NPR Ombudsman

NPR Ombudsman
 

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Anyone who listens to NPR and to its Planet Money podcasts, in particular, has by now heard the familiar Ally Bank funding credit or seen the bank's ad on npr.org.

"Ally Bank, committed to straightforward banking, including customer service with a real human being 24/7," is one of two credits that have rotated through NPR's radio programs and web site since May.

What you might not know is that Ally Bank is the rebranded banking arm of the General Motors Acceptance Corp., which has received $12.5 billion in federal bailout money. In May, the GMAC bank officially changed its name to Ally Bank; it operates only on the Internet.

Ally is also the exclusive sponsor of Planet Money, a three-times-a-week popular podcast and weekday blog that NPR started in August 2008 to cover the global economy -- just before the financial crisis went into overdrive.

Planet Money also does weekly radio stories for Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Each time a Planet Money story runs, an Ally Bank credit directly follows -- which is not a common practice with sponsors, especially for news stories.

At least three questions arise from the Ally Bank sponsorships: Should NPR solicit funding from a financial services business for a program specifically aimed at covering the economy? Should NPR occasionally disclose that Ally Bank is the rebranded GMAC? Has NPR given Ally Bank more favorable coverage than it might have gotten otherwise?

Continue reading "Ally Bank: Is It a Good Fit?" >

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categories: Conflict of Interest

10:38 - December 14, 2009

 
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Juan Ensalada of Denver was critical of NPR's natural gas series that ran on Morning Edition in late September; he was one of many listeners who considered it favorable to the natural gas industry. (See my piece evaluating the series.)

But when he looked at a related story on NPR's web site, he was downright suspicious.

What bothered him was a banner ad for America's Natural Gas Alliance placed at the top of the page, next to stories in the natural gas series.

ANGA bills itself as an education organization representing leading independent natural gas companies. It is currently involved in a major new advertising campaign in big-city newspapers and on TV and radio, including NPR, promoting natural gas as a "clean" energy source.

"Clearly this looks like a MAJOR conflict of interest -- that NPR took underwriting money to influence journalism," wrote Ensalada. Many others questioned the ad placement.

Ensalada is correct about one thing: It didn't look good to have the sponsorship banner on the same web page as the series.

But despite his skepticism about NPR's motives, there was no "pay for play" here.

ANGA began a sponsorship campaign on NPR's website on Sept. 17 to run through Dec. 31. It is online only, meaning that no sponsorship messages appear on NPR-produced radio programs. (If you hear ANGA ads on air, it may be because a non-NPR program or a local public radio station is running the spots independently of NPR.)

The sponsorship message was vetted to make sure it fit NPR's standards for corporate underwriting and was approved, according to John King, in corporate underwriting.

"The sponsorship deal was negotiated months before the series ran and was scheduled to appear periodically on our business pages," said Kinsey Wilson, Senior Vice President and General Manager, NPR Digital Media. "There is no relationship between editorial decision-making and corporate underwriting."

Tom Gjelten and Peter Overby, the two reporters on the natural gas series, said they were unaware of the ANGA sponsorship while they were reporting their stories. "I'd also say it's no surprise they would do this," Overby said. "Corporations and interest groups often use NPR funding credits to buff up their images."

It also may be worth pointing out that sponsors are not able to sponsor individual stories. They just sponsor topic areas or program areas, or in special cases, provide support for long-term projects like NPR's Planet Money or StoryCorps.

NPR, and other legitimate news organizations, insist there is a "firewall" between the editorial and business/advertising departments.

This is how a firewall works: NPR's corporate underwriting team sells, in this case, banners that appear on the web in broad topic areas, and guarantees the purchaser a set number of "impressions," i.e. someone viewing a web page will see the banner. (If a banner is sold for NPR's homepage, NPR can guarantee about 750,000 page views per day. The number is much smaller for most individual pages inside the NPR web site.)

People in NPR's news department are not involved, directly or indirectly, in the sale or placement of messages on the radio or the web site.

"Our ad server [a computer] makes the second-to-second decisions on what banner to show on a given page view," said Bryan Moffett, Director of Digital Sponsorship Operations. "It's more complex than a simple rotation. But it's fair to say ads rotate. It's also important to remember that at any given time, hundreds of people are on our site looking at content. So what you see may not be what others see, as the ad server is making these decisions every second."

