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'This American Life' retracts damning report on Apple manufacturer Foxconn

An episode of the popular weekly radio program "This American Life" that painted a damaging picture of life for employees at factories that make Apple products in China contained "significant fabrications," the show said Friday.

"We're horrified to have let something like this onto public radio," Ira Glass, the public radio show's executive producer and host, said in a blog post. "Our program adheres to the same journalistic standards as the other national shows, and in this case, we did not live up to those standards."


The program retracted the Jan. 6 piece that is believed to have started the recent spate of articles examining Apple manufacturer Foxconn.

The 39-minute piece received 888,000 downloads and became its most popular podcast, according to the show. The story detailed what it said were extremely poor working conditions of Chinese workers making products such as iPhones and iPads at factories owned by a company called Foxconn, which also manufactures products for other electronics giants.

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The piece vaulted Mike Daisey into the role of Apple's chief critic, the post on NPR.org said, and also inspired a Change.org petition that collected more than 250,000 signatures demanding that Apple better the working conditions at the factories. According to the statement, the program did not commission the piece, but grabbed it from Daisey's one-man performance, "The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs."

In a press release, the show said it first learned Daisey had fabricated parts of his story when the public radio program "Marketplace" tracked down Daisey's interpreter, who disputed parts of Daisey's monologue.

"Daisey lied to me and to 'This American Life' producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast," Glass said. "That doesn't excuse the fact that we never should've put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake." 'This American Life' will devote its entire program this weekend to detailing the errors in the story," the press release said.

During fact checking before the broadcast of Daisey's story, staffers asked Daisey for this interpreter's contact information. According to the press release, Daisey told them her cell phone didn't work and provided an incorrect name. He said 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. We didn't think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story. That was a mistake."

The New York Times also documented the cramped living conditions of Foxconn employees, as well as excessive hours on the job and seven-day workweeks in which employees stand for hours without break. The article included reports of underage employees and workers exposed to deadly chemicals used to build and clean Apple products, documented deadly accidents at the plant and included damning quotes about Apple's ambivalence about working conditions. Other published accounts reported worker suicides at the plant, as well as the very low pay -- $1.78 an hour, according to another report by Business Insider.

According to the press release, Daisey's interpreter,  Li Guifen (who goes by the name Cathy Lee professionally when working with westerners) disputed two of the most dramatic moments in Daisey's story: his meeting with underage workers at Foxconn and his reporting on a man with a mangled hand that he allegedly injured at Foxconn making iPads.

In the show airing this weekend, Daisey apologizes for the misrepresentations, according to the press release.

"It was completely wrong for me to have it on your show," he is quoted as telling Glass, "and that's something I deeply regret." He also expressed his regret to "the people who are listening, the audience of 'This American Life,' who know that it is a journalism enterprise, if they feel betrayed."

This article includes reporting by msnbc.com's Becky Bratu.

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