One common problem with journalistic errors is that it’s rare for a correction to get as much attention as the original mistake. The screwup goes viral; the mea culpa is a footnote.
But that wasn’t the case with the stunning, sometimes excruciating retraction of Mike Daisey’s partially fabricated This American Life story about working conditions in the Chinese factories that supply Apple products. The hour-long correction attracted more online listeners in its first week than any episode in the program’s history — including the original Daisey show back in January, which previously held the record.
Some 891,474 people have podcasted or streamed Episode 460, titled simply “Retraction,” according to production manager Seth Lind.
Daisey’s original story remains, for now at least, the most listened-to episode in the show’s online history, but it had about two months after its air date to keep gathering listeners. That episode was “the single most popular podcast in This American Life’s history, with 888,000 downloads (typically the number is 750,000) and 206,000 [subsequent] streams to date,” according to a March 16 statement. (This American Life also has about 1.8 million radio listeners a week.)
The audio of the January story has since been removed from the TAL website. (
You can still hear it here.) This American Life’s hourlong retraction is no longer available for free download — downloads of all episodes are disabled after one week — but it is still available for streaming on the TAL website and in its mobile apps.
Daisey apologized again yesterday, saying he let down journalists, human-rights workers, and the theater community. “When I said onstage that I had personally experienced things I in fact did not, I failed to honor the contract I’d established with my audiences over many years and many shows,” Daisey wrote. “In doing so, I not only violated their trust, I also made worse art.”