Wick Communications

When navel-gazing works

In Ethics on June 3, 2011 at 5:37 am

Last week, KQED, the San Francisco Bay Area’s NPR affiliate, did something sort of extraordinary. It devoted 30 minutes to discussing whether a station host blew it in an interview a day earlier.

It all started when host Dave Iverson interviewed Frank Lindh about his feelings that his son, who had been convicted of aiding the Taliban, should be released from custody. Iverson relied on an old New York Times story when he characterized the Taliban as a terrorist organization. (Are Taliban terrorists? It turns out the answer is fairly arcane and, if you are interested, you can find that on the KQED website.) That set off Lindh and the resulting confrontation set off readers. At this writing, more than 200 comments have been posted about the original story and the follow-up.

Two things struck me about this exchange.

The first was that the station and its host felt the need to revisit this show at all. They called in NPR’s ombudsman, Alicia Shepherd, who praised the station for admitting some fault and working to set the record straight and repair bridges. If you listen to the show (you can find both programs here) you’ll see that Iverson took pains to include commenters who both thought he had handed the situation well, and those who thought he had not. …

Secondly, I was interested in Iverson’s repeated question to listeners: Should a professional interviewer treat a private citizen like Lindh differently than, say, a politician or an outside expert. The implication is that everyday folk shouldn’t expect to be hammered in an interview.

I think that is a good point, and you might not agree. Do you expect more in an interview with the mayor than you might from a voter? What about the police chief and the father of a defendant? I think that private citizens, people who didn’t ask for our attention and don’t spend half their lives talking into microphones, deserve the benefit of the doubt. I am much more apt to consider minor fixes to their grammar in quotes or allow them to back up and restate their feelings.

All in all, I think the station scored points with listeners on this one. Listeners seemed to appreciate Iverson’s explanation and willingness to accept some blame.

Clay

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