Breaking: 'This American Life' Retracts Apple-Foxconn Expose

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Mitch Wagner
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Too good a story to be true
Mitch Wagner   3/16/2012 5:27:39 PM
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Apple blogger John Gruber writes at his blog Daring Fireball that Daisey's stories "set off my spidey sense:" "one guy claiming things that no one else was claiming or reporting, all uncovered during a single six-day trip to China by a man who doesn't speak Chinese and with no prior investigative reporting experience. Ends up my spidey sense was right: Daisey made it up."

And so we see history already being rewritten, because Daisey was not the only person reporting these things; as noted in my blog post above, human rights organizations reported the same things, as did the New York Times (IIRC) a short time after the Daisey report aired on TAL. 

Time.com's TV blogger James Poniewozik: This American Life's Apple Retraction: The Danger of Truthiness. Poniewozik rips Daisey's defense: This is not David Sedaris doctoring a quirky anecdote about his family. For Daisey to shrug this off as simply a poor choice of venue is willfully naive at best."

Poniewozik goes on to say that even if you buy Daisey's justification that he was going for the larger truth, that larger truth -- the other investigations corroborating Daisey -- "risk being tarred by a false 'larger truth' created by Daisey's exposure."

Poniewozik's language is similar to my own in describing how this will play to the masses:


We've seen this happen before when journalistic outlets have cut corners in their reporting on legitimate stories. The scandal is what makes the biggest splash, and no matter how many well-researched 5,000-word exposes anyone else does, the takeaway among the general audience, half-following this and dozens of other stories at home could end up being: "What, that thing about the exploited iPad workers in China? Didn't they find out that was a hoax or something?"


Ellis Booker
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A small win for Team Booker. Daisey just admitted that his too-perfect anecdote about the injured, claw-handed Foxconn worker stroking an iPad could not be verified. I knew it! 

On the other end, the broadcaster, Ira Glass of NPR's "This American Life," just said on air that he screwed up by allowing a story in which a major piece (Daisey's translator) couldn't be reached to verify Daisey's accounts.

All this underscores a simple fact: A compelling lie in the hands of a compelling lier sometimes can defeat a fact-checking process. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and lots of others have been tricked in the past, and will be tricked in the future. Sh*t happens. 

 

WaqasAltaf
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Damage done
WaqasAltaf   3/17/2012 10:35:53 AM
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No matter what is said about the genuineness of allegations; the level of coverage the Foxconn issue got on the internet will be higher than the coverage received for the news questioning the claims made. The only thing Apple might consider is suing the reporters suspected guilty in defamatory law suit and restore some lost respect. One thing is for sure that the power of social media and other internet-based platforms have been verified and every company now needs to realize that sooner or later all their unethical activities esp providing dismal HR working conditions will be exposed. The current news about publishing of the exit letters from Goldmansachs is an example.  

nasimson
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Re: Damage done
nasimson   3/18/2012 9:44:57 AM
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@waqas, I agree that social media has that power. But this power would be best utilized if the users keep the topic alive on social forums, making the trend so active that companies are bound to take notice. For such a movement, a major impetus is required which I have not seen as far as this story is concerned.

WaqasAltaf
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Re: Damage done
WaqasAltaf   3/19/2012 9:11:09 AM
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@nasimson

The sad part about all such stands against injustice is that people seem to forget too often. However, we can hope that people remain focused on identifying companies that are busy in violating labour laws and other unethical activities. The more we see investigative journalism adopting social media, the more we will see companies getting careful in their activities.   

nasimson
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Re: Damage done
nasimson   3/19/2012 2:02:31 PM
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@Waqas, You're right! Social media can be very well used to further various causes and responsible journalism through the use of social media can help bring usch issues to light and raise awareness for a solution. Though we are far from it right now, but eventually such movements can take root as the reach and impact of online media is unlimiting.