After I saw the ad periodically on the natural gas series site, I brought it to NPR's attention. Even if there were no direct cause and effect (i.e. ANGA bought ads and NPR decided to do the series, which is not the case), a viewer could reasonably perceive a conflict-of-interest.

The ad was hand-pulled from appearing on the series as of Oct. 8 at 11:35 a.m.

"Editors don't have the visibility into which ads are running where and when," explained Wilson. "And sponsorship doesn't know in advance that stories are going to be published. That's part of the church/state separation [the firewall]. Add to that the volume of ads and stories coursing through the site and I think you can appreciate how difficult it is to catch such a juxtaposition in advance."

In some cases, such as during elections, Wilson said, NPR can intentionally position or exclude sponsor messages. NPR would not, for instance, let a political campaign try to buy all the possible banner ads on the politics pages.

"But it's not practical in every instance" to monitor the ads and content, said Wilson. "So, in the spirit of the web, we also rely on the audience to help us identify these issues, as they did in this case."

This incident demonstrates two lessons for NPR. One is that, in this era of polarized politics and public skepticism about the news media, some in NPR's audience are quick to perceive, and accuse NPR of, a conflict of interest.

A second lesson, related to the first, is that NPR needs to work harder to protect its reputation by avoiding actions that could reinforce perceptions that access to its news gathering is for sale.

In this case, NPR had every right to accept underwriting ads from the natural gas industry, as long as they met the criteria. It is a fact of life that underwriting is now a important source of income for NPR.

However, NPR could have -- and should have -- made sure beforehand that underwriting ads for the natural gas industry did not appear on the same web pages as those carrying stories in the natural gas series.

categories: Conflict of Interest

4:01 - October 21, 2009

 
Thursday, July 30, 2009

NPR journalists face ethical challenges everyday. Please join me in watching a video discussion on whether NPR journalists should march in gay pride parades.

Special thanks to my intern, Anna Tauzin, for her work on our first video. There will be more. I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue and hope we can have a productive discussion.

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categories: Conflict of Interest

4:00 - July 30, 2009

 
Thursday, May 14, 2009

I will not and do not want to believe there is collusion of that nature at NPR with The Soloist," Elliott Mitchell wrote. "But may I submit that -- from my perspective -- it's possible to make that connection. My reaction is that some listeners might believe that NPR is selling out.

It would be reasonable for a listener to conclude that NPR likes and supports the new movie, The Soloist, about the relationship between a newspaper columnist and a gifted, homeless musician.

Two days before the movie opened on April 24, Morning Edition did an 8-minute story about Los Angeles' skid row and Steve Lopez, the Los Angeles Times columnist, whose book is the basis for the movie.

The night before the movie debuted, All Things Considered host Robert Siegel did an 8-minute interview with the movie's director. At the interview's end, Siegel invited listeners to go to npr.org to read an excerpt from Lopez's book.

And then the morning the movie opened, Morning Edition's film critic, Kenneth Turan, who works for the Los Angeles Times, gave a 3-minute personal review. After that, listeners were invited to watch clips of The Soloist and get more movie reviews at npr.org.

One astute listener, Elliott Mitchell, who volunteers for WPLN in Nashville, noticed the rather large amount of attention to one movie and sent me links to five NPR segments that either mentioned the movie or directly reported on it. That includes the three above and two brief mentions.

Why 19 minutes on one movie?

"I can't speak for the other shows but certainly in our case it seemed apt to look at the real life story that inspired The Soloist if we were spending several days examining LA's skid row," said Madhulika Sikka, ME's executive producer. She said Turan's reviews are selected weeks before and usually are coordinated with whatever he is writing for the Times.

But what was more troubling to Mitchell is that Dreamworks Pictures, which is behind The Soloist, also bought funding credits to promote the movie.

The credits ran from April 13 to April 26 on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition Saturday and the music show From the Top.

"I will not and do not want to believe there is collusion of that nature at NPR with The Soloist," Mitchell wrote. "But may I submit that -- from my perspective -- it's possible to make that connection. My reaction is that some listeners might believe that NPR is selling out."

What it clearly looks like is old-fashion pay for play: Dreamworks pays to 'advertise' on NPR, and NPR, hoping to please and encourage Dreamworks to spend more, devotes 19 minutes to the movie.

