And speaking of news analysis, what a segue to the news coming out of NPR, still a major news source in this household but one I’m becoming a bit, oh, vexed with.

It’s their ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin. First was his preposterous defense of Bill O’Reilly in that ridiculous blowup with Terry Gross a couple weeks ago. Now he’s going after one of the few Supreme Court reporters worth your time, Nina Totenberg, to make a point that reporters should never express an opinion publicly. Note: The column has been updated, but the old one hasn’t gone into the archives yet. We’ll have to hang fire until it’s updated. Sorry. Such actions are “fraught,” he believes, because it confuses the public, who will therefore come to doubt the objectivity of any reporter who does so.

Oh, hogwash. (Although, in a world where Fox News continues to claim it’s “fair and balanced,” he may have a point.) This issue is too tiresome to non-journalists go into much detail here, but if you’re interested, I think Jay Rosen has it just about right.

Posted at 11:30 am in Uncategorized |

10 responses to “NPArrrgh.”

  1. alex said on November 5, 2003 at 12:09 pm

    Is this guy a double agent on the take from Fox or something?

    Why let the right set the agenda? No matter what NPR does, they’re going to be accused of liberalism by these bullies anyway.

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  2. Nance said on November 5, 2003 at 12:22 pm

    Well, precisely. The subject has lots of nuance, but when Bill O’Reilly walks out of a 49-minute interview at 48:30, managing to mention the title of his book about a dozen times in the process, it should make a reasonable person suspicious. If you heard the interview, this happened when she tried to read him a short review of his book. So he walks out, and she read this review, and Dvorkins spanks her for doing an “empty chair” interview! For finishing a sentence she tried to start about 10 times!

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  3. Dan McAfee said on November 5, 2003 at 1:25 pm

    I did listen to the whole interview and O’Reilly walked out after she refused to offset reading the bad review out of People magazine by reading any of the many more positive reviews he has received.

    I’m not much of an O’Reilly fan, but I thought he had a good point… why wasn’t Fresh Air hard on Frankin? Why was Fresh Air combative with O’Reilly’s book and non-combative with Frankin’s book?

    He was there on a book tour, so it’s hard to fault him for mentioning his book.

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  4. michael golden said on November 5, 2003 at 1:37 pm

    I have never read Jeffrey Dvorkin before. I don’t hang out at NPR’s web site. I listen to NPR in the car going to and from work. As a result, I very seldom hear Terry Gross and did not hear the program in question; nor did I hear the round table thing featuring Nina Totenberg. The subject of reporters and opinions has been simmering for some time. There have been lots of takes on lots of outlets in the last few months; particularly with regard to various things printed in the NYT and the LAT. I don’t think I can improve on what has been written other than to agree with those who say that there is an inherent bias in anything that is reported and published (aired, printed, blogged etc). By that I mean in any given outlet stories are chosen or not, emphasized or not, presented in a particular order and so forth. And that there is a difference between having that bias sometimes leak through in reporting and that bias causing a publication to report falsely or to fabricate things. Lord knows the rightys have no complaint about others showing bias in a publication. Talk about glass houses. They can dish it out but they can’t take it.

    In the case of NPR and Nina Totenberg we have a reporter who specializes in an arcane corner of the universe. Very, very few people ever attend a Supreme Court session. We are here relying on a paid observer to see and report on what she has heard at the latest session and, yes, to provide us with some evaluation of what she has seen and heard. I fail to see how or why Dvorkin doesn’t understand this arrangement. People who listen to this report should be given credit for being able to discern a bald fact from an expressed opinion. A round table program is an opinion mill. Even Dvorkin should understand that. The notion that Totenberg shouldn’t express an opinion on one is preposterous. The notion that she was expressing some desire to wreak physical harm on that idiot Boykin is even more so. Dvorkin’s response to the cranks whining in should have been “Get a life”.

    It appears to me that Dvorkin is writing scared. He is frightened that people will perceive a liberal bias at NPR. He’s even more frightened that somebody will associate him with a liberal bias. Why this frightens him, I don’t know. This condition seems to afflict some species of liberals. They always want to appear to have a balanced and reasoned point of view. They’re unable to simply be what they are and to hell with it. This never bothers rightys. In his zeal to appear open to reason, it doesn’t occur to Dvorkin that he is stabbing two excellent on air personalities (and very valuable NPR assets) in the back over trivia. He brings nothing to NPR’s table that I can discern. He can leave any time. By the way, is anything simply “fraught”? Should’nt it be fraught with something?

    As an aside, I find Nina Totenberg’s reporting to be one of the highlights of NPR. She is far and away the best on air Supreme Court (and other courts) analyst around. I specify “on air” because of that other excellent Supreme Court analyst, the delightful Dahlia Lithwick on Slate. If you want to see a superb and hilarious bit of reporting, check out Dahlia’s November 3 offering on Slate It’s a classic. You’ll choke on your coffee.

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  5. michael golden said on November 5, 2003 at 1:41 pm

    Whoops, I mispeled “shouldn’t”

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  6. Nance said on November 5, 2003 at 2:12 pm

    Franken writes books about politics, but he essentially a comedian. O’Reilly styles himself as a crusading journalist but is essentially an entertainer. She was not reading reviews for fun, but trying to pin him down on a point he’d just made — that he believes his books should be reviewed for their content and not based on the reviewer’s feelings about O’R personally. The review she was trying to read said something like, “The last time I panned a book by O’Reilly, he named me the idiot of the day and attacked me personally.” In other words, she was asking him to respond to something he’d done that he just said he never did.

    It’s not her job to balance bad reviews with good. She was trying to get to the essence of the man, and succeeded admirably.

    That night on his show, attacking Gross personally, he claimed his objection to NPR is all about the “billion dollars of taxpayer money” they collect every year. It’s about one-third that amount, and most goes to the Corp for Public Broadcasting, not NPR.

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  7. alex said on November 5, 2003 at 3:40 pm


    Having just read the Dahlia Lithwick piece you mention, as well as a few others, I’d say she’s got exactly the right tone for the beat. Not only am I chuckling so hard I can barely keep from peeing, I also come away with a much more vivid understanding of what the courts do and why.

    The trouble with most journalism on the subject of law is that it is oversimplified, not to mention dry. Thus you hear otherwise intelligent people spouting utter nonsense about the courts because they can’t quite comprehend that the courts are interpreting law, not making it. The blame for bad law belongs with the legislature.

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  8. Jay Rosen said on November 6, 2003 at 8:31 am

    Thanks, Nancy. Here is the archive url:

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  9. Nance said on November 6, 2003 at 8:59 am

    Thanks, Jay. Nice column. (Everyone must check their incoming links these days. Everyone but me.)

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  10. T said on November 6, 2003 at 2:04 pm

    Dvorkin is a well-meaning ass. “Confuse the public?” Anyone who doesn’t already know where Totenberg is coming from deserves to be confused.

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