I’ve been a long time fan of This American Life. I don’t listen to every episode but it’s safe to say I’ve listened to more than a hundred shows. This past weekend, I listened to the Retraction episode where Ira Glass apologizes for the piece they played about Mike Daisey and the Foxconn factory, a piece they now know to be full of incorrect information. Here is my reaction after listening to the episode: I love Ira Glass.
Of course the whole Mike Daisey issue is troubling — it was a mistake for This American Life to use his material — and the effect of Daisey’s words is profound (see John Gruber’s piece for an insightful elaboration) but what also struck me about this episode was the rarity of witnessing such a sincere apology (I’m talking about Ira Glass’s apology, not Mike Daisey’s quasi-apology), along with such a thoughtful and transparent assessment of how it went wrong. If you haven’t heard it yet, you should check it out.
Ira Glass begins the show like this:
I’m coming to you today to say something that I’ve never had to say on our program.
He then explains the situation. What they knew, where the fact checking worked, and where it fell through. He takes responsibility. He explains what they should have done. He apologizes. And then, the show goes into great detail about exactly what was true and what was fabricated. It’s pretty fascinating.
But then. He talks to Mike Daisey directly. Asks him why he did what he did. There are some pretty long uncomfortable silences while they speak that make you feel like maybe you shouldn’t be listening in on this conversation. And then Ira Glass says this to Mike Daisey:
I have such a weird mix of feelings about this, because I simultaneously feel terrible, for you, and also, I feel lied to. And also I stuck my neck out for you. You know I feel like, I feel like, like I vouched for you. With our audience. Based on your word.
Holy shit. How often does this happen? Such humanity in this moment. Even while Ira Glass has to go through this messy and damaging situation, he feels terrible for the dude. Even so, he keeps at it, doing what he feels should be done.
I’ve always enjoyed listening to This American Life (and Ira Glass). But after this episode, I appreciate the show (and the man) more than ever. We need more of this (and voices like his) in our world.