It's not the case. NPR is not selling out. But it is worth explaining what happened with the funding credit and why it shouldn't.

About one week in advance, NPR's corporate sponsorship division sends a schedule of funding credits to all NPR shows so they have an opportunity to identify conflicts before they air, said John King, operations manager. He says the schedules are emailed and hand-delivered to Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

A firewall really does exist between the editorial and marketing sides of NPR to prevent NPR sponsors from influencing programming.

"To that extent, the firewall has worked," said King. "We are also interested in avoiding situations when a sponsorship announcement runs near a story or review that mentions the sponsor, so that listeners do not think there is a connection between the sponsor and the content. These unfortunate juxtapositions don't happen all the time. But they do happen occasionally."

Morning Edition, which ran two stories about The Soloist, anticipated the conflict and moved the funding credit twice to avoid the awkward appearance of a credit following a story.

But that didn't happen with ATC.

ATC's executive producer, Christopher Turpin, said he never saw the list of funders in this case, which is why he didn't move the credit.

"Had I seen it, I would have moved it, as I've done in the past, and as ME apparently did," said Turpin. "The bottom line is we usually move credit conflicts, this time we missed one. And it's a wake-up call to develop a better process."

Sikka added that ME may have moved the credit this time but it is an inexact science.

"Sometimes we miss them pure and simple and that's just the way it is," she said. "If someone sees a credit close to a piece about the same thing we'd ask to move it to avoid the 'appearance' of a conflict. Sometimes we don't because we don't see it or forget to notice."

Turpin said that movie studios like to advertise on NPR shows because NPR listeners tend to like segments about movies.

"Generally, the reason we are talking to people about their movies is because the person or the movie is interesting," said Turpin. "I am interested in avoiding misconceptions on the audience's part (as in this case). But we make our own value judgments about whether a movie is worth covering. The funder has nothing to do with it." Sikka agrees.

This situation brings out an inherent dilemma at NPR and other public radio stations. How do you have a firewall if you pay attention to the placement of funding credits? But if you don't pay attention to the credits, then the perception of "pay for play" can arise.

This happened before with the TV show '24'. And with the movie No Country for Old Men and possibly other times I have missed.

It shouldn't happen and it's easy to fix. But the shows do need an established process, and not to do it on a haphazard basis. A top editor from each NPR-show should make sure to check the funding credits each day against that day's show's schedule of stories and rearrange any conflicting funding credits. This would reduce the appearance that NPR is doing stories only to satisfy a funder.


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categories: Conflict of Interest

10:10 - May 14, 2009

 
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Michelle Obama, you know, she's got this Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress thing going," said Juan Williams on Fox News. "If she starts talking, as Mary Katharine [Ham, a conservative blogger] is suggesting, her instinct is to start with this blame America, you know, I'm the victim. If that stuff starts coming out, people will go bananas and she'll go from being the new Jackie O to being something of an albatross

Juan Williams.

NPR has more than 400 reporters, editors, producers and analysts on its news team, and none is more of a lightning rod than Juan Williams. But it's usually not for anything he says on NPR.

Williams joined NPR in 2000, first as host of Talk of the Nation, then morphing into a senior correspondent. Last spring, NPR's management put him on contract with the title "news analyst" largely to give him more latitude about what he says. He's now paid to give his opinion, and with three decades in the news business, it is often a valuable take on today's politics.

Williams is controversial among NPR listeners because of his long-standing contract with Fox News, which he had before he joined NPR. Currently, he appears on Fox sometimes with Bill O'Reilly and on Sunday morning with Chris Wallace.

On TV, Fox identifies Williams as "NPR News Political Analyst." (Conversely, NPR rarely identifies him as Fox News contributor.)

Last year, 378 listeners emailed me complaints and frustrations about things Williams said on Fox. The listener themes are similar: Williams "dishonors NPR." He's an "embarrassment to NPR." "NPR should sever their relationship with him."

The latest flap involves Williams' comment on Fox about First Lady Michelle Obama. To date, I've received 56 angry emails. For comparison, this year so far, listeners sent 13 emails about Steve Inskeep, 8 about Mara Liasson and 6 about Cokie Roberts -- other NPR personalities who I often get emails about.

Here's what Williams said on Jan. 26, but the transcript doesn't convey the same impact as the video, posted on YouTube. Williams is explaining that Vice President Joe Biden could be a liability for President Obama. But so could his wife.

