lie, if only because the viewer cannot see what lies beyond its field of view. The mere selection of which facts to report (as you cannot report all of them unless you want to turn your audience into reporters) is the first act of building a model of reality. A lie is indeed a lie, but sometimes just reporting a few facts is a bigger lie (i.e. a worse approximation of reality) than completing the picture with the experienced reporter's gut instinct. It is not the reporter's job to pass judgment - that is indeed the realm of the pundit - but it is his job to reconstruct a good model of reality.

A reporter is not supposed to be merely a sensor, transcribing measurements. It is his job to try and extract meaning from those measurements as well; meaning, though not judgement. When you actually go out in the field, there is valuable meaning that you just sense even though you can't waive a piece of hard evidence to support it. A reporter that decides to spare that meaning from his audience betrays both his audience and the truth.

You might say, well, if that's the case, two reporters going out there might tell a very different story. That is true. That would also be true if both were simply reporting the hard facts. That would be true even if they both were to place a camera and let it stream images directly to your screen without any human intervention.

> because the facts are simply a biased sampling of reality

Um, no. your observation of the facts is biased. It's important that we accept that subjectivity lies within ourselves.

Well, duh. I wasn't claiming the universe is subjective. But you have to accept that not all knowledge and meaning can come from hard data.

This response is telling.

Hypothetical Mike Daisey who takes pride in his decisions: "I use a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell the story, and I do so with integrity."

Actual Mike Daisey who knows he's full of shit: "It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity."

I don't think he means by integrity what I do.

Just writing that email at all puts This American Life in very small journalistic company.


Why is Fox "easy"? They've never, AFAIK, broadcast anything requiring a major retraction on the scale of CNN's Tailwind story or CBS and the "fake but accurate" Bush National Guard memos.

If Fox ran corrections, I'm not sure they'd have time for anything else.

Bill O'Reilly's spent days on rants based on deliberately misrepresenting what Sandra Fluke testified about. (1. She wants government to pay for birth control. No, students pay for insurance and wants contraceptives covered by the insurance they pay for. 2. She can't afford birth control but she can fly all over doing interviews. No, she was testifying about other students who had problems affording birth control without insurance, so what Fluke can afford is irrelevant. Etc.)

Fox News's whole raison d'être requires this kind of misinformation.

Can we cut this thread short and just stipulate that all the major media outlets have had slipups in the past? I think we can all see where this particular argument leads, and it's nowhere productive.

Let's not cut it short. This isn't a digression, this is the subject at hand.

Calling lapses of journalistic integrity "slip-ups" is a disservice to serious journalism. Running a story without adequate fact checking because it will gain you viewers or because it closely aligns to your biases is a serious breach and shouldn't be downplayed, no matter what the ideology of the perpetrators are. The media is in a sorry state these days and this is a big part of why.

Edit: On second thought it's possible I may have misinterpreted your intent. If you mean that it's not worthwhile to delve into ideologically based score keeping, then I agree. I only object to the notion that we shouldn't highlight past transgressions, or that we should downplay them as effectively "accidents". In reality there is a history of effective hoaxes and "black bag" operations involving the press, in some of the most egregious cases where members of the press were fully complicit. That's worth talking about and bringing to the surface even if an attempted reckoning of the integrity of, say, Fox News vs. CBS is not.

Sure. I'll just say that it would be a rare major journalism outlet in this country that wouldn't post a retraction like this when this kind of fabrication came to light. I don't think PRI has behaved particularly impressively here.

I think we can probably all safely agree that they've cleared the bar without arguing by how much. PRI, by the way, has no oversight over TAL; you mean WBEZ.

Posting is one thing. E-mailing every member is another.

They didn't merely post or email people.

They are devoting THEIR ENTIRE SHOW this weekend to the retraction.

If you honestly think Fox News would do this, I want some of your drugs.

You must have missed Fox's mea culpa during the 2008 election season. I believe it began: "Today on Fox we are devoting an entire hour to the retraction of our story regarding Candidate Barack Obama's attendance at an extremist muslim school."

Emailing every member is easy to do when you have every member's email address. Their last mail to me, 7 days ago:

Towards our 10,000 member goal, we heard from 9,025 folks over the last eight days, and we couldn't be more grateful. Some of the Summer Pledge Drive has been eliminated, but with your help, we can still eliminate some more.

'twoodfin is right to be cautious about valorizing WBEZ.

The right thing to do is often easy, technologically. The harder part for an organization is deciding "yep, we want to e-mail everyone on our list and tell them we made a big mistake".

Getting people's email addresses in the first place is the "hard part" I'm alluding to.

James O'Keefe.

His "investigative journalism" of ACORN was shown to be edited to the point of nearly complete fabrication. No retraction from Fox.

I feel very bad for this american life because they're brilliant. Extremely unfortunate.

I have noticed a drum beating on NPR since the piece aired regarding Apple's working conditions, on the news and the various podcasts. Will be interesting to watch for a change in tone.

The follow-up airing this weekend sounds more interesting than the original piece, which I didn't even finish. Daisey's whole approach just struck me as slapdash and self-indulgent. I find the Planet Money team's approach (whose stories are often featured on This American Life) much more insightful.

True, Planet Money rocks my world. Check out the Econtalk podcast with Russ Roberts for where they get some of their inspiration and data. It's a much deeper economics dive, hour long and tends to be Hayekian as opposed to PM which is firmly Keynesian.

I got into Planet Money during the GFC meltdown but more recently I've found the quality of their shows waning. They seem to be dumbing down topics (a recent show on the Greek debt crisis made out that the problem was essentially "office politics" between the ECB and the Greek government with no mention of the structural economic problems of the Euro experiment). For a deep dive on economics and politics from the left check out the Behind the News podcast with Doug Henwood, as opposed to Hayekian/Keynesian blathering it is firmly Marxist.

NPR isn't supposed to be leftist, it's supposed to be journalism. That's what separates them from other outlets, they're either focused on advocacy (fox, currentTV) or entertainment (CNN, MSNBC).

In journalism circles you can often hear that the truth leans to the left. When things like Evolution and Climate Change are brought up you can either go with the facts which leans left or teach the controversy which leans right but there is no safe middle ground. The left has plenty of less than rational views, but when you simply speech the truth your far less likely to seem to lean to the right.

Why do facts lean left?

It's more that the right leans false.

It is not _supposed_ to be leftist, but that's sure the way they lean.

I hear this asked, once in a while, on WPR, when the station manager is on a call-in show in the morning: why do you guys program to the left. And the answer is (I'm paraphrasing) That's who our audience is, so that's what we program for.

