The Honesty Behind the “This American Life” Retraction

Last night This American Life released an entire episode of their show devoted to clearing up the news that they originally reported false information in episode 454, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.”  In episode 454 TAL excerpted a part of Daisey’s one man show where he describes going to Chinese factories where Apple products are made. He claimed to meet underage workers, a man with a mangled hand who’d never seen an iPad, and hundreds of workers who were dying to tell their stories. He fabricated much of his stories and it’s a bummer that This American Life went through with the story even though they admit to having suspicions.

The real character of everyone’s favorite public radio show really comes through in this week’s episode, though. Since 1997, audiences have come to trust Ira Glass’ voice in a way similar to how people from decades ago trusted news anchor Walter Cronkite. Glass immediately admits to making a mistake and pledges his determination to make it right. The most riveting part of the episode isn’t when an APM reporter finds out what really is going on in Chinese factories. It’s when Glass and TAL producer Brian Reed confront Daisey, the man who put the show’s entire reputation on the line for his own benefit. The two don’t pull any punches and treat Daisey pretty fairly when you consider the bind his lie put This American Life in. You can download that episode from iTunes until this weekend or stream it here.

The media today is absolutely brutal. Fox News and MSNBC taint the day’s events so unevenly that you’d think the world will be lucky to keep spinning tomorrow. This American Life dropped the ball, no doubt about it. But their honesty and commitment to straightening the story out before being called to the carpet brings to mind the standard that too much of the media has seemed to forget. Glass and co. don’t make any excuses or try to cover up the mistake, even though they might be able to get away with it in today’s polarized news cycle.


By the way, Gawker and Brian Stelter have been all over this story since it broke. There’s a nice piece from Gawker here called “What Else Has Mike Daisey Lied About?” and and a must read here about being duped by Mike Daisey in person. As for Stelter, here’s a short video with him and fellow New York Times reporter David Carr that sum up the controversy in an easy few minutes.

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One Response to The Honesty Behind the “This American Life” Retraction

  1. Pingback: Understanding where Carolla’s “Dudes are funnier than chicks” comes form | When You Put It That Way

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