"Michelle Obama, you know, she's got this Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress thing going," said Williams. "If she starts talking, as Mary Katharine [Ham, a conservative blogger] is suggesting, her instinct is to start with this blame America, you know, I'm the victim. If that stuff starts coming out, people will go bananas and she'll go from being the new Jackie O to being something of an albatross."

O'Reilly responded: "She's not going to do that."

When I asked Williams about his comments, he initially called it a "faux controversy."

But then he reviewed the tape and realized that "the tone and tenor of my comments may have spurred a strong reaction to what I considered to be pure political analysis of the First Lady's use of her White House pulpit," said Williams via email. "I regret that in the fast-paced, argumentative format my tone and tenor seems to have led people to see me as attacking instead of explaining my informed point of view."

When Williams was speaking of Mrs. Obama as a potential liability, he told me, he was referencing pieces in The Atlantic and Politico. A Politico article listed Mrs. Obama as one "Dem" her husband should watch out for. "She's glamorous, she's on message, she's the nation's favorite mom -- and now she has nowhere to go but down," said the article.

But anyone watching the O'Reilly segment wouldn't know Williams was talking about those two articles. He never mentioned them. Those who wrote me felt Williams was attacking the First Lady.

"I am concerned about the objectivity Juan Williams brings to his news analysis," wrote Alison Fowler. "He has made statements on Fox News regarding Michelle Obama that appear to paint her as an angry Black Nationalist without any basis in fact. Despite the fact that these statements were not made on NPR, they undermine his credibility as an impartial news analyst on your network."

Williams also appears regularly as a news analyst on NPR's Weekend Edition with Scott Simon, and on Morning Edition and Day to Day.

"We don't monitor what Juan says on Fox -- or for that matter, his books or other appearances," said Simon by email. "Juan is one of the foremost chroniclers of the history of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and African-American life...I think the world of Juan, and he is on our show because the analysis that he offers is insightful, reasoned, fair-minded and interesting."

But after watching the Fox segment, Simon said, "What can I say? That's not the Juan Williams who is on our show."

That may be the cause of the criticism. Williams tends to speak one way on NPR and another on Fox.

His "Stokely Carmichael" comment got the attention of NPR's top managers. They are in a bind because Williams is no longer a staff employee but an independent contractor. As a contract news analyst, NPR doesn't exercise control over what Williams says outside of NPR.

"Juan Williams is a contributor to NPR programs as a news analyst," said Ron Elving, NPR's Washington editor. "What he says on NPR is the product of a journalistic process that includes editors. What he says when he is not on our air is not within our control. But we recognize that what he says elsewhere reflects on NPR, and we have discussed that fact with him specifically in regard to his remarks on Fox News regarding Michelle Obama."

This recent comment may have undermined his credibility with some NPR listeners. But I question whether listeners, overall, object to what Williams says outside of NPR or the fact that he says it on Fox.

NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg appears on the Washington, D.C., ABC affiliate, WJLA-TV. Rarely do I get email criticizing her TV appearances. But in 2008, there were a healthy number of emails attacking political correspondent Mara Liasson for her regular appearances on Fox News.

So why does Williams receive so much criticism? And is it fair?

"There's something about me as a voice with more latitude than a daily news reporter that may bother people," Williams told me. "Maybe it's that people have trouble with the fact that I cross political lines regularly. I try to be curious, to ask questions and to get answers. And I tell you what I see as I see it."

It appears people don't understand that he has two different roles. On NPR, he's expected to provide well-thought out commentary, based on his reporting, about today's politics. On Fox, the pace is faster, and spontaneity and expressing strong opinions are valued.

"I would say the same thing on NPR but we don't have a show with a fast-paced, Cross-Fire format," said Williams. "What I said about Michelle Obama is not out of the realm of main-stream political discourse. It's there in The Atlantic and in The Politico. The point is that NPR has a much more deliberative, slow-paced form with more time to explain what you meant."

Williams is an experienced, multi-talented journalist plugged into the political world. He is also author of a critically acclaimed biography of Justice Thurgood Marshall. He spent 21 years at the Washington Post as an editorial writer, op-ed columnist and White House reporter. According to NPR's Communications office, he is one of NPR's most-sought after public speakers.

