NYT’s Apple Debate Factcheck, Without Facts

If Arthur Brisbane wants the Times to consider becoming factchecking ‘truth vigilantes,” this is hopefully not what he had in mind.

At last night’s Republican debate (1/19/12), CNN host John King asked the candidates how they would convince a corporation like Apple to employ more workers in the United States:

It employs about 500,000 people in China. It is based in the United States, has some employees here, about 40-something thousand, I think 46,000. Most of them in retail stores and at the headquarters. 500,000 of them are in China. As a president of the United States, what do you do about that?

The candidates gave the answers you might expect–Santorum advocated for cutting the corporate tax rate to zero, Ron Paul thought the this situation might be partly due to “the union problem.”

It’s the kind of exchange that’s rather difficult to factcheck; it’s a political argument more than anything else. But the Times thought a factcheck could be found in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, where the late Apple CEO explained his decision to manufacture in China:

At a dinner party in Silicon Valley, Mr. Jobs told the president that the company needed 30,000 engineers to support those factory workers.

“You can’t find that many in America to hire,” Mr. Jobs said.

Mr. Isaacson wrote: “These factory engineers did not have to be PhDs or geniuses; they simply needed to have basic engineering skills for manufacturing. Tech schools, community colleges or trade schools could train them.”

“If you could educate these engineers,” Mr. Jobs said, “we could move more manufacturing plants here.”

Not taxes. Not regulation. Education.

Of course the justification that a CEO uses to take advantage of much cheaper labor available in China is going to sound something like this. It’s highly unlikely that Apple could not possibly find thousands of community college-trained workers in the United States.

If you really want to know why Steve Jobs liked manufacturing in China, the Huffington Post singled out a different answer from Isaacson’s book

Jobs described the ease with which companies can build factories in China compared to the United States, where “regulations and unnecessary costs” make it difficult for them.

If you want to know why Apple does what it does, Steve Jobs might not be the best source. You could ask one of the company’s critics, like Mike Daisey. A recent Times review of Daisey’s recent Steve Jobs monologue revealed this about Daisey’s research into Apple’s Chinese manufacturers:

While the official Chinese workday is eight hours, the norm at Foxconn is more like 12 and even longer when the introduction of a product is at hand. One worker died after a 34-hour shift. Some of the workers he meets are as young as 13, and because of the repetitive nature of the labor, their hands often become deformed and useless within a decade, rendering them unemployable.

It doesn’t sound like the substandard American educational system explains Apple’s corporate philosophy. But it’s apparently what the Times believes, because Steve Jobs once said so.

On March 16, 2012, the public radio show Marketplace exposed major elements of Mike Daisey’s account of his investigation of the Foxconn manufacturing plant to be fabricated and/or conflated, and This American Life retracted its report that featured Daisey as its main source. The descriptions of meeting with underaged workers and a worker with a disabled hand appear to be among the parts of his story that Daisey made up.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.