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On NPR and Ethics

I’ve been keeping this blog for almost a year now, even after I was hired by NPR and it’s because they have an enlightened social media policy that doesn’t prohibit such things. They ask that we assume personal responsibility for what we say with the understanding that we represent NPR at all times.

This is why I write about culture, occasionally media, sports, and when I delve into politics it is with a broad brush and I go out of my way NOT to divulge my personal political opinions. I do not feel that my 1st amendment rights are being violated.

I have the right to say what I want and the government can’t throw me in prison for it. I do not have a constitutional right to be employed by NPR.

I choose to abide by NPR’s ethics policies that draw a clear line between controversial opinion and objectivity because I understand that in order to maintain our credibility with the public, it is an absolute necessity.

If I and my fellow employees are asked to avoid overt political rallies, I have no issue with that. It is not a matter that I might be recognized by someone. I don’t go on the air at NPR but do run one of its broadcast units. It is a matter of journalistic ethics and I am responsible for upholding those ethics as much as any correspondent or analyst.

We in the Newscast unit and in the news magazine shows work very, very hard each and every day to be as fair as possible and broadcast all points of view. Don’t listen to me. Listen to our content.

There are communities in every nook and cranny of our country, in big cities, suburbs and rural areas that absent the presence of NPR member-stations would have no local radio at all and very little by way of objective journalism. We help provide some of that journalism and that is all NPR seeks to protect.

And that is all I choose to say.

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  1. Tom Bailey
    October 22, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Well said Robert!

  2. Mike Cavender
    October 29, 2010 at 12:38 am

    As someone who shared the journalism business with you for 25 years, I agree with everything you say. And your approach in following, in this case, the NPR ethics policy is exactly what you should do. My objection with your employer is that it seems clear that there is a double standard at NPR, depending on who you are and which media you may choose upon which to express your opinion.

    It seems Juan Williams was jettisoned more for his association with Fox News than because of his admission of having concerns when he sees folks in Muslim garb waiting for an airplane. What about Nina Totenberg (an NPR correspondent who might be expected to adhere to an even tougher standard) and her repeated, often critical opinions on the TV program, Inside Washington? What about other NPR personalities that have expressed opinions in other public venues? There truly seems to be a double-standard at NPR. It seems FOX News was the real target of Ms. Schiller and Juan Williams served only as the conduit. I don’t believe NPR’s news coverage leans left–but some of its leaders certainly might!

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