NPR Apologizes for “Misinformation” From Interview with Pro-Looting Author
We can’t really remember the last time Americans cared enough about NPR one way or the other to elevate the public radio network to controversy, but it certainly happened last week when NPR interviewed “In Defense of Looting” author Vicky Osterweil. The activist author inspired skepticism even from liberals and outright disgust from conservatives who think that maybe it’s not the greatest idea in the world to promote an author who wants to overthrow capitalism, abolish the idea of private property rights, and get rid of the police altogether.
In a newsletter this week, NPR Public Editor Kelly McBride partially owned up to the mistake of giving Osterweil access to the airwaves, apologizing to readers for allowing the spread of false information and for promoting an interview that didn’t “serve” fans of the network.
“The Code Switch team has a strong track record of presenting rigorous academic ideas that explain race, explore racial disparities and float interesting observations about social divisions,” McBride said. “So a book that explains looting, even defends it, seems like appropriate material. But in the interview, the author made several statements in support of her hypothesis that could be easily fact-checked.”
McBride said that while the piece will remain on the NPR website, it has been cleaned up with a new introduction that dispenses with some of the original language – much of which seemed to tacitly endorse the ideas that Osterweil is promoting.
“A new introduction was added to provide more context and prepare the reader to digest the author’s ideas,” she wrote. “Still, this failure to challenge this author’s statements is harmful on two levels. Publishing false information leaves the audience misinformed. On top of that, news consumers are watching closely to see who is challenged and who isn’t. In this case a book author with a radical point of view far to the left was allowed to spread false information. Casual observers might conclude that NPR is more interested in fact-checking conservative viewpoints than liberal viewpoints. Or possibly, that bias on the part of NPR staff interferes with their judgment when spotting suspect information.”
Read this sentence again: “Casual observers might conclude that NPR is more interested in fact-checking conservative viewpoints than liberal viewpoints.”
The changes made to the intro amount to small language changes that take some of the endorsement out of the interviewer’s tone.
For instance, whereas it used to read: “In the past months of demonstrations for Black lives, there has been a lot of hand-wringing about looting,” the new version changes “hand-wringing” into “condemnation.” It’s subtle, but it makes a difference, and we do appreciate NPR at least pretending to be an objective news organization for a day.
Still, when one thinks about the explosion of rage that would have greeted them if they’d interviewed someone who, say, wrote a book in defense of shooting looters, we can only muster faint praise at most.