Abortion Debate II: How Fair was 'Tell Me More'?

Unhappy with my defense of how Tell Me More edited his interview, Ryan Bomberger, an abortion rights opponent, has used his foundation's blog to accuse NPR of censorship and lying.

Following his appearance July 18, the show's executive producer, Teshima Walker, sent an unhappy Bomberger, president of the Radiance Foundation, an email explaining the cuts. I cite the note, but Bomberger says he never got it. She forwarded me a copy of the sent email showing that it went out, and it has now been re-sent to him. I take Bomberger at his word that he didn't receive the original. Accusing people of lying doesn't advance the discussion much.

I stand by my opinion that the show's cuts were proper and fair. Bomberger himself notes that he got time equal to the abortion rights supporter who was also interviewed, though Bomberger didn't like that he was interrupted more often. Bomberger is especially upset about what was cut, which included his comments on the size of the salary of his opponent in the interview and on the existence of federally-funded Title X clinics that give out birth advice short of abortion.

I agreed with the show's producers that the salary matter was irrelevant. The Title X clinics are indeed worthy to report about, as indeed they have been on NPR and should be again. They just weren't the subject of this interview segment, which focused on abortions among African-Americans.

Mention of the clinics could still have been included, but the editors made a defensible judgment call on what to cut to keep the time equal between the two men and the segment within its time limit of roughly 13 minutes, which already was substantial. Both men got in very strong, well-explained points. I don't find what Bomberger calls "liberal bias" or "censorship" in the cuts that kept the discussion from going off in side directions.

Bomberger additionally has been demanding that NPR release the full tape of the interview. It won't and shouldn't.

It's not that there is anything to hide. Everyone agrees on what was cut. NPR, and the news media in general, does not release reporters' notes or uncut tapes on demand even in innocuous circumstances like this one because it would set a precedent that undermines the media's legal case to protect tapes and notes when doing more sensitive investigations.

Occasionally, NPR editors do voluntarily post online an extended version of an interview that they wished they had the time to run longer on air. Releasing the abortion interview with the two men would hardly seem voluntary now that the public demand has been made. Moreover, the deleted comments include the salary matter that NPR should not be party to publishing.

NPR can only ask for Bomberger's understanding. As it is, Bomberger has been making his lost points elsewhere anyway.

As for Bomberger's opinion of my biases and independence, he is welcome to believe and say what he wishes. I suggest, however, that he and you keep reading this space over time to see what they really are.

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