Heck, last week he as much admitted as such when he noted that they focused more on politics since the election of Scott Walker (R) as governor, and they will focus less when he's out of office: that's what our audience expects.

Which is understandable: if they had a Rush Limbaugh kind of guy on they'd loose audience and see donations drop. Be nice if they just admitted it.

In a world where 50% of primary voters in Miss and Bama last week believed Obama's a muslim, yeah, I guess journalism leans to the left.

I mean, what would consist of "balanced" in your view? The science leads towards a global warming hypothesis, and what's what they report. Most non-foxnews viewers agree that no WMD were found in Iraq. How are they supposed to split the difference on stuff like that?

NPR does not have ranting opinion shows that are political first. They have programs that are intended to inform. To the extent that liberals are more attracted to outlets like NPR than they are to outlets like currentTV, that's a statement about liberals, not about NPR.

I mean, what would consist of "balanced" in your view?

I'm not the parent post, and I generally agree with you, but I'll take a stab at it.

I used to have the opinion that NPR was left-leaning. This was primarily due to when I listened to it, which was during my late-morning commute. I believe I was listening to "All Things Considered," which is usually quite a good listen.

However, on certain subjects, I noticed what seemed to be a significant bias in the moderator. Expressions of shock or disbelief at certain things, giving some speakers more time than others, and not calling some speakers on blatantly talking around the question, for example.

Last time I checked, I think I was evaluated as a mildly socialist libertarian. I happen to know a fair amount about guns. As such, I notice terrible inaccuracies and biased language fairly often when reading mainstream media reports on gun-related incidents. The misuse of automatic, semi-automatic, "assault rifle" (which means "scary looking" to journalists), cache versus personal arsenal, etc. It's really a lot like the low quality of technical and science coverage. Basically, similar technical ineptitude leads journalists to appear right wing (e.g. climate change deniers) as what leads them to appear left-leaning (e.g. complete ignorance of gun terminology).

Other parts of NPR have a ridiculously narrow view of the world. "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" drives me mad with the narrowness of the comedy on there. As it happens, much of their comedy would probably fall under the category of leftist, but I was personally offended by the narrowness and inanity of an apolitical joke (specifically, they were laughing at an experimental airbag for motorcyclists which protects the often-broken hips from impact with the gas tank, but the commentators repeatedly assumed it was solely to protect the groin, so they effectively made "pee-pee" jokes for five minutes).

Anyway, while I don't consider NPR to be a leftist news outlet, per se, I would appreciate if they spent more time educating themselves on certain subjects and tried harder to hold guests accountable for answering questions presented.

I don't have a car anymore so don't listen to NPR like I used to but let's just take your complaints for granted.

Those are imperfections more than the sign of some ideological motive. Presumably, the NPR hosts know very little about guns, so they misuse some terminology. Would be better if they were more educated but journalists are generalists, they can't know everything. They're not the gun network.

The climate change thing is totally different, Fox News will spend significant airtime harping on global warming, like we're talking many mentions per day, and the point isn't that they're not climate scientists (I'm not either), it's that they have no desire to listen to what climate scientists say. At all. Unless it agrees with their pre-conceived narrative. There are miles of distance between that and ignorance on the technicalities of the subject.

Whether it's an ideological motive or not doesn't really matter. Whether a bias comes about due to intention or side-effect doesn't matter. I wasn't discussing NPR vs. Fox 'News', I was merely explaining some ways in which NPR -- whether intentional or not -- creates some bias in some of their content.

You don't have to be "the gun network" to know basic terminology about guns. If you don't have knowledge of something, don't report on it, or simply repeat the literal words of, say, the police. Don't try to spice up the story for broadcast by misusing terms. Similarly, you don't have to be a physicist to realize that you should create inflammatory headlines like, "neutrinos traveling faster than light, Einstein in tears!"

And anyway, the gun thing was just an example of how news outlets in general often get things wrong in a way that effectively creates a bias which is perceived to be left-leaning. I've seen the same thing happen when discussing nuclear power, military weaponry research, and countless other topics. And it's not simply about ignorance of technicalities, it's about misuse of terms and misinterpretation of information.

I really think that if the manager said this, then there would be major ructions. Can you point to what he said exactly? It would be a scandal if this is what he really said.

Can you point to what he said exactly?

I was in the car, listening because they were going on about Jean Ferraca - whom I really dig. And it did catch me out as something extraordinary, but not unexpected, for WPR. I started to write it down when I got to my desk and thought 'whatever'.

Joy Cardin show for 3/12/2012, show number 120312C. I'll download and give it a re-listen, reply here.

Listening twice to Cardin - the things I do for integrity.

Show is archived here: http://www.wpr.org/webcasting/audioarchives_display.cfm?Code...

I suck - meant to add this last week.

The things I do ...

Joy Cardin Show Dir WPR Mike Crane after 27:48 Greg in Stevens Point "I get tired of the political talk in the first two segments (tl:dl - he doesn't like politics, would donate, would like the morning programs to be more like the mid-day one, with gardening, home handy tips and various other stuff) "It's just listening to college teachers with an opinion .. it never ends .. been going on for three, four, five years however long it's been."

Mike WPR Director "Bascially starting with the election two years ago now that there just seemed to be a lot more politics to talk about. that we had a significant change in governance that I think has caused a lot of people to be curious about it maybe we'll find after this next election that things will shift a different way and there will be other things to talk about."

The second comment was rich. Greg complained about diversity - race issues. "Only one person of color."

Mike:(paraphrase) We have a Latina, too. And we're working on some other stuff.

The 'person of color' is the (imho) best guy _on_ WPR, Jonathan Overby. His 'Higher Ground' used to be a really entertaining live show with an audiance, live music. A few years ago they cut it back to Overby playing records.

I miss the way it used to be.


Now, Crane's comments can be seen as innocuous. And, maybe, he really did mean them that way.

But it's funny that the swing to 'talk about politics' didn't happen until after Walker (R) was elected. And that he said it would swing right back if he was voted out.

Truth is I've found the same re planet money's quality waning. For the first time I actually stopped a podcast 2 thirds through because I found myself yawning.

Thanks, I hadn't heard of Behind the News, found it on iTunes and it sounds awesome. Link for those interested:


This describes his work well. Just go back and read the book that made him semi-famous: 21 Dog Years, Doing Time at Amazon.com

I can't figure out how he's been able to keep a career going. Maybe this will--mercifully--be the end of it all.

