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How NPR Handled a Debunked Story Shows Why the Media Is Doomed

National Public Radio has remained defiant in the face of backlash to its report about a masking controversy among Supreme Court justices, all three of whom refuted the story.

SO WHAT

Some in the legacy media seem not to realize their days of dictating truth are over.

WHAT HAPPENED

NPR public editor Kelly McBride said Thursday that the debunked Tuesday report, by NPR chief legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, merited a “clarification, but not a correction.”

McBride accepted Totenberg’s narrative that Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s had refused Chief Justice John Roberts’ request to wear a mask on the bench in deference to fellow Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a “high-risk” diabetic.

  • According to McBride, Totenberg claimed to have “multiple, solid sources,” so “the core” issue must just be the veteran NPR reporter’s word choice.
  • “Totenberg and her editors should have chosen a word other than ‘asked.’ And she could have been clear about how she knew there was subtle pressure to wear masks (the nature or even exact number of her anonymous sources) and what she didn’t know (exactly how Roberts was communicating),” McBride said.

As McBride also noted, the previous day, NPR said it was standing by Totenberg’s report in spite of public denials by Gorsuch, Sotomayor and Roberts.

  • “Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us. It is false. While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends,” Gorsuch and Sotomayor said in a joint statement Wednesday.
  • “I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench,” said in a statement later the same day.

THE REACTION

Media critics, including Jeryl Bier, mocked the hair-splitting defenses of Totenberg’s reporting as less than credible.

Many on the right, like talk show host Erick Erickson, saw NPR’s refusal to correct the story about Gorsuch, a conservative, as the latest demonstration of the mainstream media’s liberal bias.

Others, such as commentator Kimberly Ross, suggested the episode was further proof of journalists’ unwarranted sense of self-importance.

MEANWHILE

Corporate news outlets have been rapidly losing audience to independent upstarts, like podcaster Joe Rogan, and trust in the traditional media has plummeted to crisis lows.

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