Wednesday, July 1, 2009

NPR's Ombudsman won't talk with Greenwald about torture (Update I, II & III)

Glenn Greenwald in Salon

NPR's Ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, wrote a column last week justifying NPR's policy of using euphemisms such as "enhanced interrogation tactics" -- while barring the use of the word "torture" -- to describe the interrogation tactics used by the Bush administration. I wrote a critique of that column which was widely cited, and the comment section to her column was filled with hundreds of angry criticisms -- many times the number of comments her column typically attracts (usually in the range of 10-20). As a result of all that, last week I extended an invitation to Shepard to discuss her column with me on Salon Radio, and was told by an NPR representative that she would respond to the invitation by Monday.

Yesterday, we received Shepard's response: no. According to the Salon intern who tenaciously pursued Shepard all week and spoke with her yesterday:
I just got off the phone with Alicia Shepard. She declined to have an interview, or to go on Salon Radio. To quote, she thought "misleading things" were written about her on Salon, and said "I don't want to get into a shouting match." As for what the "misleading" statements were, she didn't clarify.
[...] Revealingly, after my interview invitation was extended to her last week, Shepard did appear for a five-minute segment on an NPR program -- On the Media -- to discuss her column with an NPR host. There's only so much an interviewer can accomplish in a five-minute segment, and that's particularly true when one is an NPR host interviewing a fellow NPR employee about an NPR management policy. That said, the interviewer -- Bob Garfield -- did a very good job of asking some of the key questions (though there are many others I'd like to ask her). As a result, even with those constraints, the emptiness of Shepard's rationale quickly became evident. The segment can be heard here (or by clicking PLAY on the player below) and is recommended. The comment section to the interview is filled with NPR listeners furious at the NPR policy and Shepard's defense of it. It's not hard to see why Shepard is eager to avoid being questioned adversarially, outside of NPR, about her position.

Comment: I've been following this discussion/debate closely. I read Ms Shepard's lame excuses (and she's a journalism professor, too!). I've read the comments at NPR. Today I learned about Ms Shepard's refusal. "Vermont's NPR Station" and North Country Public Radio (both of which have award-winning local programming I enjoy) are always asking for money, but donations cannot be earmarked to local programming. So, next time my local public radio stations ask for a hand-out, I'll tell 'em, don't expect any dosh from me until they - as an affiliate - tell NPR to clean up its act.

UPDATE I Simon Owens was kind enough to email me the link of his exclusive interview with Glenn Greenwald about the Shepard's refusal to appear on Greenwald's radio show and her reasons for turning down his interview request:

The Important Bits
But doesn’t a person have the right to refuse an interview? After all, some have refused to go on shows like the O’Reilly Factor because they felt like they wouldn’t be given a fair platform to present their views, and many that have gone on such shows have come out regretting it. Greenwald seemed to agree that there are certain circumstances in which it would be practical to turn down an interview request, but he said that when you opine on controversial topics you should make a reasonable effort to respond and engage with your critics or those you criticize.

“That doesn’t mean you have to go and confront every single person,” he said. “If you’re inundated with requests I think it’s fair to pick and choose based on audience size and other factors, but it was pretty clear that I was the primary critic in this regard. I played a large role in spawning the controversy in the first place. I think it was pretty cowardly and irresponsible for her not to being willing to address it.”
Check out - and bookmark or even tweet Simon's blog - Bloggasm for more of his writing. I've added it to my list of 'Indispensable blogs.' :-)


This story won't go away.

Greenwald notes "NPR's "torture" ban and its Ombudsman's incoherent defense of it has now turned into a significant controversy for NPR -- and rightfully so..." and links to posts by Huffpost, the Owens piece (see Update I above).

UPDATE III - Monday July 6th

Well, I see that FAIR has also chimed in on Shepard's refusal to chat with Greenwald

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