I don't know about the specifics of this report, but Marketplace last month had another emotional story turn out to be false. Perhaps that is what prompted Rob?

Retraction: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/economy/commentary/returni...

Story about the fabriaction: http://jimromenesko.com/2012/02/02/marketplace-scolded-for-a...

I listen to Marketplace everyday, and I just donated to both groups because it takes a lot of integrity to admit when you're wrong.

EDIT: donated to This American Life as well as Marketplace

I'm sorry, but the marketplace slip up seems pretty inexcusable.

I could see if the guy had maybe not earned some medals he claimed he had, or if he was lower rank than he claimed, but he claimed to be a returning veteran and was never even in the army.

Maybe it's just me, but verifying his army background and veteran status would be the first thing I would check going with a story titled, "Returning veteran has few marketable skills"

Admitting they were wrong is nice, but that's a pretty big wrong that was easily avoidable by doing even a little checking.

Marketplace purchased the story from another non-profit producer (http://www.mylifeistrue.org/). They assumed the original journalists had done the basic due diligence, so blaming marketplace for failing the obvious background checks is a bit unfair. They took accountability for someone else's mistake.

That doesn't cut it for me. Media organizations ought to be doing their own reporting, and where they don't they need to be going with reputable organizations with standards and procedures in place to keep this kind of thing from happening.

Accountability for other people's mistakes is law in commerce.


NPR has had a bit of bad run in general lately, the Native American adoption story from South Dakota was pretty much wrong (proof was in the budgets).

This American Life is not an NPR program.

Sorry, it only airs on NPR around here and their site says "This American Life is produced by Chicago Public Radio and distributed by Public Radio International."

NPR and your local public radio station are two different things. Everyone acts like they aren't (I never say "I'm putting on WBEZ"; I say "I'm putting on NPR"), but in reality, your local public radio station is a separate entity that buys content from NPR and PRI.

This is usually a distinction without a difference, but when it comes to evaluating the standards and practices of a particular show, it helps to know who actually has oversight.

Its much akin to Syndication on TV but when you see a large Warner Brother's logo in front of a show on the CW, it's easier to distinguish.

Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International aren't affiliated with NPR. PRI is a competitor.

Marketplace is.

Marketplace is produced by American Public Media.


Look, they're all part of the same Kenyan muslim communist atheist climate-change-imagining prius-driving organic-food-eating "fact and reality" based conspiracy.

A real news outlet determines the truth before, optionally, looking for or fabricating facts to support it.

Now, what's a good synonym for "slut"?

Devoting an entire hour to detail the errors in the story is an amazing show of integrity. This only improves my regard for both This American Life and for Ira Glass.

"We didn't think that he was lying to us. That was a mistake."

It's scary how easy it is to socially engineer people and get what you want.

While some of this comes from experience I feel that some people are just wired in a way that makes them easier to dupe independent of their education and intelligence.

People don't fact check what they want to hear and which supports existing narratives.

The largest company in the world making their money on the backs of exploiting the very poorest is a common trope so it's one that doesn't get much fact checking.

People aren't wired that way, it takes a good 12 years of teaching them to regurgitate 'quasi-facts' to get them out of their more curious fact checking nature. Every kid wants to know why the sky is blue, but by the time they get to history class no one wants to know why Columbus discovered America.

The largest company in the world making their money on the backs of exploiting the very poorest is a common trope so it's one that doesn't get much fact checking.

Except they did fact check those parts:

"In our original broadcast, we fact checked all the things that Daisey said about Apple's operations in China," says Glass, "and those parts of his story were true, except for the underage workers, who are rare. We reported that discrepancy in the original show. (...)"

What wasn't true was the stuff that the guy claim to had experienced personally.

There's nothing in their fact checking about "exploiting the backs of the poorest".

Thanks for posting the email.

I'm a Chicago Public Radio member, too, but I didn't get an email. I'd certainly like to be on this list... checking spam folders now...

I think this is the one time I've ever gotten mail from it that I wanted, if that saves you some time.

ha! It does. Thanks.

Hardly a worth a "Wow."

Apple was a sponsor of NPR in FY 2008 and 2009, and 2010.

I suspect they continue to be one.

Money is the best explanation for the PR push behind your email.




> Apple was a sponsor of NPR in FY 2008 and 2009, and 2010.

That's nice, but This American Life isn't made by NPR.


> PRI is a major public media content creator and also distributes programs from many sources, competing with National Public Radio and American Public Media to provide programming to public radio stations.

note: brudgers is Mike Daisey's publicist.

Source on this? Sorry, but recent events have encouraged me to be more stringent about fact-checking.

note: it's a fabrication.

in the words of Mike Daisey: "I used a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell a story"

Chicago Public Radio, who is purported to have sent the email, does have an ongoing relationship with NPR. So does their parent company, Chicago Public Media which produces This American Life. NPR coproduces Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me with CPM.

PRI, as you note, is in competition with NPR (and CPM). They are producers of the journalistic expose' about a one man show not meeting the standards of investigative journalism. A strawman argument indeed.

> Money is the best explanation for the PR push behind your email.

So your position is that Apple is pressuring NPR which is pressuring Chicago Public Media which is pressuring Chicago Public Radio which is pressuring Public Radio International which is pressuring This American Life to issue a retraction?

I really don't think This American Life needed much pushing to retract admitted falsehoods.

>Money is the best explanation for the PR push behind your email.

Your statement however is worthy of a WOW.

What's really tragic here is that the truth in Mr. Daisey's story will get dragged down by the weight of his lies.

Chinese factory conditions are often horrible, and there's often a blatant disregard for human life and dignity. Mr. Daisey did a pretty good job of conveying these ideas in a way that well-heeled westerners could understand at a gut level.

However, his pursuit of storytelling over journalism is going to destroy all that. People are going to (rightfully) pitch the fact out along with the fiction, because there's no way to distinguish the two.

It just makes me sad.

What's really tragic here is that the truth in Mr. Daisey's story will get dragged down by the weight of his lies.

[disclaimer: I have never taken journalism classes but I date someone majoring in journalism in college :-)]

Disclaimer aside, I believe you comment is the whole 'moral' of the story. And were someone to write a pulitzer prize winning fictional story about a journalist who was so passionate about the topic they were reporting on they stepped into the cess pool of making up 'facts' and by doing so, lost their soul, and the thing that they were most passionate about gets dismissed and ignored. Its like a Greek tragedy except that instead of the hero dying its some noble cause that dies because of the acts of a selfish reporter.

