When public radio goes bad

Last Friday, NPR’s All Things Considered aired its usual letters segment and many listeners complained that a five-minute segment on Mel Gibson’s latest transgressions was about five minutes too long. But NPR did not respond to the criticism that questioned whether public radio still stands for what public radio once stood for — smart information that can exercise the brain muscle.

Today, All Things Considered’s executive producer responded by way of a post by the NPR ombudsman. As they say on radio, we caution that what follows might be considered offensive to old-time public radio fans:

The Mel Gibson story is totally defensible,” said Christopher Turpin, ATC’s executive producer. “To me Mel Gibson is a huge international star. It’s a story that everyone is talking about. I was in the coffee shop and what were people talking about in line? They were talking about Mel Gibson. So I don’t think we can pretend these things don’t happen. I think because there’s a huge amount of business involved, there are very interesting questions about the entertainment industry, what happens to celebrities when their personality or character is undermined by their personal behavior.”

“Good,” as the man once said, “grief.”

Fortunately, Alicia Shepard, NPR’s ombudsman doesn’t let her employer off lightly:

While I understand that NPR programs struggle to find the right balance between serious news and tapping into the zeitgeist in the story of the moment, I agree with many who complained that NPR could have skipped this story and lost nothing. After all, NPR has built its reputation on in-depth reporting of important news and arts and entertainment coverage that rises above the ordinary.

Listeners generally do not turn their dials to public radio for the kind of gossip featured at the grocery store check-out counter. At the very least, if ATC really believed this story deserved airtime, something less than 4 minutes and 31 seconds would have done the job.