Mitch Wagner
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Re: Damage done
Mitch Wagner   3/19/2012 12:22:54 AM
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WaqasAltaf - I don't know that Apple has standing to sue. Individuals can be libeled, but not brands. On the other hand, I am not a lawyer -- but I've never heard of an American company succeeding in such a lawsuit in American courts. 

kicheko
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Re: Damage done
kicheko   3/19/2012 5:25:14 AM
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Indeed life is a soap opera....now a retraction? well this could buy apple some time, but for the sceptic that is the consumer out there today, it may not cut it yet. One, there are corroborating reports like you mentioned. I'm not saying i think the guy was bought to retract his story, but i wouldn't rule out the possibility either.

Secondly this has created an opening for research, someone's going to go out there to dig out the truth. Apple may rest now but if the story is true, they know it and they better not get too comfy yet.

WaqasAltaf
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Re: Damage done
WaqasAltaf   3/19/2012 9:37:19 AM
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this has created an opening for research, someone's going to go out there to dig out the truth."

@ Kicheko

Not only Apple but I think all the organizations that have some untold stories that could rule them out as "bad guyz" will be thinking that they may be next. I hope this trend doesnt stop as it is for the good of humankind and it may force corporations to learn and realize that profits from business need to be shared with all who dropped their sweat.  

sohaibmasood
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As per the Human Right organizations, working conditions in China are awful and we have seen this news more than once. If that is the case then I have a fundamental question. Are we willing to give up buying these gadgets? Because the only thing that will make things better is if consumers protest against using products that have been made in hazardous working conditions. 

Else, the demand will continue to surge and the products will be made in the same awful working conditions. 

 

nasimson
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@sohaib, do the majority of the consumers really care where are the parts coming from? All they care is they get the best quality in the minimum possible price. The issue of workplace conditions is one to be raised at larger platforms which have influence over the regulatory bodies and major industry players in order for them to comply.

AliceAMM
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Will consumers stop buying Apple products because of this? Highly doubtful. Look at how many buy pirated music and videos because of price. I'm not so sure our collective social conscious is strong enough to disrupt the power of Apple.

sohaibmasood
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@AliceAMM: I agree with you that it is highly unlikely consumers will stop buying Apple or any other brand they love because of hazardous conditions at the manufacturing sites. But unless we have strong legislation and/or high consumer sentiment about it things will not change. 

Dwhite706
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It's a case off out of site out of mind. The abuse is not happening in American factories but thousands of miles away. I'm sure the electronics industry and the governments of the US and china spend a lot of time and money keeping these issues under the radar

sohaibmasood
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@nasimson, Exactly, we as consumers don't care if the products are made in hazardous conditions or not. We only care about the brands we love and how go get them cheaply. That is why I said, we have a role in this too.

And yes I am up for regulations or legislation that will make things better for the workers. But I have serious concerns if they could be made in the developing nations. 

nasimson
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@Sohaib, you're right. I've seen a lot of HR laws and policies formulated in our country, but are they implemented in most of the places? I doubt. However, if the developed countries manage to regulate the big companies, I'm sure the effect will trickle down as well.

Dwhite706
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I think this will have little to know impact on the apple brand

nasimson
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I'm amazed that the story was not investigated sufficiently before broadcast and am disappointed at how real issues are swept under the carpet so quickly due to irresponsible journalism. It's not about any brand, the malpractices do need to be investigated and regulated and rectified as best as they can. I hope there are associations taking note of it and raising the issue at the right platforms where someone does take responsibility for it.

John Barnes
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Another note for the future
John Barnes   3/19/2012 11:00:05 AM
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This American Life was essentially fooled by a performance artist who, like many perfornance artists I have known, has a different concept of "Facts" and "Truth" than those of the stricter world of journalism.  Today ,the distinction is visible, real, and meaningful, but it might not be in another generation; the recent career of Andrew Breitbart, or the older one of Hunter Thompson, shows how perfornance art and journalism can overlap and fuse.  Like it or not,  eventually "what it could look like" may well overtake "what could be proven" (as it has in many areas of corporate life).

