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.