A defense of Steve Inskeep’s interview with David Duke

As expected, NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen heard plenty of reaction from NPR listeners about Steve Inskeep’s interview with white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke (“When should a racist get radio air time?”- NewsCut – Friday).

Inskeep said NPR interviewed Duke because his supporters are attracted to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“This man was given prime air time to discuss Jewish control of Hollywood and his atrocious views about minorities,” a listener, named Mona, wrote to Jensen. “Steve Inskeep was obviously exasperated but I find it completely wrong to air and give legitimacy to opinions like this. We do not need to act like it’s reasonable to hold opinions like David Duke’s. Airing them on Morning Edition grants that legitimacy.”

If you were waiting for a detailed analysis of the many ethical and journalistic questions surrounding the interview, however, you will likely be disappointed.

“My view: I thought the interview was well handled on all fronts,” was the extent of the decision.

“We knew that there would absolutely be a great number of folks who would hear this and be angry or offended,” Cara Tallo, Morning Edition’s deputy executive producer, told Jensen. “However, it felt important to represent this thread of conversation that is very real and present in this election cycle, whether we feel like it’s legitimate or reasonable or logical, at all.”

Hearing someone in their own words lets listeners draw their own conclusions, Tallo said, and someone with views so outside the mainstream is rarely heard from directly on NPR, she added. At the same time, producers felt it important in this case to add context from Inskeep, to correct or challenge some factual errors.

As for the charge from some that NPR was attempting to “smear” Trump, Tallo said: “We were trying to provide insight into a group of people that has been very vocally supportive of Donald Trump and I do feel we were very clear about Trump’s statements disavowing them.”

What sort of useful “insight” can we get from a white supremacist that we didn’t already have?

Commenters of NewsCut, bless their hearts, provided a much more interesting perspective on where Duke and his ilk fit in today’s news cycle.

They pointed out, for example, that while while the older demographic knows about the Klan and people like Duke, there’s a normalcy to today’s racial tensions as it fits political discourse that is revealed to a younger audience by virtue of interviews like this.