Examining NPR

NPR’s ombudsman opened a can of worms last week when she wrote about NPR’s rejection of underwriting announcements for Harry Shearer’s documentary, “The Big Uneasy,” ostensibly because the original wording formed a person’s opinion, not matters of fact.

Shearer has been participating in a conversation in the comments section of a post I wrote about the controversy last week, and it’s pretty clear that I should’ve gone into greater detail on the issue, since it involves an alleged lack of aggressiveness on the part of NPR toward the cause of the flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

Yesterday, Shearer provided e-mails showing that he had accepted NPR’s proposed wording for an announcement in support of his investigative documentary, contrary to the NPR ombudsman’s account of the controversy.

“While the ombud frames the debate over acceptable language in the underwriting announcement as he said/he said, I supplied her with a copy of my email accepting the edit NPR Legal says they proposed,” Shearer wrote.

The controversy also asserts that NPR News has had an aversion to investigating the Katrina story. Shearer has company. A reporter for Southern California Public Radio (disclaimer: SCPR is part of the American Public Media “family”), writes that she tried to give NPR her investigation into the causes of the Katrina disaster. It passed.


It is not generally speaking the custom of the station-based public radio reporter to out their inner workings with freelance pitches, particularly to NPR. I’ll make an exception to say that NPR was offered these pieces, or segments thereof, or a conversation about them. The message I received was that they had their own coverage plans, and anyway, there had been enough about Katrina around that ‘versary. (In those moments, the frustration of the local reporter knows no bounds: I lived in New Orleans after Katrina, and with Eve Troeh, now at Marketplace, I grew so restless with people coming in and telling us how it is that we decided to tell people how it was for us, for residents, not parachutists. I’ve also been on the other side of the equation, working at NPR.)

(Note: Shearer is also participating in a discussion in the comments section of the above post.)

NPR gets a lot of credit — to a degree, understandably so — for its innovative use of social networking. But in the aftermath of the NPR’s ombudsman’s original post on Shearer’s complaint, all of the principals involved are online discussing it in the open. Except one.

  • Sanpete

    Yesterday, Shearer provided e-mails showing that he had accepted NPR’s proposed wording for an announcement in support of his investigative documentary, contrary to the NPR ombudsman’s account of the controversy.

    Not exactly. Shearer provided an email showing he had given to someone at NPR (not accepted from NPR) wording substantially equivalent to what the Ombudsman later suggested would have been acceptable to everyone. It isn’t clear yet why that text wasn’t used; it appears it wasn’t even responded to by NPR Legal, who seem to have been unaware of it. It seems the Ombudsman also overlooked it, based on Shearer’s statement that he sent her a copy. Possibly that’s because it fell outside the main discussion between Shearer and NPR Legal, but that’s just speculation on my part, not knowing whom at NPR the email was addressed to.

    “all of the principals involved are online discussing it in the open. Except one.”

    It’s a weekend. Maybe more will come from NPR during the week.

  • mike mudge

    Is it time to do a NPR watch on this organization?