This is why people who want to be known as journalists have to never, ever, cross that line. Sadly it has a similar mechanism to cheating on your spouse, you do it once and don't get caught and its thrilling and exciting and nouveaux so you want to do it again, and again, and again. And then you do get caught at some point and all the good that was your marriage goes "Poof!" in an instant. (not a personal experience but related by folks daily it seems).

As a literary tool it is very powerful, you can relate to the protagonist's passion, but cannot forgive their transgression.

What "truth" in his story? How do you know? The most dangerous thing you can do with a story like this is try to pick apart the things that seem true; your brain is wired to make the wrong things seem authentic.

I know because I've seen it. My wife and I used to live in China, and we did traveling in both the high and the low places.

I can't speak to the particulars in Daisey's story (since I don't know which ones were made up), but the overall picture he painted sounded familiar. It's unquestionable that there are horrible working conditions in Chinese factories.

That's the tragedy here. There's millions of awful wonderful horrible stories you can tell about Chinese factories, and Mike Daisey is obscuring them by making up his own.

And how would you compare the work in the factories to being a Chinese farm worker, for example? Why are millions choosing factories over farms?

I think it is more important that there is a trend towards improved work environments and opportunities than bemoaning the fact that any particular work environment isn't as good as some cushy 1st-world white-collar job.

Oh, no. Again with the "choosing". Since I read similar arguments quite often here on HN, I want to give a general, rather than particular answer. The short version is, people under duress can't really "choose" anything, even if it may seem to some free-market capitalists as if they do.

Let me paint a fictional picture for you. Say there's this island that's been ravaged by natural disasters and famine, and its entire population is starving. Rich people from a nearby country realize the islanders are in real distress and will be willing to do a lot for anyone who will save them from certain, horrible death, so they decide to use them as workers. So the rich people set up shop on the island, and the locals start working for them. Some of the rich people pay the workers (each of them producing, say $100's of product a day) with one loaf of bread, oh, and they also rape the women. Some pay their workers $2 a day, and they don't rape the women. Naturally the locals love the latter group, while that group of rich people from the mainland describe how they've saved the poor islanders from certain death and have even treated them rather humanely - well, at least compared to some others. They praise the wisdom of the market who let them gain from the islanders' cheap workforce, while letting the islanders survive.

Now, this (fictional) story is not about China. It's about anywhere an impoverished population, or anyone under extreme duress, lives. Speaking about choice under such conditions is preposterous. People will choose a quick death over slow mutilation. People will choose enslavement over annihilation. Believe me, there's no "free will" at work here, and whether or not the rich people from the mainland have done any good to the island, they certainly have nothing to brag about because they're exploiters who've saved a population merely to enslave it.

My story is extreme and I am not making any direct comparisons. I am saying that poor people are not "free" and they most certainly can't "choose", and if they do have a sliver of choice in their miserable lives (akin to the choice an innocent man might have for his last meal before execution), there is certainly nothing for anyone here to be proud about - certainly not about providing them with "alternatives" (like commuting the innocent's sentence to a life of forced labor).

As another anecdote for the lack of social mobility that the vast majority of people experience, how many people born into wealth has anyone witnessed transition into the working class? What's the ratio of that population to people born into wealth who stay wealthy? Just as it is extremely difficult to be born poor and end up rich, so it is the other way round. People often forget the ever looming hidden factors in these situations; morale and mind-set. From all of the research I've done on what makes people successful, it's all in the mind. From all the research I've done on what makes people change, it's all in the environment. In other words, mindset is intimately linked with the conditions one finds himself in which in turn dictate actions. A nuance of this is that mind-set also modifies environment which, in turn, affects mind-set again. It's a self-modifying system; the feedback loop that is your consciousness.

This is all hardly surprising - just as individual physical particles have inertia, so do we.

Except when cushy 1st world jobs move to high-repression countries with few worker rights, it's trending the other way.

Yep, because the job selection used to be so great in high-repression countries with few worker rights.

And how would you compare the work in the factories to being a Chinese farm worker, for example? Why are millions choosing factories over farms?

I hear this argument a lot, and I consider it BS. What their original work was has no bearing on whether the conditions in the factories are good or bad. It just tells us that they are better than the alternative.

Working as a human slave in 16 hours shifts for money barely enough to make it day-to-day is still preferable than dying of hunger in a chinese village because of lack of resources. That doesn't mean that it is good in itself, or that it should not change.

Doubly so if the chinese farms and village economies are broken down by pollution, regulations and measures taken to ensure the farm population is driven to work in factories.

You know, like the Stalin-era forced industrialization of USSR (which is not unknown in the West too: that's how most workers where forced to leave previously livable farm work and seek work in industry, starting from the 18th century Manchester (UK) case to the colonies. In most cases it was not a contemplated choice of what is most beneficial to the individual, but a forced decision).

Your story would be a lot more valuable than Daisey's, which is worthless.

His is worthless as well...

Unless you can fact check it.

I'm somewhat interested in a curious technical aspect that Daisey put into the story.

He claimed that something to the effect of "nothing there was made by machine, everything tiny little chip is put there by hand" - which I found hard to believe then and even harder now.

To what extent if any is this true?

If that is what he said; it's ridiculous.

Take a bare PCB, screen print it with solder paste (sometimes glue), run it through a pick and place machine (or a series of machines) then put it through a reflow oven. Once it comes out the oven you give it an auto test, and send it to have the rest of the components put on. (Some things will be damaged by heat, or can't be placed by machine. Examples include connectors on the "wrong side", but I guess massive machines have solved this problem.)

Note that in a huge factory you'd need few people for all the steps until the product finishes testing - most of it is automatic.

Even in tiny factory one person can keep a line running producing a lot of product by pushing a few buttons now and then, and moving boards from one machine to the next.

Having said that, a lot of stuff is done by hand; tiny coil winding and placement is one example.

EDIT: Here's a UK documentary where youth went to a factory in the Philippines. The tech episode is ep5. I don't know if it's available online anywhere.


I don't know how you'd place some of the tiny surface-mount chips by hand, especially if the neighboring chips weren't already soldered down. Check out the new iPad teardown's photo of the logic board.


Small SMD are tricky to solder by hand, especially when nearby component are so close, but it is not impossible.

Now mounting a BGA without a largely automatic machine would be stupid for high volumes (and even for very small one, and maybe even for unitary prototypes), and in this case it would also be stupid to not pick and place all SMD.

Indeed even with very low wages, it would probably be stupid to mount a board manually except for very low volumes and very small boards. Mouting a small SMD can be done quickly with practice, but you are amazed when you count the amount there is (try on an iphone photo or on a random motherboard)

How would he even know? He wasn't allowed into the factories.

