NPR’s ombudsman on Friday’s interview with a white supremacist

Quick update to the ongoing analysis of NPR’s decision to provide an interview with Jason Kessler on Friday, the leader of last year’s violent march by white supremacists and this year’s fizzled march on Washington:

NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen has now posted her analysis.

She writes that critics of the interview often missed that NPR provided a week of stories reflecting on the year after the Charlottesville rally, in which a woman was run down by a white supremacist in his car, and two state troopers died in a helicopter crash.

Jensen says she doesn’t consider interviewing Kessler akin to giving him “a platform” for his views. “And there was no suggestion that this was simply another, alternative, legitimate point of view,” she wrote.

My conclusion: the interview was painful to hear; it had me yelling at the radio, as I know many others did. NPR’s audience is vast; it is still overwhelmingly white. Part of how one heard it may depend on how closely one has followed this story and whether one experiences that type of prejudice. There is no right answer here for everyone. I do think Kessler’s racism and general illogic came through, even in the absence of the more aggressive pushback some critics wanted, and NPR listeners are smart enough to hear that.

NPR has decided it will air these interviews. I am on the fence about whether they are necessary. But if NPR is going to go that route, it needs to strengthen its practices for a more responsible execution.

  • “NPR has decided it will air these interviews. I am on the fence about whether they are necessary. But if NPR is going to go that route, it needs to strengthen its practices for a more responsible execution.” Please. They are cheaper and easier to produce than genuine reportage. Let’s at least be honest about that.

  • Guest

    A bucket of sunshine thrown on his views is the best disinfectant. Once media decides what is repugnant, free speech tradition is a little smaller.

    • Editors have made decisions like this for years. The slogan is “All the news THAT’S FIT TO PRINT.”

      This notion that all speech must be amplified is traced directly to Internet comment capability and social media, both of which are fairly new and neither of which has elevated public discourse. Quite the opposite, actually.

  • Rob

    After a full week of coverage about Charlottesville/anniversary of Charlottesville, and the planned white supremacist march in Washington, NPR felt it needed even more coverage, in the form of the Kessler interview? Criminy sakes.