NPR Should Consider Suspending Alicia Shepard Too
posted at 8:30 am on March 11, 2011 by John Sexton
NPR’s Ombudswoman, Alicia Shepard, was caught making a demonstrably false claim on Twitter the other night. Okay, we all make mistakes. That’s what ombudmen are for, right?
Only when Patterico pointed out to her that she’d gotten it wrong, Alicia tap danced and eventually revealed that she’d never even looked at the source (James O’Keefe’s unedited NPR sting video). Even after Patterico sent her a link and the exact moment in the clip that would prove she was wrong, she refused to look. Go to Patterico’s site for the full story. In the end, after a long wrestling match, she finally got it sort of right, though she never admitted making an error in the first place. No doubt she, and the people who were quoting her, would never have know about any of this if Patterico hadn’t stepped in and ombudsed the ombudsman.
But this isn’t the first time Alicia has made a serious mistake when it comes to checking her sources. Frankly, I still think this other recent instance was a lot worse, though I’m admittedly biased since I was the one who stepped in that time. Here’s the short version: In the aftermath of the Juan Williams firing, Shepard could have picked any of the hundreds of e-mails and letters she received to make a point on her official NPR blog about Juan’s (supposedly) offensive comments. She chose to highlight a letter from a man with a long written trail on the web. This individual had elsewhere written that Israel was a “rouge terrorist apartheid state” and referred to our Constitutional system as the “three branches of AIPAC.” To call him biased would be to put it very, very mildly.
This seems like pretty basic stuff. You don’t ask David Duke to review the new Denzel Washington film and you don’t ask a Muslim activist and author of anti-Semitic screeds if he was offended by Juan Williams’ comments. In both cases, the outcome is probably pretty easy to guess and isn’t worth printing unless it runs completely counter to expectations. In this case, it didn’t.
My point isn’t to suggest that Alicia Shepard agreed with this individual’s point of view or that she acted maliciously in either case. Never attribute to ill will what can more easily be chalked up to incompetence. I think what the record shows is that she is simply incapable of performing her job with the level of care it demands. She’s blown it twice now when getting it right mattered. It makes one wonder how many other blunders like this have gone unnoticed.
I don’t know how many mulligans you get at NPR. In the case of Vivian Schiller the answer seems to have been two. Alicia Shepard has now reached that threshold. Maybe that should be enough.