NPR is not taking scholar Jay Rosen’s charge that the network has engaged in one of the “lowest forms of journalism” lying down.
“Rosen is a journalism professor whose provocative positions on media responsibility and new media have often succeeded in shaking up a sometimes hidebound profession,” notes NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos. “But this time he overstates his case.”
The alleged he/she-said in question comes in the form of a report on anti-abortion group efforts to create tougher state requirements for abortion clinic licenses in Kansas. These rules involve setting standards for the temperature and size of procedure rooms. Rosen apparently felt that the neutrality of NPR reporter Kathy Lohr, who covered a hearing on the issue, amounted to a case of reality avoidance.
“The new Kansas regulations may be a form of harassment, intended to make life as difficult as possible for abortion providers in that state,” Rosen contended in a protest to Schumacher-Matos himself. “Or, alternatively, these rules may be sane, rational, common sense, sound policy: just normal rule-making by responsible public officials.”
According to this report, NPR has no idea who is right. It cannot provide listeners with any help in sorting through such a dramatic conflict in truth claims. It knows of no way to adjudicate these clashing views. It is simply confused and helpless and the best it can do is pass on that helplessness to listeners of “Morning Edition.”
Rosen’s bottom line:
This is he said, she said reporting, one of the lowest forms of journalism in existence, in which the NPR reporter washes her hands of determining what is true.
NPR’s Schumacher-Matos defends the story—arguing that it did acknowledge the political nature of the debate. But then he suggests that more may be needed:
I would like to see NPR directly tackle the claims of operating room safety, instead of leaving the matter only to the courts. Such claims are apparently hard to measure, even though the Kansas abortion opponents say they have 2,500 pages of documentation supporting their claims. But the proponents of the regulations make no secret that they are pursing a harassment strategy up to the legal limit. As Lohr reported, anti-abortion rights activists in other states are trying to copy the Kansas tactic.
Rosen’s reaction to the NPR post? “ANOTHER UPDATE: The NPR ombudsman did look into it! He thinks I’m wrong. Sort of.”