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Pick of the Week: This American Life – Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory

January 15, 2012
This American Life – Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory
Podcast release date: January 8, 2012
Host: Ira Glass
Time: 1:02:43

Podcast (Audio is no longer available on the This American Life website.)
UPDATE: This American Life retracted this story on March 16, 2012, after they found out that parts of Mike Daisey’s story weren’t true. That week, they devoted an entire episode (“Retraction”) to examining the untruths in his story and the truths about working conditions at Foxconn. “Retraction” includes interviews with Mike Daisey, his translator Cathy Lee, and New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg. I’ve crossed out some of the major fabrications from Mike Daisey’s story in my post below.

Ira Glass has a knack for recognizing good stories and storytellers and bringing them to the radio. This week’s episode features an excerpt from Mike’s Daisey’s monologue ‘Steve Jobs: The Agony and the Ecstasy.’


Ira Glass opens the show with a short interview with Siri on an iPhone 4S before introducing Mike Daisey’s story. Mike Daisey, an Apple aficionado, starts asking questions about how iPhones and other Apple products are made when he sees iPhone test photos taken in the factory before the phone shipped. His curiosity takes him to Shenzhen, China, where he talks to the workers and visits factories like Foxconn that produce these products with the help of his translator, Cathy. Frequently, the translator fades into the background of a story, but Cathy (not her real name) plays an important role in this story. She seems as surprised as Mike Daisey at the stories the factory workers tell them. They talk to workers who are underage (one worker is 13), workers who have repetitive stress injuries, and workers who have been exposed to dangerous chemicals like n-hexane. The workers work 12 hour shifts that can increase to 16 or 18 hour shifts if demand for the products increases. Mike Daisey is an exceptional story teller, and I like the way he varies the pace of the story to build suspense. After his story, Ira Glass interviews more people about the factories in Shenzhen to help check the facts of the story and also talks to Mike Daisey about his experience.

If you like the podcast, I’d recommend visiting the This American Life blogs associated with this episode. Mike Daisey discusses the process and challenges of adapting a two hour monologue performed to an audience of hundreds to a 39 minute story for radio, a more intimate setting with an audience of one, in a This American Life blog entry (“Behind the Scenes with Mike Daisey”).

The week after this show aired, This American Life included Apple’s response to the issues raised in this program on their blog.  Apple released a list of companies that build it’s products and plans to allow an independent third party (the Fair Labor Association) to oversee factory inspections and make the results public. The blog also includes Mike Daisey’s response to these changes.

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