Williams brings a valuable viewpoint to NPR. Sometimes it is that of an African-American, but it is also that of someone with a long track record of covering politics. Some think he is a conservative because he's on Fox. Others think Fox uses him as a liberal voice because, whether true or not, a perception exists that NPR is liberal.

The assets that make Williams valuable to NPR are his knowledge, his perspective and that he is rarely predictable.

But in the end, NPR must decide -- as it apparently already has -- whether giving its listeners the benefit of Williams' voice is worth the cost of annoying some listeners for his work on Fox.

As a result of this latest flap, NPR's Vice President of News, Ellen Weiss, has asked Williams to ask that Fox remove his NPR identification whenever he is on O'Reilly.
END

Continue reading "Juan Williams, NPR and Fox News " >

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categories: Conflict of Interest

4:30 - February 11, 2009

 
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and the Department of Homeland Security, offering E-Verify, confirming the legal working status of new hires. At D-H-S dot gov slash E-Verify.

Whenever NPR's Talk of the Nation dips into the topic of immigration, the national call-in show's telephone board lights up like a Christmas tree.

Immigration is an especially hot-button topic. So it's not surprising that when NPR began running a funding credit on Nov. 10 for the Department of Homeland Security's E-Verify program, my office heard from listeners and a few concerned public radio station managers.

They all questioned NPR's judgment in running the credit about the federal computer program that employers use voluntarily to check the legal status of new hires. At the least, some said, it is not a good fit for NPR. Some suggested NPR is endorsing E-Verify.

First, it's helpful to explain funding credits. Since NPR is a non-commercial network, it accepts money for what's called "underwriting." Local public radio stations do the same. The 10-second underwriting credits, which appear at various points in NPR programming, come from foundations, banks, auto companies, other businesses, and federal agencies.

Here's the text that is generating controversy: "'Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), offering E-Verify, confirming the legal working status of new hires. At DHS dot gov slash E-Verify."

E-Verify runs a free electronic database system for employers to scan 450 million Social Security and 60 million DHS records to confirm if new hires are eligible to work. Two states -- Arizona and Mississippi -- have made E-Verify mandatory for employers, as has the federal government for its new hires. Beginning Jan. 15, federal government contractors will be disqualified from competing for new contracts if they do not use E-Verify.

"In very basic terms, the goal of E-Verify is to assist employers in maintaining a legal workforce and to protect jobs for authorized U.S. workers," said Bill Wright, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. According to his agency's statistics, 96.1 percent of employees are confirmed as "work authorized" instantly or within 24 hours.

Some listeners say the program is far from benign. In fact, the program is the subject of lawsuits, court cases and Congressional investigation. "E-Verify is an extremely problematic program," writes Mary Hopkins."Big Brother aside, it 'verifies employment eligibility' against a filthy database, is ridden with delays and errors, and has caused a great deal of trouble for a lot of innocent people, including US citizens."

"The E-Verify system was being promoted to target illegal immigrants," wrote Richard Imm. "This program is error-filled, and is yet one more racist intrusion of the Bush administration into the business world and the private lives of all job-seekers. I recently became a Sustaining Member of my local NPR station (WNMU-FM) -- was this a mistake?"

Then this from general manager Matt Martin of public radio station KALW, in San Francisco: "Given the political uses to which DHS has been put and the fact that listeners want to be assured that NPR (and by extension, KALW) can be depended on for independent critical coverage of this and other government agencies, the credit may not belong in a news program."

DHS is in the midst of a two-month marketing campaign to promote E-Verify. "We are picking NPR because of its national reach," Wright said. "NPR has morning shows, reaches a lot of commuters out there. It's a trusted network and has a wide following and reaches a lot of demographics across the country." E-Verify funding credits also are carried on Latino USA, a show that NPR distributes but does not produce.

But there are problems with E-Verify, according to a May 2008 Government Accountability Office study, which found the service is vulnerable to employer fraud and misuse and noted that it can't ferret out stolen documents.

Another problem concerns the database's accuracy, said Tyler Moran, employment policy director for the National Immigration Law Center, a group that promotes legal rights for immigrants. "The error rate disproportionately affects foreign-born workers and that includes naturalized citizens and legal immigrants," she said. "It's often because of their names." Moran wrote a paper last month on how E-Verify has hurt legal workers.

So, should NPR run these funding credits? NPR has accepted underwriting from the government for 20 years, said John King, operations manager for sponsorship.

