I did not realize this until just moments ago, but apparently NPR’s ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, wrote last week about the Lisa Simeone case. Even by the standards of in-the-tank ombudsmen, the piece is remarkably incoherent: It talks about NPR’s code of ethics for journalists while 1) failing to note that Simeone was a contractor for a contractor, and thus beyond any reasonable understanding of NPR’s control with respect to stuff she did on her own time, and 2) insisting that “Simeone has no influence or role in NPR news” and that “the issue surrounding her, therefore, is a management and legal one.”
My response, which might or might not get past the moderators:
Ed, could you possibly be any more disingenuous?
Your organization went after Simeone — who was neither an NPR employee nor a contractor, but was, rather, a contractor of a contractor, for political reasons, for things she was doing on her own time. That’s bad enough. Then your organization TRIED TO GET MY ALMA MATER TO DO YOUR DIRTY WORK FOR IT. And when my alma mater quite sensibly refused, your organization stopped syndicating the program. At least one D.C. lawyer I’ve talked to has described NPR’s action as “tortious interference with contractual relations.” You want a “management and legal issue”? Congratulations; you’ve got one. If I liked popcorn at all, I’d be making some right now.
What NPR did was bad enough, and you’re just compounding the error by lying about it in a way that makes quite clear you think your audience is dumber than linoleum.
Good God, these people are idiots.
(UPDATE, 10/25: Schumacher-Matos’s Twitter feed makes quite clear he is toeing a party line: The phrase “not a news issue” appears repeatedly. In the unlikely event that it wasn’t a news issue before, it is now. That he is not recognizing that fact means either that he’s on the take or that he’s too stupid to be holding his current job. I’m sorry to be personally abusive, but there really aren’t any other plausible explanations for his behavior on something that perhaps, once, briefly, was “not a news issue” but which 1) originated with a flawed news report and 2) is now ricocheting around The Atlantic, the Huffington Post and the online writings of some of the nation’s most prominent press critics.)
I also finally got around to sending an email to Dana Rehm, the NPR spokesbot who was babbling about all this last week. I wrote:
Dear Ms. Rehm:
As a Davidson College alumnus, a former WDAV-FM staffer and someone who has freelanced a time or three in the past 35 years, I’ve watched NPR’s behavior in the Lisa Simeone case with growing disbelief, anger and disgust. First you did something stupid. Then you tried to get my alma mater to do your dirty work for you and apparently lied about it. Then you dropped “World of Opera” out of what appears to be nothing more than sheer petulance and spite. Certainly, I can see no journalistic, moral, ethical, legal or PR upside for NPR to what you did, and as a guy with almost 35 years in media, I’ve looked at it from every possible angle.
I’ve also blogged about it here and here and gone after the author of the original Roll Call piece here for her crappy reporting. (In the likely event that I hear nothing more from her, I’ll move up her food chain to her editors, too: This was either a malicious fabrication or Roll Call tanking for a source with an agenda, and either way, I’m not going to let it go.)
The good news for you is, my blog doesn’t normally get much traffic. The bad news is, because I was briefly almost famous in the media biz a few years ago, the traffic it does get is kind of influential.
And since I first blogged about this subject, my daily traffic has gone up an order of magnitude. I realize you’re surprised. After all, no one could have foreseen that in this era of job insecurity and increasing incidence of sole proprietorship and freelancing, a lot of people might think that there’s something badly wrong with NPR’s trying to screw around with the livelihood of a contractor’s contractor. One lawyer I’ve talked to in D.C. thinks Simeone might actually have a cause of action against you for tortious interference with contractual relations. If I liked popcorn at all, I’d be making some right now.
The first rule of holes, Dana, is: When you’re in one, stop digging. Put the shovel down before you hurt yourself, and the country, any further. And while I appreciate your giving my alma mater the opportunity to look good in the national spotlight twice in one week, you really need to rethink how you’re doing business if you want to avoid serious harm to the country, let alone stay in business much longer. There’s a war against accountability journalism going on right now. I’ve been a Red State Republican for 33 years, and yet even I don’t think I’d much like the country I’d be living in if accountability journalism loses. If you think there’d be a place for you, you’re delusional.
In the unlikely event that she responds, you’ll see it here.