Mitch Wagner
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This American Life was a plum target for being taken in in this fashion because they essentially do two different kinds of stories: Personal memoirs, where a certain amount of embellishment is perfectly appropriate. We all know that David Sedaris's life probably bears only a little bit of resemblence to the stories he tells, and we don't really care, because that's not the point. 

More recently, This American Life has been doing real journalism, where strict adherence to the fact in every detail is mandatory. Even the smallest error of fact undermines the credibility of that kind of story. 

The Apple story was both kinds of story -- a personal memoir by a man describing how he went on a project of real journalism. 

John Barnes
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Re: Another note for the future
John Barnes   3/19/2012 11:15:41 AM
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Mitch, I think your explanation is dead on for the present day.  But around the corner, in the future, it's by no means clear that the distinctions it relies on will be meaningful to anyone.

Mitch Wagner
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John - The distinction between fact and fiction is blurring?

John Barnes
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Oh, it's always been blurring -- and sharpening.  That's what a contested distinction is.  The distinction between people who are supposed to preserve the distinction (e.g. reporters), and people who are supposed to blur it (e.g. entertainers) is what's blurring.

Mitch Wagner
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Reporters becoming more like entertainers? Oh, yes. A prime example would be all the celebrity gossip and reality-show updates that pass for news nowadays. 

As for entertainers becoming more like journalists, the prime examples there are Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Rush Limbaugh.

nasimson
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Re: Another note for the future
nasimson   3/20/2012 2:43:50 PM
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@John, I agree with you. With the rapid advent of media during recent times, the distinction has surely blurred. It's quite evident from the way news are presented over here now and talk shows conducted. Every media person has or pretends to have become investigative, and yet every media person tries to add entertainment value to retain and increase viewership.

John Barnes
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The problem is that everything matters  and nobody's serious.  This is not a sustainable way to deal with news and policy.

Mitch Wagner
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Shows like The Daily Show and Colbert Report are terrific, but they also contribute to an environment where everything is and should be held up to ridicule. 

John Barnes
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Ridicule can be a perfectly serious activity.  We Americans have had some presidents who have been little better than drooling cretins, for example, and forcing people to acknowledge it via laughter is about as serious a function as you can have.  Aristophanes was primarily a political commentator -- the main voice of the conservative democrats (as opposed to the pro-aristocratic pro-Sparta conservatives and the radical demagogues) of ancient Athens, and funny as his stuff was, its purpose is clear in every line -- he was to bring down the people he thought were menaces to his country.  Bastiat even managed to be, of all things, an economic humorist (while also being the most effective free-marketer of his day in French politics). 

It's not the laughter but the absence of seriousness that is the problem.  Discrediting and humiliating people in power, or people trying to attain power, is a serious purpose. Encouraging everyone to stay home on the couch, being above it all and feeling smugly superior, is not.

Mitch Wagner
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John Barnes - Encouraging everyone to stay home on the couch, being above it all and feeling smugly superior, is not.

That's the danger. Both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are very serious programs, in the manner you describe. And studies show people who rely on them for news are actually better-informed than people who rely on some other, more mainstream channels. 

However, the problem with those shows is that they reduce the universe into people being ridiculed, and people doing the ridiculing. Everything that doesn't fit into one of those two categories is invisible, it doesn't exist. 

As I'm sure you're already aware, writers love to be on the Colbert Report. He's like Oprah in his ability to make sales for books. And writers get coached on how to be on his show. Basically, a writer will be on for three minutes (or about that), will be able to spend about 30 seconds to a minute talking seriously about his book, and then for the rest of the time the writer is going to just sit there and be a target for Colbert's ridicule. The best course for the writer is to just smile and nod during that part, occasionally throwing out comments which Colbert will pounce on.

None of this is the fault of either Colbert or Stewart, who are doing great work. It's other forms of journalism that are lacking. 

nasimson
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In bigger perspective
nasimson   5/20/2012 11:59:08 PM
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I think we have come to a sorry state of affairs where most serious of the news is ridiculed & made fun of. People then tend to take serious issues lightly. And this is not good for the future of society. Some of these issues that we enjoy today will haunt our future generations.



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