National Public Radio’s public editor said Thursday that NPR’s Supreme Court reporter should have disclosed her close personal relationship with the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg wrote an essay on her 48-year friendship with Ginsburg following the justice’s death Sept. 18, an essay that delves into Ginsburg’s “extraordinary character” but also exposed the “closeness of that Totenberg-Ginsburg relationship,” according to Kelly McBride, NPR’s public editor and senior vice president of the Poynter Institute.
Totenberg’s musings on her relationship with Ginsburg, who officiated Totenberg’s wedding in 2000, sparked concerns that NPR had not disclosed the closeness of this relationship, according to NPR’s public editor.
“We would become professional friends and later, close friends after she moved to Washington to serve on the federal appeals court here and later, on the U.S. Supreme Court,” Totenberg wrote in her essay. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: ‘Disgusting Attacks On Her Faith’: Sasse Condemns ‘Anti-Catholic Bigotry’ Against Amy Coney Barrett)
The public editor is “a source of independent accountability,” created by the publication’s board of directors to serve “as a bridge between the newsroom and the audience,” according to NPR.
“This office of the Public Editor was created to ensure NPR is responsive to the concerns of listeners and to help NPR remain steadfast in its mission to present fair, accurate and comprehensive information in service of democracy,” NPR’s website says.
“In failing to be transparent about Totenberg’s relationship with Ginsburg over the years, NPR missed two opportunities,” McBride wrote.
“First, NPR leaders could have shared the conversations they were having and the precautions they were taking to preserve the newsroom’s independent judgment,” McBride said. “Second, having those conversations in front of the public would have sharpened NPR’s acuity in managing other personal conflicts of interest among its journalists.”
Totenberg did not speak with NPR’s public editor, but she discussed her relationship with Ginsburg with the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi, dismissing concerns over the closeness of the relationship.
“Totenberg dismissed concerns that her closeness with Ginsburg — and similarly with the late justice Antonin Scalia — was in any way compromising to her journalism. Instead, she argues that NPR’s listeners benefited from them because her friendships gave her greater insight into and understanding of the justices’ motivations and thinking, which she then conveyed in her reporting,” Farhi wrote for the Post.
“It’s my job to learn as much as I can about the people I cover,” Totenberg told the Post. “You’re supposed to know them and understand them as much as you possibly can. . . . It’s a great benefit to me as a reporter and my listeners. And [the two friendships] were a great benefit to me as a human being.”
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