Artist admits to shortcuts in show about Apple

Associated Press
In this undated image released by The Public Theater, Mike Daisey is shown in a scene from "The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," in New York. Daisey, whose latest show has been being credited with sparking probes into how Apple's high-tech devices are made, is finding himself under fire for distorting the truth. The public radio show “This American Life” retracted a story Friday, March 16, 2012, that it broadcast in January about what Daisey said he saw while visiting a factory in China where iPads and iPhones are made. (AP Photo/The Public Theater, Stan Barouh)
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In this undated image released by The Public Theater, Mike Daisey is shown in a scene from "The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," in New York. Daisey, whose latest show has been being credited with sparking probes into how Apple's high-tech devices are made, is finding himself under fire for distorting the truth. The public radio show “This American Life” retracted a story Friday, March 16, 2012, that it broadcast in January about what Daisey said he saw while visiting a factory in China where iPads and iPhones are made. (AP Photo/The Public Theater, Stan Barouh)

CHICAGO (AP) — An artist admitted Friday to taking shortcuts in crafting an often harrowing tale about Apple Inc.'s operations in China after the veracity of his one-man theatrical show was challenged by a public radio program that had based a broadcast on his work.

But writer Mike Daisey said he stands by his monologue and called what he does theater, and not journalism.

"It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity," Daisey said in a statement posted on his website.

Citing what he called "numerous fabrications," Ira Glass, the host of the popular public radio show "This American Life," said he could not vouch for the truth of a Jan. 6 broadcast excerpted from Daisey's critically acclaimed one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs."

Later Friday, The New York Times said it had removed a questionable paragraph from the online archive of an op-ed piece Daisey wrote for the newspaper in October.

Daisey also twisted the truth about his time in China during an interview with The Associated Press late last year. Paul Colford, a spokesman for the news cooperative, said the AP was reviewing its coverage of Daisey to determine what corrections will be necessary.

Daisey is currently performing at The Public Theater in New York, which issued a statement saying it stands by what it called "a powerful work of art."

"Mike is an artist, not a journalist," the statement said. "Nevertheless, we wish he had been more precise with us and our audiences about what was and wasn't his personal experience in the piece."

In his monologue, Daisey describes meeting very young workers who put in very long hours and were forced to do crippling, repetitive motions at factories that make Apple products in China. Some he claimed had been poisoned by a chemical called hexane.

But "This American Life" says a China correspondent for the public radio show "Marketplace" named Rob Schmitz located and interviewed Daisey's Chinese interpreter, who disputed much of the artist's claims.

Daisey, in an interview with Glass broadcast as part of Friday's episode of "The American Life," admitted that he didn't meet any poisoned workers and guessed at the ages of some of the workers he met.

"This American Life" said in its statement that staffers asked Daisey for his interpreter's contact information while fact-checking the story. Daisey replied the cellphone number he had for her didn't work anymore and he had no way to reach her.

"At that point, we should've killed the story," Glass said. "But other things Daisey told us about Apple's operations in China checked out, and we saw no reason to doubt him."

Apple has been rebutting Daisey's allegations for months, to little effect. The Times also wrote an investigative series in January on dangerous working and living conditions for people who make Apple products in China, including explosions inside factories making iPads where four people were killed and 77 were injured.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment Friday. Daisey spokesman Philip Rinaldi said Friday his client was "not speaking to anyone about this right now."

The original "This American Life" episode, "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory," has become the most popular podcast in the history of "This American Life" with nearly 890,000 downloads.

Daisey also claimed in an interview with AP late last year that he met Chinese workers whose joints in their hands had disintegrated because they were doing the same motion hundreds of thousands of times.

"I know that people in charge know about these things and chose not to address them. And that's hard to swallow when you see the damage it does and you know how little it would take to ameliorate a high degree of human suffering," he said then.

The Times, which published Daisey's op-ed piece following Steve Jobs' death in early October, removed a paragraph from the online version that discussed conditions at Apple's factory in China. The newspaper posted an editor's note warning readers that the section had been removed because "questions have been raised about the truth."

"The rest of the piece is his opinion as a performer and a thinker," said Eileen Murphy, a Times' spokeswoman. "If this were a news story it would be a different situation. It's not. It's an op-ed."

In his original monologue, Daisey splices Jobs career milestones and the transformation of Apple from a David into a Goliath with more personal stories about his own connection to the computer maker.

He has said that when he saw four photos posted online taken by workers at a Chinese factory to test the iPhone but mistakenly not erased, he suddenly realized people, not robots, were putting the sleek devices together.

In interviews and on stage, Daisey has said he traveled to the Chinese industrial zone of Shenzhen and interviewed hundreds of workers from Foxconn Technology Group, the world's largest electronics contract manufacturer, who suffered from their work.

"It's like carpal tunnel on a scale we can scarcely imagine," he said while performing the show in New York in October.

In this weekend's "This American Life," Daisey tells Glass he felt conflicted about presenting things that he knew weren't true. But he said he felt "trapped" and was afraid people would no longer care about the abuses at the factories if he didn't present things in a dramatic way.

"I'm not going to say that I didn't take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard," he tells Glass.

Daisey has performed the monologue for some 50,000 people from Seattle to Washington, D.C., and it is at The Public Theater until Sunday. Daisey was expected to take the show on tour, but its future is now in doubt.

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AP Drama Writer Mark Kennedy and Associated Press Business Writer Ryan Nakashima contributed to this report from New York.

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Online:

—http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/460/retraction

—http://mikedaisey.blogspot.com

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