Yesterday, beloved public radio institution This American Life said it was retracting its popular segment about the horrid working conditions at Apple factories in China producing various iProduct. The program was centered around the work of monologuist Mike Daisey, whose latest piece, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, "illuminates how the CEO of Apple and his obsessions shape our lives, while sharing stories of his own travels to China to investigate the factories where millions toil to make iPhones and iPods." But TAL executive producer and host Ira Glass explained that Daisey lied to him and the TAL staff, about small and big things (like meeting a 13-year-old worker, showing a worker a completed iPad for the first time). Still, in the edition of This American Life that aired yesterday, Glass ended the program by discussing the labor issues at the factories with NY Times reporter Charles Duhigg, who says, "What has happened today is that rather than exporting that standard of life, which is within our capacity to do, we have exported harsh working conditions to another nation."
You can read a transcript of the program, too (PDF), where issues with Daisey's "storytelling" are outlined. A friend of Daisey's told The Daily Beast, "One of his weaknesses is his sanctimoniousness. That's true with most artists. Most playwrights don't like to see other people's plays, most writers are not kind of about other people's writing. Mike has made himself an easy target because he can't keep his mouth shut. He got really excited about the press. He didn't think what the consequences would be of writing an op-ed piece in The New York Times. He didn’t think about what it would mean to be quoted constantly about Apple. He just kept going."
Daisey himself told Glass, "Everything I have done in making this monologue for the theater has been toward that end—to make people care. 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. My mistake, the mistake that I truly regret is that I had it on your show as journalism and it’s not journalism. It’s theater. I use the tools of theater and memoir to achieve its dramatic arc and of that arc and of that work I am very proud because I think it made you care, Ira, and I think it made you want to delve. And my hope is that it makes—has made—other people delve."
Times reporters Duhigg and David Barboza detailed the troubling issues at Apple factories in China in the series, The iEconomy. Duhigg and Glass discussed the very real labor conditions that would be troubling to Americans, the financial implications of Apple's decisions (and why suppliers bend over backwards to cede to Apple's demands) and whether people should feel bad:
Duhigg: So should you feel bad that someone is working 12 to 24 hours a day in order to produce the iPhone that you're carrying in your pocket—
Ira Glass: Well, now like, when you say it like that, suddenly I feel bad again, but okay, yeah. [laughter]
Charles Duhigg: I don't know whether you should feel bad, right? I mean—
Ira Glass: But, but finish your thought.
Charles Duhigg: Should you feel bad about that? I don't know, that's for you to judge, but I think the the way to pose that question is… do you feel comfortable knowing that iPhones and iPads and, and other products could be manufactured in less harsh conditions, but that these harsh conditions and perpetuate because of an economy that you are—
Ira Glass: Right.
Charles Duhigg: —supporting with your dollars.
Ira Glass: Right. I am the direct beneficiary of those harsh conditions.
Charles Duhigg: You're not only the direct beneficiary; you are actually one of the reasons why it exists. If you made different choices, if you demanded different conditions, if you demanded that other people enjoy the same work protections that you yourself enjoy, then, then those conditions would be different overseas.