NPR Responds to Movieline's Accusations of Hypocritical Outrage Handling

When NPR decided to censor its review of Outrage so as not to name the closeted politicians profiled in the documentary, Movieline discovered two incidents where the organization's cited ethics policy -- that NPR would not comment on the rumors about a public person's sexuality -- had recently been broken. In summary: though NPR was too squeamish to address Outrage's allegation that Sen. Larry Craig (arrested, as you might remember, for homosexual lewd conduct) is gay, the network had no problem speculating on the putative homosexuality of entertainers like Queen Latifah and Adam Lambert.

Now, the network's ombudsman and executive editor are weighing in on the network's double standard.

In a letter to listeners, executive editor Dick Meyer admitted, "Though we have a policy, we do not have a perfect history of enforcing it or meeting all our aspirations. And there are judgment calls, subjective decisions. Some blogs for example, have cited a conversation that aired on the show 'News & Notes' in November 2008 about efforts to 'out' a prominent singer and actress [Ed. That'd be Latifah]. That conversation, while not malicious, nevertheless did not conform to our standards."

Meyer then reversed himself when addressing the article that speculated about Lambert: "Critics have also sited [sic] a post on our blog 'Monkey See' discussing the style, wardrobe, and packaging of a contestant on American Idol. We don't believe this was a violation, but others may and we respect that." That's a fairly torturous interpretation of an article that's about nothing but Lambert's sexuality, and includes the sentence, "And if he wins, he'll be the first gay winner of American Idol, as far as we know."

Ombudsman Alicia C. Shepard weighed in and lightly dinged NPR, especially for still running a picture of Craig alongside the censored review. "This issue is not going away," she wrote. "It is important for NPR to have standards but they also need to be reviewed from time to time. And freelancers need to know NPR's standards."

However, she added, "Count me as guilty of believing that someone's sex life should remain private until he or she wants it public or there's a compelling news reason to invade that privacy. A movie, even one that makes strong allegations, is not a compelling news reason." It's a disingenuous statement that divorces the movie of its raison d'etre, which is not merely to rumor-monger but to out the closeted politicians who specifically vote against gay rights.

For all the lip service paid to the idea that NPR would address a politician's sexuality only if there was a "compelling news reason," it doesn't appear that the network really means it. What more compelling reason could there be than the thesis of the film, or the fact that the film exists, cites legitimate sources, and is out there ruffling feathers in the real world? Apparently, there's only one thing that trumps those issues when it comes to NPR's need-to-know: whether the subject in question is an American Idol runner-up.

· Outrage over NPR's Handling of Outrage [NPR]


  • StaleCake says:

    You know, I am so glad you wrote this because although I thought their response was disingenuous and lame, I did not grasp the magnitude of their wrongness until I read this piece...
    ...bitch used the "it's only a movie" defense about a DOCUMENTARY.
    A documentary about real civil rights losses, that affect real citizens' lives, right now. Pass me the smelling salts. And please keep on NPR's waffling ass!

  • @bigolpoofter says:

    NPR, spare me! The standard you suggest would preclude NPR from reporting on criminal charges until a person is proven guilty. As for not deeming Criag et al. "Gay," I'm with you, though. "Gay" is a term of self-identification; and, when used by others to describe someone absent the self-declaration, it is inappropriate. Call them "men having sex with men" in keeping with CDC standards, but don't duck the central conflict between behavior and advocacy records--you wouldn't do that with regard to earmarks inserted by an absolutist fiscal conservative!

  • darkmoonman says:

    I received a lame email from the ombudsman apologizing for me being upset. No offer to actually correct the problem.
    My response to them? No more money from me to NPR.

  • Ombudsmen are pretty weak in this modern age ...
    And as far as the movie goes - I hate critics who give away too much of a plot anyway, so I'd rather the critic not name names.

  • James Spires says:

    National Public Radio continues to disappoint many of its supporters, both in its coverage of gay issues, and its continuing sponsorship of Linda Holmes' "Monkey See," blog, which is increasingly regarded as an example of lame entertainment writing.
    Holmes is particularly thin-skinned about being criticized and has been known to respond unpleasantly to criticism of her opinions and writings, within the blog. Her digital editor, Trey Graham, posts responses in the form of personal attacks on Holmes' critics --- he called one such person "noxious" and then revealed personal information about that user's personal NPR account.
    Mr. Graham also is notorious as the most heavy-handed moderator of NPR accounts. Instead of deleting comments for not adhering to NPR user standards, he deletes whole accounts, especially if they are critical of Linda Holmes. I can cite at least three recent instances of this.
    NPR also continues to publish articles speculating about people's sexual orientation, the most recent one being a piece by Martha Irvine of The Associated Press, asking if it was proper to discuss Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's sexual orientation if she has not chosen to discuss it herself publicly. Such articles may pretend to be about the question of whether such discussions are proper, but the obvious result is that they encourage more speculation about a private matter.

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