My wife and I used to live in China, and we did traveling in both the high and the low places.

What was your impression of working conditions on the rural farms that are one of the most often-cited alternatives for many of the Foxconn workers?

My impression is that you should not just a dire or unfair condition based on the existence of an even more dire or unfair condition.

If there is a famine in an area, and people are dying, is it OK to offer them food and water in exchange for slave labour? No pay, just food and water, and everybody that doesn't like can go and die of hunger. How does this deal sound?

A forced choice is not much of a choice.

Also check how the once substinent farm economy is affected by industrialization, pollution and the state push for ever more production.

Hey batista. Good to see you here. Sorry I didn't read your comment before writing a very similar one somewhere else on this thread. Keep fighting the good fight!

If there is a famine in an area, and people are dying, is it OK to offer them food and water in exchange for slave labour? No pay, just food and water, and everybody that doesn't like can go and die of hunger. How does this deal sound?

My impression is that like most Westerners living today, you have no earthly idea what the term "slave labor" actually means, so we'll leave it at that. Peace.

> My impression is that like most Westerners living today, you have no earthly idea what the term "slave labor" actually means, so we'll leave it at that. Peace.

And my impression is that I very much have an accurate idea, plus I hardly consider myself a "westerner", and not only because I'm some 15,000 miles away from the nearest Walmart. It's not like we grew up with Fox News (or NPR at best) -- we have a penchant for history in these here parts plus we have been living it in the live, frequently (including now).

OTOH, you might be unaware that beside the basic determinant (i.e no choice on the matter), slave labour has had a great variety of working conditions in the past. Some were even better that Foxconn by a lot (say, a black lady cooking and/or taking care of the kids in a huge Southern estate would often be treated quite like family -- or in Ancient Greece slaves were even able to amass their own fortune and run businesses, while remaining legally slaves).

When did he pick apart things in this story that seem true? This is hardly the first piece of evidence suggesting that factory conditions in China aren't great- there is a wealth of evidence. If you want something to watch, check out China Blue, for example.

The point is that this will do damage to the existing, unchallenged evidence, because it'll have some kind of guilty by association attached to it.

"What's really tragic here is that the truth in Mr. Daisey's story will get dragged down by the weight of his lies."

I don't think his story taints any other particular investigation of Foxconn. But I think his whole story is now hazmat.

"This is hardly the first piece of evidence suggesting that factory conditions in China aren't great"

It's funny how people want to whitewash how Daisey slandered Apple here. He wasn't speaking generically about Chinese factories -- the entire piece is built around a crucifixion of Apple. Apple, the bad Chinese sweatshop exploiter, that's what tens of millions of people who read the wave of publicity from this story took away from it. Each piece I've read has a few bits tacked on about "the rest of the industry" almost as an afterthought.

Maybe Apple's the worst and deserves to be raked over the coals. But if the truth is that Apple holds it's suppliers to higher standards and should be held up as an example for other companies well you wouldn't know it.

From the article:

"In our original broadcast, we fact checked all the things that Daisey said about Apple's operations in China," says Glass, "and those parts of his story were true, except for the underage workers, who are rare. We reported that discrepancy in the original show (...)"

Apparently the lies are more about what he claimed to have personally experienced.

"Chinese factory conditions are often horrible, and there's often a blatant disregard for human life and dignity. "

Yes, and Chinese businesses also put melamine in baby formula sold to Chinese families, that made hundreds or thousands of babies sick, and probably killed some.

Frankly, if the Chinese factories are disregarding human life and dignity, it's probably not something pushed on them by Western companies.

If anything, this kind of Chinese business ethics is something that will impede Western companies trying to clean up their supply chains.

In Daisey's response: "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."

He doesn't seem to get why lying and exaggerating and sensationalizing a topic for the sake of its awareness doesn't work out in the long run.

If it's accepted when you do it for your cause, it's accepted when others do it for their cause. Now all you've done is diminished the attention garnered by the nature, impact and realities of a given issue by legitimizing the use of hyperbole and alarmism spun by its champions. To take a page from The Power of Nightmares, in the end the winners aren't the issues that genuinely need more attention, but the issues whose supporters can pitch the scariest stories to the public.

Any issue still needs good supporters and good supporters still need to frame strong, influential narratives, and there's plenty of room in journalism for creating a narrative while staying within the bounds of facts. There's also room in theater and the arts in general to contribute fictional narratives towards an issue but the distinction is very important. To lower that gate of verifiable facts and evidence for journalism does nothing but to erode the important role journalism has in society at large.

If what TAL says is true about Daisey misleading them with the fact-checking rounds, then Daisey certainly crossed a line and knew full well that he was passing off performance as reporting. His peers in this respect are the likes of Fox News where it's considered acceptable to spread information you want others to believe as truth, for the sake of the issues you yourself feel are important. It's a shame because I think objectively most would agree the working conditions in china are an issue that doesn't deserve the same tactics used by say the Obama birth certificate "issue".

Saying he regrets doing so now, while simultaneously saying he's proud of the attention raised on the issue, shows that he is in fact not regretful at all. It's even easier to see it since he never expressed regret until now. His only regret is that he was caught.

from http://www.marketplace.org/topics/life/ieconomy/acclaimed-ap...:

I pressed Cathy to confirm other key details that Daisey reported. Did the guards have guns when you came here with Mike Daisey? With each question I got the same answer from Lee. “No,” or “This is not true.”

Daisey claims he met underage workers at Foxconn. He says he talked to a man whose hand was twisted into a claw from making iPads. He describes visiting factory dorm rooms with beds stacked to the ceiling. But Cathy says none of this happened.

I must say that while listening to the story some things seemed a little exaggerated, and the his whole style didn't seem very objective. But I didn't suspect that he made things up from whole cloth.

>"Daisey claims he met underage workers at Foxconn."

Just to be clear, Rob Schmitz, the Marketplace reporter breaking this story, reported on underage workers making Apple products for Marketplace, last year: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/business/apple-economy/app...

Note, the claim Schmitz is actually refuting is not that underage workers are employed making Apple products, but instead that Mr. Daisey saw underage workers - and to do so, he literally employs, he-said she-said.

Furthermore, Mr. Schmitz has reported (again for Marketplace) on ordinary Chinese reporting to have been threatened for speaking ill of Apple:

   I recently returned to Tongxin village to see if things
   had changed since Kaedar shut down the production lines.
   This time, nobody wanted to talk to me. Some people hid 
   in their homes when they saw me.

