Retraction

This American Life are this week dedicating an entire episode to retracting their earlier episode “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” (an episode that became the most popular podcast in their history).

Ira writes:

I have difficult news. We’ve learned that Mike Daisey’s story about Apple in China – which we broadcast in January – contained significant fabrications. We’re retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey’s acclaimed one-man show “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.

Mike Daisey has employed the ‘I’m not a journalist‘ defence: “My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it’s not journalism. It’s theater.”

The blame really does lie with the journalistic entity though, and in dedicating literally a whole episode of This American Life to apologising for and explaining their mistake, they will surely not lose, but gain trust and respect.

Compare that with the New York Times who have retracted the following untrue paragraph from their story ‘Against Nostalgia‘:

I have traveled to southern China and interviewed workers employed in the production of electronics. I spoke with a man whose right hand was permanently curled into a claw from being smashed in a metal press at Foxconn, where he worked assembling Apple laptops and iPads. I showed him my iPad, and he gasped because he’d never seen one turned on. He stroked the screen and marveled at the icons sliding back and forth, the Apple attention to detail in every pixel. He told my translator, “It’s a kind of magic.”

…And added the following note to the start of the article:

Editor’s Note: Questions have been raised about the truth of a paragraph in the original version of this article that purported to talk about conditions at Apple’s factory in China. That paragraph has been removed from this version of the article.

I don’t understand how an entity like the New York Times can take so little ownership of their error. Instead of saying ‘questions have been raised’ the retraction should read ‘the author of this article has admitted fabricating a key detail’. There is no archived version of the unedited story or detailed explanation of what error the article used to contain, or how the mistake got through their fact checking process in the first place.

Every news CMS should maintain an article history that can be referenced, like Wikipedia’s edit history diff view. Accountability needs to be baked in.

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