Here’s “Marketplace”‘s segment today about the Mike Daisey-Foxconn controversy. The piece is done in conjunction with another radio program, “This American Life,” which said today it’s retracting an excerpt it aired from Daisey’s well-received theatrical monologue about abuses at Foxconn, the giant electronics manufacturer that is an important contractor of Apple’s.
Marketplace’s China correspondent, Rob Schmitz, who first tipped off “This American Life” that some aspects of Daisey’s “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” did not jibe with his experience of Foxconn, reports on what led him to believe parts of Daisey’s show were fiction. In the audio, you’ll hear Schmitz and “This American Life” host Ira Glass confront Daisey personally…
From the transcript. (The Cathy mentioned is Cathy Lee, Daisey’s translator during his trip to the Foxconn factory in China, who revealed that various details Daisey used in his monologue were false.)
Rob Schmitz: Cathy says you did not talk to workers who were poisoned with hexane.
Mike Daisey: That’s correct.
RS: So you lied about that? That wasn’t what you saw?
MD: I wouldn’t express it that way.
RS: How would you express it?
MD: I would say that I wanted to tell a story that captured the totality of my trip.
Ira Glass: Did you meet workers like that? Or did you just read about the issue?
MD: I met workers in, um, Hong Kong, going to Apple protests who had not been poisoned by hexane but had known people who had been, and it was a constant conversation among those workers.
IG: So you didn’t meet an actual worker who’d been poisoned by hexane.
MD: That’s correct.
Daisey apologized to Ira Glass for not telling the truth to him and his listeners.
“Look. I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work,” Daisey said. “My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism. And it’s not journalism. It’s theater.”
Schmitz also reports the following:
What makes this a little complicated is that the things Daisey lied about seeing are things that have actually happened in China: Workers making Apple products have been poisoned by Hexane. Apple’s own audits show (PDF) the company has caught underage workers at a handful of its suppliers. These things are rare, but together, they form an easy-to-understand narrative about Apple.
Read the full transcript here.
KQED’s Kelly Wilkinson this afternoon talked to Rob Schmitz about the Daisey situation. Edited transcript:
HOST KELLY WILKINSON: Walk us through what happened when you heard about this. How did this all start?
ROB SCHMITZ: Well, this started because I’m a listener to “This American Life.” I listen to the podcasts at my home in Shanghai. And I heard the broadcast that featured the adaptation of Mike Daisey’s play. And when I heard that, there were a few things in it that didn’t ring true to me as somebody who lives and works in China.
One of those things was he mentioned that he went to the gates of Foxconn and he saw the guards outside with guns. And I reported from several factories in China and I’ve never seen security guards with guns. In fact, security guards cannot have guns in China. It’s illegal. Only the military and the police can have guns in China.
There’s also another part where he talks about meeting with factory workers who met in secret unions and have these meetings at Starbucks. And factory workers in China make about $200, $300 a month, and Starbucks is pricier here than it is in the States. So it didn’t make sense to me that factory workers who make so little would be meeting at Starbucks.
WILKINSON: So then you found his translator, and what happened from there?
SCHMITZ: I was able to find his translator, and I called her and confirmed she worked with Mike Daisey.
WILKINSON: Rob, how hard was that to find her?
SCHMITZ: It wasn’t difficult at all. I did a Google search, and within about 10 seconds I found her phone number. When I found her, I asked her some of the details that were in the monologue, and she said that she didn’t remember it that way. And so at that point I decided to fly to Shenzhen to talk to her in person. And I downloaded a transcript of Mike Daisey’s monologue.
I went to the gates of Foxconn where he went with his translator, Cathy Lee, and while we were there in front of Foxconn I went point by point through the transcript with her to confirm what happened and what didn’t happen. And I discovered that many of the details in his play, according to his translator, did not happen.
WILKINSON: What kind of details?
SCHMITZ: Well, for example, there’s a point in the monologue where he meets workers who he says were poisoned by a neurotoxin called N-hexane. He says their hands shake uncontrollably, and they can’t pick up a glass. She doesn’t remember meeting workers like that at all. And when I confronted Mike Daisey about this, he admitted that he did not see that.
WILKINSON: How did you come to interview Mike Daisey?
SCHMITZ: I’m the China correspondent for “Marketplace,” so the reporting that I do, I present to my editors, and my editors then presented what they had to “This American Life.” At that point, they decided that a collaboration would be a good idea. I was then called by Ira Glass the next day, and at that point Ira set up an interview with Mike Daisey for both of us at the same time. We actually interviewed him on two separate occasions in the past week-and-a-half.
