As part of NPR's in-depth inaugural coverage, the network broadcast the two-hour free, "We are One" concert at the Lincoln Memorial Jan. 18.
But what wasn't included — angering some listeners — was the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson's invocation before the concert started. Robinson is the first openly gay Episcopal bishop. Many thought he was invited as a counter to Pastor Rick Warren, who actively opposes homosexuality and was asked to give the opening prayer at Tuesday's inauguration.
"It is absolutely outrageous that NPR's live coverage of Sunday's concert failed to air Gene Robinson's invocation for the event and chose instead to play clips from some of Obama's favorite songs," wrote Micki McElya. Her email reflected others' concerns.
Here's what happened, according to Anya Grundmann, executive producer NPR Music:
"Last Thursday (Jan. 15), NPR Music finalized a last-minute agreement with the Presidential Inaugural Committee allowing us to simulcast the inaugural concert as presented live on HBO. Because the official start time—2:30—would have been a difficult time for stations to join the program, we decided to offer the show to stations starting at 2:00."
Robinson was slated to speak at 2:25 p.m. But NPR had no producers or engineers at the Lincoln Memorial so it was dependent on HBO as the only source of audio. NPR filled the time with music until its official audio feed began at 2:30.
That's NPR's side. But what about HBO? Both companies got hit with complaints. HBO blamed the Presidential Inaugural Committee "due to a miscommunication," said an HBO press release.
The inaugural committee still hasn't offered much of an explanation. "We had always intended and planned for Rt. Rev Robinson's invocation to be included in the televised portion," Josh Earnest, spokesman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee said in a statement. "We regret the error in executing this plan but are gratified that hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on the mall heard his eloquent prayer for our nation that was a fitting start to our event."
Robinson appeared on NPR's Talk of the Nation the next day and said he had no idea at the time he was speaking that his words weren't being broadcast.
HBO made amends by promising to include Robinson's prayer in future rebroadcasts of the event.
For a full-accounting of what happened that day, read Aaron Barnhart's thorough piece, updates and all. Barnhart is the TV critic for the Kansas City Star.
Some other listeners expressed "outrage" that they couldn't listen to the concert on NPR at a later time. NPR did not archive the concert because it wasn't NPR's to archive. The rights were for a live one-time broadcast, and simultaneous live streaming from public radio websites.
All in all, it was unfortunate that Robinson's words weren't aired. It just opened HBO, NPR and the Presidential Inaugural Committee to all kinds of conspiracy charges.