Totenberg: Who cares what our ombud says about my reporting?

(AP Photo/Molly Riley)

After three denials from the principals involved, one might think Nina Totenberg would care about how her reporting is perceived internally as well as externally. Despite getting the lightest possible criticism from NPR’s public editor over Totenberg’s silly and single-sourced gossipy mask story at the Supreme Court, Totenberg blasted Kelly McBride for challenging her at all.

“She can write any goddamn thing she wants, whether or not I think it’s true,” Totenberg told The Daily Beast on Thursday night. Okay then!

McBride, for her part, told The Daily Beast on Thursday night that she stood by her recommendation, and that she does “think NPR should clarify the language in the story.”

But in her own telephone conversation with The Daily Beast, Totenberg—a towering presence at NPR who has been there since 1975—responded to McBride, the justices, and general criticism of her story.

“A non-denial denial from two of them doesn’t work,” Totenberg said, referring to the statement from Sotomayor and Gorsuch. As to Roberts, she said, “the other just refuses to accept the fact that I did not say that he requested that people do anything, but in some form did.”

“I have got nothing to say, except that I am sticking by my reporting,” Totenberg said, while eating dinner. “I think it is absolutely valid.”

The supposed “non-denial denial” came from both Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor, the villain and victim in Totenberg’s report, which clearly stated that the two justices have no issues on masking between them. Totenberg’s defenders at the time tried parsing that statement by noting that Totenberg had reported that John Roberts had issued the masking request “in some form” to Gorsuch rather than Sotomayor asking directly. Roberts then issued his own denial directly on this point.

A news organization interested in truth and accuracy would insist on more than a clarification from its reporter, especially one that used a single anonymous source for the original story. NPR barely even addressed the issues that these denials raised, instead just asking Totenberg to clarify what she meant by “in some form” regarding Roberts’ request, language that raised eyebrows from the start.  What exactly did those weasel words describe — an explicit request, a raised eyebrow, mental telepathy — what?

Totenberg, who apparently fully buys into the Daily Beast’s description of her as a “founding mother” of NPR News, simply can’t be bothered to provide an explanation, let alone accountability. One has to assume it’s because her source can’t provide one either, especially in the face of three public denials and one on-the-record source calling Totenberg’s reporting nonsense on stilts:

It appears Totenberg is too invested in her narrative to question her source in the face of all these denials. NPR appears to be too invested in Totenberg to acknowledge that her story fell apart. And the rest of us can now remember not to invest ourselves too much in NPR’s credibility, since one source tells us that they can “write any goddamned thing [they] want, whether or not [they] think it’s true.” Isn’t that what Totenberg just told us … “in some form”?