Two sickening stories about NPR today. First, the NPR ombud owns up to the fact that their reporting on native Americans in South Dakota was false, hateful, and racist.
I remember hearing one of these three reports, and I was horrified. I should have realized that it came from NPR, and thus was a tax-funded lie.
In October 2011, NPR aired a three-part investigative series by reporter Laura Sullivan and producer Amy Walters alleging abuses in the foster care system for Native American children in South Dakota. With a mix of statements by the reporter and much innuendo, the series unmistakably alleges that the state’s Department of Social Services was systematically removing Indian children from their families in order to collect federal reimbursements. The series further alleges that cultural bias — it stops just short of saying racism — was behind the overwhelming placement of these children in white homes, in possible violation of federal law.
The series attracted national attention and won prestigious journalism awards. Some Native American advocates have since issued their own report supporting the reporters’ findings. Activists and foster care policy leaders from each of the state’s nine tribes also enlisted the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs in holding a May “summit” in response to the series.
Walter Duranty, anyone? Remember him? The NY Times Pulitzer prize winner who falsely claimed that nobody was dying of starvation in Russia. Real number: upwards of 20 million. NPR pulled the same stunt with their story of white South Dakota social workers taking native American children from their homes and placing them with white families. The idea here is to create hatred.
Governor Dennis Daugaard and the secretary of the state’s Department of Social Services, Kim Malsam-Rysdon, on the other hand, have condemned the series. They say that it is inaccurate and misleading. Many South Dakota residents also have written me in disapproval of it.
More than 18 months have passed since the series aired. This might seem an inordinate amount of time, but I faced a conundrum. The two sides — the state and the reporters — stuck to hugely separate versions of not just interpretation, but also of what would seem to be easily measureable facts. I finally resolved in the spaces between other posts to slowly re-report parts of a major investigation that had taken the journalists themselves a year.
I also felt that more than a standard critique was needed. As I delved into the defense of the series by the reporters and editors, I had a gnawing sense that the real issue was deeper than the story. The challenges that I was having in deciphering the tone and images of this story reflected what seemed to me to be a misuse of the techniques of storytelling in other complicated investigations, too. I wrote a long preliminary report to show what actually was being said in the South Dakota series and what substance there was behind it. I presented the draft to the reporters and editors late last year. I gave a copy as well to CEO Gary Knell.
What the ombud is getting at here is this notion that there is no real factual information, just different lenses, different perspectives. Journalism is a form of fiction.
Appalled journalistic traditionalists might say that this is like a reporter showing a story to its subject before publishing it. The traditionalists would be right. But I was searching for truth and fairness. Based on the responses I got to the first draft, I dug more and further clarified my thoughts. This final report is a substantial rewrite but still arrives at starkly different conclusions from that of the reporters and top editors. I have presented this account to them, too, and invited them to write a detailed dissenting opinion. They have chosen instead to post a short statement linked here. They acknowledge some shortcomings but still stand behind the series. They declined to respond on the record to most of the points in this report.
What does he mean? He means that even though the 3 part report was non-factual (a lie) and even though it created racial tension and degraded the professionals working in social services for the State of South Dakota, NPR refuses to own up to their disgraceful behavior.
The Bottom Line
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.
NPR’s code of ethics? He made a funny!
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.
“ Whatever the truth, the proof here is so weak that this series is itself an injustice.
So, too, is a real-world concern. All sides agree that the preferred alternative is to put Native children in Native foster homes, but unreported is that there is an acute shortage of these homes in the state and nationally. Relatedly, South Dakota courts and social workers often skip the foster care system altogether and use a companion welfare program in which Indian children are indeed put in Indian homes. As many children are put in Native homes under the welfare program as are put in white homes under foster care, according to state records. There is no mention of any of this in the series.
The second sickening story?
Obama’s attend cocktail party hosted by NPR “journalist”, Michelle Norris.
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attended a cocktail party Monday night at the home of NPR host Michele Norris and her husband, Broderick Johnson, an adviser to the president’s reelection campaign.
The first couple spent just over an hour and a half at the reception at Johnson’s Martha’s Vineyard home. The Obamas are enjoying an eight-day vacation on the tony Massachusetts island.
Norris, who anchored NPR’s flagship “All Things Considered” evening broadcast, stepped away from her duties in October 2011 after her husband’s decision to accept a senior position with the Obama campaign.
“After careful consideration, we decided that Broderick’s new role could make it difficult for me to continue hosting ATC,” Norris said in a statement.
“This has all happened very quickly, but working closely with NPR management, we’ve been able to make a plan that serves the show, honors the integrity of our news organization and is best for me professionally and personally.”
Norris rejoined the network 15 months later but did not return to the daily news program, instead serving now as a guest host and special correspondent.
So we can trust her, right? Not a problem.
Ok, they do the same thing to Israel, so it doesn’t bother me that much to see them doing it to the social services department of South Dakota. But it does bother me to pay for it. That is unnecessary. Anyone can lie, write fiction or plays. (The Rachel Corrie play comes to mind). Why should you or I have to pay for it? That’s the real issue.
I recommend that you go to the link to check this out. There’s a lot more there. On the other hand, if you just want to be happy in La-La Land, avoid.