   When I ask two men about the pollution, they say, "What
   pollution?' There's no pollution here." Another man said he 
   and others who spoke to journalists have been threatened -- 
   he angrily accused me of working for Apple.

   I ask one woman if she's been threatened. 
   "I don't know," she says nervously.

   But then Dong Qiaozhen invites me inside her house.

   Dong Qiaozhen: Yes, we've been threatened. 
   Village officials have warned us not to talk to 
   reporters about the pollution.

Chinese village governments are horribly corrupt. If a villager with a complaint against the local government goes to Beijing to get redress from the central government, the village often has goons and police who will abduct and imprison the villager for long periods, with all manner of maltreatment, including beatings.

The villagers might have been threatened, but it probably wasn't Apple who did it. The suppliers are probably lying to Apple about their environmental controls, then polluting to increase profits. So the supplier's owners or management, who might be important Party figures, or military officials, leans on the local officials, to lean on the villagers.

I think it's telling that a reporter investigating reports of pollution and poor labor comditions was accused of working for Apple.

Marketplace, which uncovered the discrepancies and is linked to above, is an awesome little 30 minute show broadcast in the evenings on public radio.

Although it is rooted in finance news, they end up covering all sorts of interesting business stories.

This is the thing that really bugs me. It was a well told story. I can even buy that it gets at a larger truth (even if the details are exaggerated or even invented). But then don't pretend like it's 100% literal truth. And then TAL made such a point of the fact checking when they broadcast their version. Oof.

A very- well- told current events story should generally make you suspicious. Humans have a bias towards narratives that is easy to exploit, sometimes without even meaning to.

With a great deal of effort it is possible to craft moving narratives about events that happened after the facts of a story have settled. But when a story is breaking through the lens of a riveting narrative, start worrying.

I had the same impression. As I listened, I remember thinking: "This seems very dramatic and and one sided." But I never really considered This American Life to be news so much as short stories. I just assumed that I was listening to a story with a strong (non-objective) point of view.

Has no one considered the possibility that this Chinese citizen, who lives and works in China, might not be well served by asserting the truth of Daisey's story?

His apology seems to concede a fair amount of dramatization, and he didn't (in advance of hearing the Ira/Mike conversation) appear to assert the truth of those specific parts of the story. But supposing he did stand by some of these details, we'd have a he said/she said, with strong incentives on each side.

Daisey has himself conceded dishonesty (though he calls it "dramatic license").

Are you seriously suggesting that he was telling the truth the in the original piece, but is now lying in his retraction?

To follow that logic would be a worse case of he-said/she-said journalism than which has been lambasted for for years (and which arguably inspired NPR's recent statement of recommittment to actual journalism).

Site's having major load problems, but the google text-only caches work reasonably well:

Link: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:www.thi...

Blog post: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://...

"It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity".

There is no integrity in lying to fact checkers to ensure your piece gets on the air.


[...] But what joins D’Agata and Capote is this: Both love “real” facts, but when blocked by journalistic convention from the literary effects they desire, they willingly leapt that fence to create whatever rules they needed to enhance their work. Because he admits to his shape-shifting, D’Agata’s work is harmless. Capote’s book, on the other hand [...]


That other field, the much smaller one strewn with landmines, rusting rebar and barking dogs is called non-fiction — or in its less effete incarnation, journalism. Oddly, without an accurate record as our anchor, it would be difficult to create fiction, as former New York Times Executive Editor Max Frankel observed in a 1998 essay. “Wrong facts and the truths derived from them are always correctable — with more facts. Fictional facts are forever counterfeit,” Frankel writes.

I believe in journalism, not journalists, and welcome anybody with a notebook, a recorder or a 94 percent total-recall memory to help clear our field and plant it with their work as long as they have a true story to tell. As for latter-day Capotes and D’Agatas, I can give you Google Maps directions to the land of fiction.

the last time I heard a similar line was from Ben Mezrich, the guy who wrote 'accidental billionares' about Facebook.

Even the response is dishonest. "I'm sorry I allowed TAL to run an except from my story". The guy lied to fact-checkers to get the story on the air. There's nothing passive about that. Nothing he says is trustworthy.

It's the Jon Stewart defense, except that he's not a comedian!

Hmmm. Interestingly, when I first met Mike Daisey, he wasn't a monologuist -- he was a comedian. He started the Seattle Sketchfest back in 1999. But that's not a defense for anyone practicing journalism.

His picture to the right of his response is priceless in context.

What a load of horseshit. Unless he prefaced every performance with a disclaimer that the piece was a work of fiction, his theatrical performances were no more legitimate than the TAL appearance.

It also undermines his point. If getting people to believe what you want them to believe and do what you want them to do requires you to pump up the truth, maybe people were justified in their original opinions and actions after all if the mere truth wouldn't change their minds.

There is no sane interpretation in which he did not knowingly and with gusto embrace the misunderstandings his shading of the truth created. I can't respect that.

My biggest problem with Daisey? The fact that the only thing he gains from his fabrications is self-aggrandizement.

So many of the things he claims to have seen aren't in essence untrue: hexane poisoning did happen, he just didn't meet (and tell a true story) about how. Underage workers do exist, but I think it is less than clear whether Daisy met any of them. Terrible abuses resulting in lasting, terrible physical damage (or death) clearly are occurring, but Daisey isn't the one uncovering them, he isn't the heroic reporter interviewing the victims to reveal their plight.

When Daisey defends his work, he's really defending himself as the champion of the oppressed. This, I think, is really about his ego, not about the plight of any abused Chinese worker.

"I'm not going to say that I didn't take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard [...] 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."

What kind of explanation is that? Public accusations should be supported by things like evidence and facts, “journalism” or not.

Welcome to America. Standard behavior with all broadcast media. I'm not blaming NPR.. but the producers of This American Life, in their zeal of catching a top story cut corners. And now, I consider this Daisey fellow as low as Rush Limbaugh; making up crap as hes running to the bank cashing checks.

It's sad.

Respect for Ira Glass to so totally and transparently own the problem.

He's not blaming anyone but himself, and by devoting his next show to this topic, is demonstrating more integrity than what we have come to expect. The public deserves no less, but in our era that is still rare.

I haven't listened to this episode yet (I am about 40 behind) but it seems that a lot of these claims could have been debunked with a few emails to people on the ground in Shenzen.

It would be interesting if TAL (or others) would gather together a group of experts who are connected in various industries and bounce stories off of them before publishing.

This could even be a startup idea - a marketplace of experts and connected people for the purpose of fact checking. We live in a super-connected society where 'stories from China' should be easy to debunk.

