For late Friday, a couple items from the mailbag. I'm not going to weigh in except to say that in my first month here I've found NPR's journalists to be very open to discussing questions about their work. I find it's often helpful to see how journalistic decisions are made; you can judge for yourselves.
I'm late to this but longtime NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten has just taken on NPR's religion beat and his first story on Feb. 15 generated a whopping 2,385 comments, and a number of emails to the Ombudsman inbox, some questioning the choice of religious scholar Reza Aslan, a Muslim, as a source. Gjelten acknowledged the criticism on his Facebook page:
My initial offering as NPR's religion correspondent triggered an avalanche of criticism, much of it arguing that I had unfairly suggested that extreme atheism or anti-theism may have been a motive in the murder of three young Muslim-Americans in North Carolina. I did not say that, nor did anyone I interviewed — including Reza Aslan. Unfortunately, the headline in the web version of the story (which I did not write) did reference that speculation. What I did in that story, citing Reza Aslan, was raise the general question of whether there may be extremism among anti-religionists, just as there is among religionists. As I said several times in the story, we don't yet know the motive for the NC killings, nor whether the alleged shooter's views on religion were even relevant. I also cited Azra Nomani, whom I respect, arguing that one should be careful not to quickly blame anti-theism or Islamophobia for those killings, to avoid feeding a culture of fear and victimization in the Muslim American community.
He added to me: "I interviewed Aslan as a scholar of religion. I would not say that his faith is any more relevant here than would be the case for a religion scholar of some other faith background. "
Finally, earlier this week, listener Ted Lockery, who teaches journalism at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle, Wash. and advises the student newspaper, had a question about a commentator interviewed in David Folkenflik's All Things Considered piece on Fox Newshost Bill O'Reilly.
"When Marvin Kalb commented on the controversy, I remembered reading a Wikipedia reference to O'Reilly as having been Kalb's student at the Kennedy School of Government. Did that ever turn up in your reporting? If it did, was there a stylistic or editorial reason for not pointing out that relationship in the piece? Just curious. And hoping to share your response with my journalism students."
Folkenflik's reply, in part:
I interviewed Kalb twice about O'Reilly, once for the column posted Monday night, and again Tuesday morning for my All Things Considered piece that ran this evening. In the second interview I did confirm the relationship and get further details. You are right on both counts: a) Kalb was O'Reilly's professor at the Harvard JFK School and b) that detail is relevant to the story. That said, a number of elements that were relevant to the story had to be omitted in service of time. It was included in my initial draft; a compressed allusion endured through some of the editing; it was stripped out, finally, to help whittle the story down to its required length. (Even so, the story was a bit long.) That's how deadline poetry gets composed.
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