NPR ombudsman Dvorkin wrongly attacked Media Matters for "seeking to trash" NPR

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

National Public Radio ombudsman Jeffrey A. Dvorkin responded to a Media Matters item documenting NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson's assertion on Fox News Sunday that "it's Democrats, not just Republicans, taking money from" disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Dvorkin attacked Media Matters and defended Liasson's comments, asserting that the Fox News transcript had incorrectly included the comma after "Republicans," leaving "the impression that Liasson said that both parties had profited directly from Abramoff." Dvorkin also attacked Media Matters as one of the "political blogs" practicing "guilt by association" in "seeking to trash both FOX for being conservative, and NPR for looking like FOX's willing agents whenever its news representatives participate on FOX's programs."

In his May 15 column, National Public Radio ombudsman Jeffrey A. Dvorkin responded to a May 8 Media Matters for America item documenting NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson's assertion on the May 7 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday that "it's Democrats, not just Republicans, taking money from" disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Dvorkin attacked Media Matters and defended Liasson's comments, asserting that the Fox News transcript had incorrectly included the comma after "Republicans," leaving "the impression that Liasson said that both parties had profited directly from Abramoff." According to Dvorkin, Fox corrected the transcript, "but the correction was ignored by two blogs, Media Matters and Think Progress." Dvorkin also attacked Media Matters as one of the "political blogs" practicing "guilt by association" in "seeking to trash both FOX for being conservative, and NPR for looking like FOX's willing agents whenever its news representatives participate on FOX's programs." Dvorkin further claimed: "The blogs encouraged people to complain to NPR, and hundreds did, many with a surprising level of rancor and vituperation, which was shockingly intense, even in these times of 'take-no-prisoners-and shoot-the-wounded' political debate."

In criticizing Media Matters for not posting a correction, Dvorkin falsely suggested that the May 8 Media Matters item was based on the Fox News transcript. In fact, it was based on Media Matters' own transcription of Liasson's words. The item contains video of Liasson making her comments about Democrats and Abramoff on Fox News Sunday. Moreover, in his criticism of Media Matters, Dvorkin completely ignored a point made in the May 8 item: that Liasson had previously claimed that Democrats took money from Abramoff. As Media Matters documented, Liasson reported on the January 3 edition of NPR's Morning Edition that "more Republicans took money from Jack Abramoff than Democrats. That's almost logical, because they are in the majority."

Finally, Dvorkin offered no support for his claim that Media Matters "seek[s] to trash" NPR over Liasson's frequent appearances on Fox News. In fact, the May 8 item simply documented a claim -- which, as heard by Media Matters, was false and which Media Matters had previously documented her making -- and offered readers contact information. Nothing about the item sought "to trash both FOX for being conservative, and NPR for looking like FOX's willing agents whenever its news representatives participate on FOX's programs," as Dvorkin put it.

Furthermore, Dvorkin's accusation that Media Matters practices guilt by association rings hollow, as he himself engaged in guilt by association by assigning responsibility to Media Matters (which he erroneously labeled a "blog") for the purportedly vituperative comments emailed to NPR following the posting of the May 8 item.

From Dvorkin's May 15 column on npr.org, titled "Guilt by Association: The NPR-FOX Connection":

Nothing riles some public-radio listeners like NPR journalists appearing on FOX News television programs. Two prominent NPR correspondents, Mara Liasson and Juan Williams are regular panelists on FOX. What bothers those NPR listeners who complain to me is that the cable television network openly espouses conservative opinions as expressed by outspoken hosts. The FOX slogan, "fair and balanced" is deemed by many of the complainants as ironic, to say the least.

That's because NPR makes every effort to remain nonpartisan, and FOX, it appears, does not. Frustrated public-radio listeners tell me that the NPR presence only serves as cover for FOX's claim that it is "fair and balanced." And that frustration is further pumped up by some political blogs, seeking to trash both FOX for being conservative, and NPR for looking like FOX's willing agents whenever its news representatives participate on FOX's programs.

The Abramoff Scandal (Again)

It happened again, just the other day. On FOX News Sunday, for May 7th, NPR's Mara Liasson reported (accurately, in my opinion) that the polls indicate the public sees the Abramoff scandal as being essentially bipartisan even though only Republicans took money from the now disgraced, but once well-connected lobbyist.

The FOX transcript did not initially record it like that. Due to a misplaced comma, it left the impression that Liasson said that both parties had profited directly from Abramoff. FOX soon issued an accurate transcript, but the correction was ignored by two blogs, Media Matters and Think Progress.

The blogs encouraged people to complain to NPR, and hundreds did, many with a surprising level of rancor and vituperation, which was shockingly intense, even in these times of "take-no-prisoners-and shoot-the-wounded" political debate.

The blogs got it wrong because FOX's original transcript was in error. But the blogs, unlike FOX, never bothered telling their supporters about the correction.

The role of the blogosphere in this matter seems worth exploring because while it encourages people to express strong feelings, the level of pure acrimony in this case, seemed to me to rise to the level of hate speech.

Network/Outlet
NPR
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.