In all honesty, what did This American Life think it was reporting? Daisey presents a one man show, surely the folks at NPR can distinguish that from investigative journalism.

Marketplace's journalism is akin to investigating the false claims in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. That no person named "Stanislovas Lukoszas" was ever eaten alive by rats, is hardly a revelation.

It's This American Life which is unclear about where journalism begins and ends and what constitutes journalistic integrity and what constitutes muckraking.

I am reminded of a short article from Harpers which suddenly feels relevant all over again.


With the claims of using "dramatic license," it sounds like he's trying to have it both ways, especially since he was on Real Time with Bill Maher recently, and a lot of these things that turned out to be fabricated he mentioned in the interview as though they were fact: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iebnHvxKqlY

Notably as well, This American Life released the podcast and audio stream early to their website so everyone could hear it. I listened to the podcast this morning and was impressed at the way they approached it.

A particularly poignant bit for me was near the end, as Ira Glass is having a conversation with Rob Schmitz. I'm paraphrasing slightly from memory. Ira asks Rob after discussing the fact that it is established fact that many Foxconn workers do double shifts and insane amounts of overtime, "I own many of these products, should I feel bad?"

Rob replies (again paraphrasing), "It isn't my job as a reporter to tell you how to feel. It is my job to gather facts and report them as accurately as possible and let you decide."

I feel like that is one of the most important ethics missing from so much of journalism today. And it isn't just Fox News: almost every journalism source which fits into mainstream reporting these days seems to want to editorialize the news and push us on how we should feel.

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."

That's a stand-up move. I hate it when a retraction gets far less attention than the original story.

It's nice to know that real journalism is not dead. I love NPR.

FYI, This American Life is WBEZ, not NPR (although TAL cooperates with NPR for things like the excellent Planet Money)

I wouldn't be complimenting NPR too much. They totally blew an issue in SD that could have been fact checked by looking at the PUBLIC budget numbers.

Also, as many have pointed out TAL is not a NPR show.

I've never understood why no one asked Daisey a simple question. The clothes that he is wearing at the moment, the shirt, pants, undergarments. Where were they most likely manufactured? And does he think plants that manufacture clothing are in any way better than Foxconn? My guess is no, they are not.

Daisey isn't a journalist, he does theatre. He shouldn't've gone on a journalism program.

the real headline here is that you can turn around a bad beat with good intentions and proper follow-through. good job being forthright and correcting the problem, this american life. perhaps sony could learn from this example.

the need to improve working conditions in third world factories is real. Mr.Daisy in his 'passion' to be broadcast and the rare sloppy work by TAL will cast a shadow on future investigative reports of this kind. Apple did release the list of its suppliers after the TAL story. i hope they keep up their drive to be more transparent irrespective of this blotch by TAL.

Kudos to Ira Glass & TAL for being honest

Are they still worth listening to?

With very few exceptions, everything from This American Life is worth listening to. I would still listen to this, as not everything he said was fabricated, but I wouldn't file away anything I heard as objective fact.

It’s a well told story, it’s good radio. You can definitely see the appeal of it as a monologue. But it was presented as fact and is not, not completely. I would recommend listening to both the original show and the redaction back to back, they are both very powerful and well made.

Agreed. I am very eager to hear the retraction show.

If you didn't know, it’s already online (earlier than usual). Here’s the link: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/460/r...

I didn't know. Thanks for the heads up, I'm downloading it now.

Anyone who's ever spent more than a couple days in China (or HK, or Singapore, or Taiwan, really) can tell you that very, very little of what you see published about China/Chinese people in the western media is accurate. Much of it is hyperbole or selective truths or just downright fabrications.

It's designed for a western audience and plays on assumptions and stereotypes that exist of China/Chinese people - apart from interviews with serious professionals or scholars who have spent time there (like on Charlie Rose) you're bound to be left with a very distorted view of what "China" is (and isn't).

How do you describe one quarter of the entire population of earth in any sort of accurate way? It's impossible, but it sure does sell copy when you try.

Very much true. I'm constantly amazed at the beliefs that people in the US and EU have about day to day life in China. In my (admittedly limited) experience, in the cities, it's a lot like day to day life in any western country. In extremely poor rural areas, it's somewhat different, but that's because of the extreme poverty, not because it's China.

So exciting when a giant global corporation has a PR coup against its naysayers.

By 'naysayers', do you mean people spreading false statements?

I predict that the anti-Apple movement will say that the story was mostly true as told, and any denials by the Chinese interpreter were politically motivated, forced by Foxconn and the Chinese government.

It's not an anti-apple movement its a fair and humane electronics manufacturing labor movement. Apple is a huge and well known brand so they are natural fit for a story, but its also well known and reported that foxconn and friends are widely used by other electronics companies.

These are serious issues about how human beings are treated and they deserve more from than a reframe into a silly tribal squabble over who prefers what brand.

"It's not an anti-apple movement its a fair and humane electronics manufacturing labor movement."

China's labor problems aren't limited to their electronics factories.

Fair point, but electronics has been the recent center of it. There's long been an overall fair labor movement no?

Not sure how much that has reached into China. And industries like coal mining in China desperately need worker protections, but Western consumer purchases are unlikely to have any way to cause that.

Mike Daisey admits to the fabrication.

but the story feels so true!

It's a movement? That seems a little over the top.

This is certainly going to turn out in an interesting way. So far, the main thing being questioned is apparently the people he met, and while that is important to his integrity, it doesn't affect the story of the factory workers.

I'm going to listen very intently to this episode. Is he telling what could be true, or is he the worst kind of liar, manufacturing controversy?

My takeaway from the TAL email is that the conditions he describes are true the most part, with the exception of underage workers being common. This doesn't match the media coverage at all -- I suppose we'll all find out when they release the full episode. The impression I get from these parts:

>"In our original broadcast, we fact checked all the things that Daisey said about Apple's operations in China," says Glass, "and those parts of his story were true, except for the underage workers, who are rare."

>Some of the falsehoods found in Daisey's monologue are small ones: the number of factories Daisey visited in China, for instance, and the number of workers he spoke with. Others are large. In his monologue he claims to have met a group of workers who were poisoned on an iPhone assembly line by a chemical called n-hexane. Apple's audits of its suppliers show that an incident like this occurred in a factory in China, but the factory wasn’t located in Shenzhen, where Daisey visited.