WILKINSON: Talk about what he said when you confronted him with your investigation.
SCHMITZ: Some of the details he admitted that he did not tell the truth about. He also admitted that he lied to the producers of “This American Life” when they were fact-checking this.
However, he stood by a few of the details in his monologue, and he disagrees with his translator’s account of them. They are the two most emotional parts of his play. One of them is when he’s talking about underage workers that he says he met. The other part is where a man with a hand that’s been twisted into a claw talks to him and plays with his iPad. Those two parts Mike Daisey claims are true, but his translator Cathy insists — and she says she is certain about this — they never happened.
Mike Daisey admits that in the monologue, he says he spoke with 12-year-old, 13-year-old and 14-year-old workers within the first two hours of his time outside Foxconn. When I questioned him about it he changed it to just one 13-year-old, because he wasn’t sure how old the other women were who he was talking to. But his translator Cathy says they did not speak to any underage workers. He says that she would know if they were underage, because she goes to factories all the time and this is her job. She’s been doing this for 10 years, and she would be shocked if she saw an underage worker of that age.
WILKINSON: You say in your piece on “Marketplace” that the reality is complicated because the things that he mentions in his play actually have happened in China, but not necessarily in the way that he describes them.
SCHMITZ: That is correct. Yes. Everything, well not everything… but, for example let’s talk about the hexane worker. That’s a story that I myself covered as a “Marketplace” reporter. I interviewed those workers. There were more than 100 workers poisoned with this chemical at a factory outside of Shanghai in the city of Suzhou. So when I heard that part of the story I thought to myself, how did these workers travel 1,000 miles away to be interviewed by Mike Daisey? It just didn’t make any sense, because these are workers that don’t have money to travel that far, plus the workers that were poisoned were not employed anymore. It just didn’t make any sense to me.
WILKINSON: Mike Daisey, I’m sure you’ve seen, has released a statement that he regrets airing this on “This American Life,” because it’s a journalism show, not a theatrical show. What do you make of his explanation?
SCHMITZ: Well, I think it’s an interesting explanation, and I think it’s disingenuous primarily because if you look at the media appearances he’s made since the running of this show began, he’s been in newspaper articles, he’s written op-eds, he’s been in magazine profiles, he’s been on CNN, he’s been on MSNBC and the list goes on and on. And in each appearance he’s allowed journalists to treat him like a journalist. And so on these appearances he says, “I have seen underage workers, I have seen poisoned workers.” He says what he saw, and then that media or that news organization takes that message and gives it to their viewers or their listeners or their readers as journalism. So I think that, in many ways, he is playing the role and has played the role of a journalist. And now what he’s saying is that he is an artist and what he’s doing is theater. I think the message seems to be changing.
WILKINSON: And what has the reaction been like for you as you revealed that at least some of this story was fabricated?
SCHMITZ: I’ll tell you something. I’ve had a long relationship with China. I first came here in 1996 as a Peace Corps volunteer and I’ve been back frequently. China is sort of the reason why I became a journalist. It inspired me to want to write about it and tell stories about it. I’ve invested a lot of my career in trying to accurately portray and explain this country to my listeners. So when someone like Mike Daisey comes to China, spends less than a week here and later on tells people that what he thought he saw is in fact not true, that makes my job and the job of other China correspondents here much more difficult.
WILKINSON: Daisey’s account of being in China and talking to workers has gotten so much attention. How does that undercut the work journalists are doing in China?
SCHMITZ: I think his message resonated with people because it was a simple message. It’s easy to understand if it’s a black and white message where you know that children are making your iPhones and that the people who made your iPhones are being poisoned.
The thing is, these things have happened, but the fact is these occurrences are quite rare. China has 1.2 million people right now making Apple products in the country. I think that in order to understand what life is like for all of these people, you have to just sit and think about the scale of this. At what point in our own country’s history have we had 1.2 million people making one product? Or one product for one company? I don’t think we’re ever had that. And so this is something I think that’s very complicated to understand. It’s complicated to understand that, on one hand, working at a factory in China is very grueling, and when you’re ramping up production your bosses will ask you to work more time than you might be willing to. But at the same time, these workers who I’ve talked to on many occasions, for the most part, are satisfied with the work they’re doing, and if they’re not, they can go somewhere else, because right now there’s a labor shortage in many of the factory towns in China.
So I think that’s a complicated message, and that doesn’t resonate as easily as this simple message that he’s putting out there which is: iPhones are made by children, Apple bad, Foxconn bad. One of my sources told me, “sign a petition, and now you’re good.” That’s a simple message.