"In addition to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting," he said, "we've accepted underwriting from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Postal Service, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities." None, though, has generated anywhere near as much controversy as the E-Verify credit.

NPR has strict guidelines about funding it will accept. Those guidelines indicate a funding credit must be 10 seconds and cannot contain price information, an explicit inducement to buy or a call to action. For example, a spot could not say, "Stop by our showroom to see a model." A credit can name a program or a store and tell listeners how to get more information. "Learn more about" is not considered a call to action but rather a way to provide listeners information, according to NPR's legal office.

E-Verify's Wright admits the service has some minor flaws. And certainly it has detractors in Congress and among groups advocating for immigrants. Even so, the E-Verify credit does not violate NPR's guidelines. Just because some listeners might not like the funder, or even the program it promotes, that is not a strong enough reason for NPR to reject an underwriter.

Accepting underwriting is not the same as approving the message, NPR managers said.

"The underwriting credit does not advocate a position about immigration," said Blake Truitt, senior vice president of National Public Media, NPR's sponsorship subsidiary. "The credit describes a DHS service."

But there is another potentially more serious concern. Will NPR do stories about E-Verify in hopes of keeping the funding coming? Or will DHS be able to influence NPR's coverage since it's helping keep NPR afloat?

The answer to such questions is no because of what's known in the news business as an impenetrable firewall between NPR news and the underwriting department. NPR reporters pay no attention to the funders, and the funders have no influence over what is covered, said managing editor Brian Duffy.

But the perception of a conflict can exist. Sean Collins, executive producer of Latino USA, is concerned about this since his show reports in-depth on immigration issues.

"There's a perception of a conflict when you hear reporting and then you hear a funding credit that's from a particular point of view and you realize the program was funded in part by that government organization or entity," said Collins. "It just makes you a little queasy. I don't think we do a good enough job of reiterating the concept of a firewall. It really does exist."

It's possible that NPR's immigration correspondent Jennifer Ludden will cover E-Verify, as she has in the past.

"Having this funding credit on air would have no bearing on how I handled future stories," said Ludden. "I certainly would have no idea if this particular credit would air in the same show or segment as one of my pieces. More to the point, I would have no problem continuing to report on the program's shortcomings, and the controversy over it."

But in any future reporting on E-Verify, Duffy says that NPR will need to also mention at the same time that E-Verify is a sponsor. "If Jennifer Ludden does a story on it for NPR, we should clearly disclose that E-Verify is something that NPR is receiving underwriting for," said Duffy. "We want to be as transparent as possible. We have no secrets."

Another concern -- one that involves all funding credits -- is that at many local public radio stations funding credits are read on-air by the same announcers who give the local news. This blurs what should be a clear distinction between news and underwriting.

In my view, local stations, and NPR, should take whatever steps necessary to make sure that listeners don't associate underwriting with legitimate news reporting.

NPR will continue running the E-Verify credit until Feb. 9.


END

Continue reading "Should NPR Run Funding Credits from the Department of Homeland Security?" >

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categories: Conflict of Interest

10:41 - November 25, 2008

 
Friday, September 5, 2008

The key information in the red rice yeast story is that consumers cannot trust the manufacturer's label. It would have been helpful if NPR could have provided which brands are most effective. But if listeners really want the information, then they will have to pay for it.

A frustrated listener asked if NPR had a financial deal with a supplement-testing group mentioned in a story about the health benefits of red rice yeast.

Consumer Health reporter Allison Aubrey's July 1 story looked at how the dietary supplement, red rice yeast, contains an active ingredient which can "naturally" lower cholesterol and may work as well as prescription statin drugs.

Aubrey relied on cardiologist Dr. David Becker who had done a study with a small sample of people. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Becker gave the prescription drug Zocor to 35 patients and a medically certified dose of red rice yeast to a similar size group.

Continue reading "NPR Should Disclose Pay Websites When Mentioned on Air" >

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categories: Conflict of Interest

3:36 - September 5, 2008

 
Thursday, July 3, 2008

She is actually an aunt of one of our reporters.

During this heated political season, Day to Day interviewed a relative of an NPR staffer for a controversial segment highlighting a Sen. Hillary Clinton supporter who won't back Sen. Barack Obama in November.

