In an op-ed published by NPR this week, Public Editor Kelly McBride, who also serves as chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at The Poynter Institute, admits that NPR was “too slow” in its reporting on former Senate staffer Tara Reade’s sexual assault allegation against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden — and that “silence” ended up feeding “at least three critical narratives” about NPR’s political biases.
“On March 25, a community radio station in New York aired segments of a one-hour podcast interview with Tara Reade, who told a story of being sexually assaulted in 1993 by then Sen. Joe Biden, whom she worked for in his Senate office,” writes McBride. “Since then, many of the nation’s established newsrooms have come under criticism for being too slow to produce their own reporting on the allegation made against the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.”
“The New York Times and The Washington Post both published stories on April 12, two-and-a-half weeks later,” she continues. “NPR’s own original work was broadcast for listeners a week after that, on April 19, closing in on a full month after Reade first went public with her story.”
That nearly a month-long delay, she acknowledges, “conveys a lack of urgency on the part of the NPR politics team.”
So what took NPR, which portrays itself as a politically unbiased source of news, so long to report on the increasingly credible allegation against the Democrats candidate? McBride looked into it and learned from some of the other editors and reporters that they decided their policy on Reade’s allegations were “to report only information that its own reporters had independently confirmed.”
“It was slow and difficult,” NPR Managing Editor Terence Samuel told McBride. “By the time we did our story, the Times did a story, the Post did a story. We did ours after we finally talked to her in person.”
While McBride says she agrees with the general approach, she admits that taking nearly a month to report on the accusation, and delaying a full week after even the belated reporting of both the Times and the Post, “hurts.” The problem, she writes, is that “NPR’s silence on the story feeds at least three critical narratives, or perhaps suspicions” about its political biases (formatting adjusted):
1) NPR preferred Biden over Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination (the story broke before Sanders had dropped out, but barely);
2) NPR is reluctant to tell stories that may help President Donald J. Trump’s re-election effort;
3) NPR is hypocritical, covering claims of sexual assault leveled against Republicans, but burying similar accusations against Democrats.
McBride goes on to detail at length what went on behind the scenes to “slow” NPR’s reporting on the significant and increasingly credible accusation against the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, citing a failure to “assign enough resources to the story at first” and delays in talking to Reade. “Ultimately, NPR was slowed down by the frustration and complexity presented by an accusation of an assault that either did or didn’t happen 30 years ago,” write McBride. (Read the full piece here.)
While it took NPR nearly a month to report on Reade’s accusation, NPR, like the rest of the mainstream outlets, promptly reported the various unsubstantiated allegations against Brett Kavanaugh, for which an extensive investigation by the Judiciary Committee and investigations by the FBI ultimately found “no credible evidence.”
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