NPR Mea Culpa-“In Defense of Looting”

NPR issued a mea culpa for its publication of a much-criticized interview with the author of a new book entitled, “In Defense of Looting.” NPR Public Editor Kelly McBride said in a newsletter Thursday that the interview “did not serve NPR’s audience” and was “wrong about recent events.”

“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,” McBride wrote.

Failure to fact-check an author
 
This Q&A with a provocative author did not serve NPR’s audience. You and several other NPR fans pointed out that NPR’s own prior reportingcontradicted some of the things this author was saying. On top of being wrong about recent events, the author’s characterization of the Civil Rights Movement is a distortion and oversimplification.

So how did this Q&A make it onto NPR’s website? (This content was not slated for radio broadcast.) 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. 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. 

I asked Code Switch editor Steve Drummond if the piece was fact-checked, and he said, “This piece was fact-checked but we should have done more.” 

A new introduction was added to provide more context and prepare the reader to digest the author’s ideas. 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. We address this question in our column this week.  

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