National Public Radio ombudsman/public editor Elizabeth Jensen has recommended that the taxpayer-funded radio news service bar future live interviews of conservatives who may have controversial views, following an interview Nov. 16 with Breitbart News’ Joel B. Pollak.
(Update, Nov. 21: NPR has clarified its policy and says live interviews of conservatives will continue. See here.)
Pollak, who serves as Breitbart’s Senior Editor-at-Large and In-house Counsel, defended its Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon from false and defamatory claims of antisemitism and “white nationalism.” He also turned the tables, pointing out that NPR has “racist programming,” including a story that called the 2016 election results “nostalgia for a whiter America.”
NPR listeners were apparently outraged that anyone from Breitbart News had been given an opportunity to defend the website and its chairman.
In her response, “Listeners: Two Recent Interviews Are ‘Normalizing Hate Speech’,” Jensen concluded that the live format had allowed Pollak to get the better of host Steve Inskeep.
She suggested that future interviews be taped: “In addition, in my opinion, these interviews should not be done live. Inskeep is an excellent live interviewer, but live interviews are difficult, especially when there is limited time. A little contextualizing never hurts.”
Jensen went on to argue that “contextualizing” had worked for a similar interview with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, as well as for an interview Nov. 17 with white nationalist Richard Spencer. (Pollak responded to the latter interview in an article Nov. 18 rejecting NPR’s attempt to link Bannon and Breitbart with white nationalism.)
Notably, Jensen’s recommendation mirrors the language of a critique by the left-wing pressure group Media Matters, which complained that “the interview failed to contextualize the true extent of Breitbart’s extremism under Bannon’s leadership.”
Bannon was recently appointed Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to President-elect Donald J. Trump. He took a leave of absence from Breitbart News in August when he was appointed Trump campaign CEO.
Jensen applauded the use of the term “white nationalist” to describe Bannon, although she noted Bannon had disputed that term. She linked to an internal NPR memorandum suggesting the term “white nationalist” be used in stories on the “alt-right.”