Tuesday, August 13, 2013

So much for journalistic "integrity"...

A couple of years ago, NPR aired a series of reports looking into the role of South Dakota welfare agencies in placing Native American children into foster care "with white families."  The reports were sensationalized, using words like "kidnapping" and charging that the agencies were doing it intentionally in order to collect Federal benefits.  The report was immediately criticized as biased and inaccurate, but ended up winning a Peabody award. Now the NPR ombudsman has completed his review of the 3-part series and released an 80-page report.  His key findings:
My finding is that the series was deeply flawed and should not have been aired as it was.
The series committed five sins that violate NPR’s code of standards and ethics. They were:
1. No proof for its main allegations of wrongdoing;
2. Unfair tone in communicating these unproven allegations;
3. Factual errors, shaky anecdotes and misleading use of data by quietly switching what was being measured;
4. Incomplete reporting and lack of critical context;
5. No response from the state on many key points.
No doubt the investigative team was driven by the history of injustices suffered by Native Americans. There is much to be outraged about. But good intentions are not enough. Specifically, there is no whistleblower, no document — no smoking gun even — to support the unmistakable allegation that for nearly the last 15 years, state social workers have been so evil as to take Indian children from their families as a way to reap federal funds for the state government. The charge is so shocking and such a potential insult to many dedicated social workers that the burden of proof should have been especially high.
There is more that is wrong, too. The reported federal reimbursement numbers are badly inflated. That is a factual flaw. Perhaps more upsetting to many of us is a moral one: concern for the centrally relevant matter of child neglect is simply dismissed. That many of the foster decisions, meanwhile, are in fact made by the tribes’ own independent judges goes unreported altogether. The crucial context of social ills and a crisis of Indian family breakdowns on the state’s reservations are also all but missing.
Despite this extremely critical and detailed review by their own ombudsman, NPR immediately released a statement that “NPR stands by the stories.”  Rather than considering the validity of the criticism, they blamed the ombudsman, calling his report "deeply flawed," although conceding four major flaws in the original reporting.  One problem that NPR had with the ombudsman is that he used data provided by the state (the state agencies says the original reporters never sought any information or responses to charges).  One would think that this would suggest a certain bias or willful blindness with the original reporters (not wanting to deal with information that goes against their predetermined sensationalized storyline), more than insinuating that the publicly reported data of state agencies are intentionally falsified and thus the ombudsman's report is wrong; but then I'm not a journalist defending my world view (and reputation).

Even the Columbia Journalism Review, an industry magazine that habitually defends reporting admits that there have been problems with accuracy with this particular NPR investigative unit before, and concludes
At stake in this controversy is more than just a Peabody: It’s the very reputation of both the investigative unit and the ombudsman.
So much for journalistic integrity. 

Source -  NPR dismisses and ombudsman report, Columbia Journalism Review

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