“This American Life” retracts major story about Apple

One of the top journalists in public radio, Ira Glass, has announced that This American Life is retracting a major story about ethical manufacturing in China.

“We’re retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth,” Glass said in a statement, asserting that the producer of the piece, Mike Daisey, lied to the show during fact-checking.

“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. That doesn’t excuse the fact that we never should’ve put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.”

A major stumble for a great American news program.

As a reporter, though, here’s what I find interesting.  Glass is devoting this weekend’s program (which airs on NCPR Sunday at 11 am, with a repeat on Fridays) to exploring their own inaccuracy, their own journalistic fumble.

Which gets at, in my view, the fundamental aspect of journalism that many people (including far too many reporters and editors) don’t understand.

We will make mistakes.  We will get facts wrong.  We will, on occasion, screw up mightily.  I’ve done all these things.

The test of a news organization’s mettle is in the honesty and forthrightness of the correction.  That’s the acid test.  Do you have the guts and the integrity to admit that you screwed up?

Do you look over your editorial practices to find out how to avoid similar mistakes in the future?  Do you make things right with the people whose stories you got wrong?

So far, Ira Glass is doing the right things.  We’ll find out on Sunday whether his mea culpa sets the record straight.

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8 Comments on ““This American Life” retracts major story about Apple”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    Will be interesting to learn what they got wrong.
    One thing is certain, in my view, Apple is a rip off artist when it comes to a new “same thing” every few months.
    If you simply must have the latest iphone of ipad, go for it but none are equal to a computer.

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  2. Pete Klein says:

    I should have said “PC computer” as opposed to an Apple computer because Apple charges to darn much for everything.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  3. Jonathan says:

    Mike Daisey – the guy who narrated the piece on TAL – defended his work today, saying, “My show is a theatrical piece. … What I do is not journalism.”

    This would pretty much put the blame on Ira Glass for the “fabrication” aired on TAL.

    But Glass says he was misled by Daisey.

    So, already, we’re hearing conflicting versions. This upcoming episode of TAL should be interesting.

    Maybe a little like Oprah confronting author James Frey?

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  4. jeff says:

    I am reminded of the last book versions of Encyclopedia Britannica going out the door. Fact checking and editing are important to journalism and research and the reason I object when so many people cite Wikopedia and many people who gloat over newspapers (perhaps more prcisely news gathering and reporting organizations) going out of business. Inaccurate information is as good as il-education.

    I hope Ira clears the air.

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  5. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I seem to remember EVERY SINGLE major media outlet NPR, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, AP, the NY Times, Wall Street Journal (I could go on for a VERY long time) telling me that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. They showed me elaborate graphics of mobile chemical weapons labs that DID NOT exist. They told elaborate stories about how Jessica Lynch fired her automatic weapon until the gun got too hot to hold in an attempt to save her unit from capture.

    I heard about the heroism of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. I heard retired Generals tell me that Russia was on Afghanistan’s border (in 2001) and that we had Osama bin Laden trapped in Tora Bora, and then that he was hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan near death from kidney disease.

    NPR itself ran a report recently that said the Dow Jones average is meaningless information on a day to day or even week to week basis–and yet they still give you that information hourly!

    Anyone who listens to the news without the understanding that much of what you hear and read is propaganda is either brainwashed, naive, or a fool.

    Right this very moment the media is working overtime to spread propaganda about this Sargent who killed 16 innocent people in Afghanistan.

    Major media rarely prints retractions or makes any serious attempt to correct their errors because they don’t have the time or space to get it all right. Their reporters are too busy getting new stuff wrong to correct the old.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  6. Mervel says:

    I basically agree.

    Also the form of media has changed so much that objective truth is not that relevant. Once its out there it becomes its own truth, its own story. A retraction would not change anything it would be ignored.

    Consider apple, I think right now most people have heard that they have this horrible manufacturing set up in China, the “dark side” of Apple. This is the truth that is out there, retractions about what exactly is really happening in China with apple manufacturing won’t make any difference.

    I like Ira Glass and I think he will do an interesting piece on how this happened how journalism works in this regard and how his show worked or didn’t work. But from a public view, the retractions are meaningless.

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  7. Mervel says:

    I listened to the program, what did people think? I liked it; it was very interesting, I loved the long long pauses that they just let sit there while Daisey tried to couch his answer, they were long enough that I thought I had lost the station, it was great radio.

    The interesting thing is the guy in the end was still very self rightous, his main problem from his point of view being that he let Ira run the show, not the material itself, which was a lie, but I don’t know if he knows the difference between lies and truth and what he was doing?

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  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Once again This American Life does a superb job of dealing with a difficult topic — only this time it’s personal. (Insert dramatic music)

    I wonder just how much journalism gets this sort of treatment? I often hear stories that just don’t ring true coming from foreign countries and I think they might get past editors and producers because they don’t really know the place or culture very well. Or maybe the reporter doesn’t understand the culture they are reporting well enough to understand the nuance of the story they are reporting.

    For instance, I heard a story on Fresh Air once where a woman was being mis-translated. The translation wasn’t egregiously wrong but it was apparent that the translator wasn’t familiar enough with the culture to do a proper job. I emailed Fresh Air about it. Never heard back from them. I’m guessing that my complaint didn’t fit with their preconceived idea of the issue.

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