Listeners didn't know at the time of the interview that Atlanta attorney and author Barbara LeBey is the aunt of NPR correspondent Laura Sydell. But what they did know was that they didn't like what LeBey had to say about the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate.

Continue reading "SHOULD NPR INTERVIEW RELATIVES OF STAFF MEMBERS?" >

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categories: Conflict of Interest

12:19 - July 3, 2008

 
Monday, May 19, 2008

As a human being, I want to help and channel listeners' good will," Westervelt said. "As a journalist, it's not my role and we don't have a mechanism to help.

After hearing an NPR piece about a man who risked his life to sneak into the U.S. to earn money for a sick daughter, Kathy Khazen wanted to do something.

So did about 20 other listeners from around the country.

The story of Julio Cuellar was compelling. When Cuellar learned his pregnant daughter had cancer, he knew he needed more money than he earned as a low-paying policeman in El Salvador. He hired a smuggler and tried to get to the U.S. But he didn't make it.

"Julio has diabetes and nearly died in the Arizona desert," NPR Correspondent Jennifer Ludden reported on April 7. "He ran out of insulin and became sick, and his smuggler abandoned him. It was two days with no food or shelter before he was rescued by the U.S. Border Patrol. What would make someone do this -- especially a middle-aged man with a full-time job? Julio's daughter, Guadalupe, blames herself."

Ludden and producer Marisa Penaloza discovered Cuellar at the airport in El Salvador just after he was deported from the U.S. He'd lost 40 pounds, felt humiliated, and was behind on payments for his two-bedroom house.

Then came the emails and phone calls from listeners after the story aired.

Continue reading "WHEN LISTENERS WANT TO SEND MONEY TO PEOPLE IN STORIES" >

categories: Conflict of Interest

5:11 - May 19, 2008

 
Monday, May 12, 2008

Was this the "Pentagon Pundits' Problem" all over again?

UPDATE on May 20, 2008: The Infinite Mind has added an Underwriting page after the recent criticism and added fuller disclosure about a guest.

NPR is a complicated news entity.

It produces 59 hours of original news programming each week heard across the public radio system, the best-known of which are Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Then, it distributes 18 shows such as Car Talk, The Diane Rehm Show, and Fresh Air, which local public radio stations or independent producers create without any direct NPR editorial control.

And then there are other shows on NPR's three channels on Sirius: NPR, NPR Talk, and NPR Now. Some shows are produced by NPR, some are simply distributed by NPR and some are independently produced.

Got that?

Continue reading "IS "THE INFINITE MIND" AN NPR SHOW? " >

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categories: Conflict of Interest

4:14 - May 12, 2008

 
Monday, April 28, 2008

UPDATE:
Media correspondent David Folkenflik reports on the issue of Pentagon consultants and the New York Times in his story which aired May 1 on All Things Considered.

What are your thoughts?

--Chantal de la Rionda, Office of the Ombudsman


By Alicia C. Shepard
The New York Times revealed last week that the Pentagon has long covertly pressured and pampered more than a dozen retired military officers hired by broadcast networks as analysts to ensure positive spin on the Iraq war.

Among those cited was a military consultant for NPR.

After a two-year investigation, Times' reporter David Barstow described how the Pentagon cultivated military analysts for TV and radio by providing special access hoping in exchange for positive spin on the war, particularly after it started going badly. In some cases, analysts used that access to promote their post-military careers with defense contractors.

Deep into the 7,600-word piece on April 20 Barstow mentioned an NPR military analyst, Army Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales Jr. (Ret.) in an email he sent to the Pentagon that could be construed as Scales trying to gain favor in order to be sent to Iraq for high-level briefings. Scales denies this.

Continue reading "NPR, NEW YORK TIMES AND SOURCING MILITARY EXPERTS" >

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categories: Conflict of Interest

2:52 - April 28, 2008

 
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

-- Alicia C. Shepard

Standing in line to vote in Virginia's primary on Feb. 12, I was at ease because in my state, one doesn't have to declare party preference when you register. But then I got to the head of the line.

"Republican or Democrat?" the clerk seemed to bellow. I hesitated, looked around, and then leaned in close and whispered my answer.

I'm not going to tell you what I said because I am a working journalist.

Continue reading "SHOULD JOURNALISTS VOTE?" >

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categories: Conflict of Interest

7:01 - February 20, 2008

 

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Alicia Shepard

Alicia Shepard

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