>"It happened nearly a thousand miles away, in a city called Suzhou," Marketplace’s Schmitz says in his report. "I’ve interviewed these workers, so I knew the story. And when I heard Daisey’s monologue on the radio, I wondered: How’d they get all the way down to Shenzhen? It seemed crazy, that somehow Daisey could’ve met a few of them during his trip."

But he mushed them all together into a narrative and framed it as if he has personally seen and talked with these people.

Skimming the mainstream coverage I get the impression that both his personal story and the facts about the manufacturing culture were equally wrong. So he did the cause was fighting for vastly more harm than good: people now believe the problem itself doesn't exist. Whoops. Way to go dude.

I'll be interested to hear the correction episode to see how they detangle the falsehoods in the author's personal story vs things that aren't happening (or aren't happening with enough frequency to be concerned about.)

Certainly suggesting that a westerner with a single week in China would encounter all these problems exaggerates their frequency even if the problems are real. It suggests that if he can find all this out so easily, what else must be going on? On the other hand, many of his claims about conditions so seem to be real issues backed by other reporting. It will be a tricky episode.

edit: lol, lowest rated comment out of hundreds. my judgement must be out of whack, i'll take another look at this story tomorrow with a clear head.

He said there were guards with guns: not true. He said there were dorms with beds stacked high: not true. He said he stood outside the Foxconn gate and met underage workers: not true.

In the last case, his claim made it sound as if underage workers were more common than they are, if he could just show up at the gate and meet some. Underage workers have been found, but they don't seem to be as common as Daisey would have you believe, so not a routine policy of hiring kids.

What makes you think the conditions he describes are true?

I quoted the parts of the email that led me to that impression in the original post.

Daisey tells horrifying stories including one of a guy with a useless and twisted hand from making iPads.

Those create a very impression different from the one that we're left with. I'd say that for the most part what Daisey adds beyond the official reports is his fabrications.

Was this a stage play? If that's the case the "Reality Distortion Field"? is part of the schtick. If ThisAmLife crimped "facts" from it, it's their fault.

It's a one-man monologue, but the thing is, Daisey was widely interviewed and published, restating his claims about what he "found" in China. Not just on stage and This American Life, but also a NY Times Op/Ed, and interviews on CBS, etc.

I am an iOS developer and I listened to the episode with "Mr. Daisey & The Apple Factory".

It definitely struck a cord in me; two specific things.

#1 Excellence is in the culture. Unabashed, aggressive, and strident. If you didn't read the docs then why are you even talking? That kind of attitude. iOS more than any other language is a club for readers, because devs here respect the legacy of code. But since I am American and because I have my pick of whatever platform or language, I have a choice. No matter what my situation, what excuse I may make, at the end of the day I chose iOS and I adopted Apple's culture. But, if I were in a different situation, where there really isn't another job out there, and culture is not really a choice, and I was forced to perform on such a level (and Apple's culture bleeds into every facet of its organization, software, hardware, sales) it might be a waking nightmare. It is one thing to embrace the grind to stay up night after night, eating garbage, working on your next startup because it is in your blood, and being broke and poor and performing to the beat of a driven man's rhythm.

#2 I'm sure there is a significant reason why China doesn't see the release of iOS products until much later but it still just rubs me the wrong way. Having iOS products released sooner than later in your country is a privilege. Does the country that make these products not deserve that privilege?

I love This American Life, I love iOS and the objective-c language, and am an admirer of Steve Jobs and the company he created. I don't have any heated feeling about anyone in all this so let me say I have nothing but respect for all parties involved. However there is a common thread in all this between Apple, Steve, China and startup culture--the pursuit of excellence at the cost of normal human needs, and the amount of suffering/neglect man is willing to put himself through to achieve his/her goals--that widened my eyes, because it somehow reminded me of what I was doing to myself. You all know what I'm talking about. If you have ever hustled, tried your hand as a founder, embraced the grind you know; the depth of depravity we all put yourselves through to reach an ephemeral goal. It has no taste though sweet in our minds. Always driven with trained eyes unwavering stares, focused, mental, cold as some might describe us. All for what? But to perform at a high level. All else being secondary.

I look forward to the corrections episode and am working harder to embrace my fun side.

I'm all for journalistic integrity, but it sounds like all the important facts of the story were at least based on actual events and the rest was dramatic license to make the piece resonate emotionally. I think dedicating a whole show just to explaining the discrepancies is a little overboard and as a listener i'm not interested in spending that much time just for them to say "some of the things in the story were inaccurate". A simple 5 or 10 minute explanation and a long-winded piece online would have sufficed.

An interesting coincidence - NPR is underwritten by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I wonder if Gates helped fund this show in particular?

Nope - This American Life is in no way affiliated with NPR (other than that they are often carried on the same stations.) This American Life is produced by Chicago Public Radio and distributed by Public Radio International. Lots of TLAs there, but no NPR!

Good to know! Just wondered if there were any interesting connections here... This American Life is carried on NPR, funded by Bill Gates, doing a hit piece on Apple Factories (which are also Microsoft factories, but this isn't the Agony and Ecstasy of Bill Gates). Definitely there are some financial connections involved given that as you said This American Life is carried on NPR stations but I don't think there was a planned out conspiracy.

If my radio station played Bill and Melinda Gates Underwriting spots, it'd probably influence the culture of the station - does this have any effect on NPR's culture and did it effect the presentation of the story? Payola is a tricky thing...

This American Life is NOT carried on NPR. NPR is not a radio station.

Furthermore, The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation has no connection to Microsoft, and even if it did, it would make no sense for Microsoft to put out a hit on Apple by way of Foxconn: Foxconn makes a lot of hardware for Microsoft.

And further furthermore, corporate underwriters do not get to pick the stories covered.

This is quite the stretch. I don't think anyone could reasonably argue influence on TAL editorial decisions by Bill Gates. Yes, his foundation is a donor to NPR which runs on many of the same stations, but anything done by TAL shouldn't have any effect on those donations.

Foxconn also makes the Xbox360 and other hardware that Microsoft uses. No conspiracy here except for one guy lying and getting caught.

This is not a dumb comment. B&M Gates foundation does put a lot of money into NPR. To think that the management and producers at NPR are not aware of this is ingenuous. Every editor in the country is aware of who's paying for the ads. There's certainly cases where MSFT has gotten prominent puff pieces placed into All Things Considered. Both AAPL and MSFT have "long arm" marketing strategies; don't put it past them to pull a stunt like this.

It's a dumb comment because NPR has nothing to do with This American Life even if you believe that the largest private charity foundation in the world is a shill for Microsoft.

Again, it's irrelevant. NPR is not involved in the production or distribution of This American Life.

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