Is It Really So Wrong For A Reporter To Have An Opinion?

from the modern-media dept

There's an interesting article by NPR's ombudsman, noting that Planet Money's Adam Davidson apparently went way over the line in a recent interview with Elizabeth Warren, who's in charge of watching over the TARP program to make sure it's not abused. Apparently a ton of people complained. Davidson apologized and NPR says that what he did was wrong and that: "It's important for journalists to treat whomever they are interviewing with respect -- and to keep their opinions to themselves. Davidson did neither."

The thing is... when I heard the original broadcast that caused the problems... I actually really liked it. Davidson is a smart and knowledgeable guy who's spent an awful lot of time digging into issues around the economic crisis to get to the bottom of them, and he had a reasonable point that he was trying to make, based on all of that knowledge -- and he challenged Warren on it. The reason I liked it was that it was a reporter actually challenging someone on something, rather than simply letting it stand. This is something that has been missing from reporting in many cases. It's what Jay Rosen has referred to as "he said/she said" reporting -- where a reporter asks questions to elicit a story from multiple parties, but never tries to ascertain if either story is true -- but just presents what the various people say. Davidson wasn't doing that. He was actually claiming that it seemed like Warren was trying to stretch the purpose of her job to do something that didn't necessarily fit in the role. And it was great to see a reporter actually say to someone "that's not true" because it felt like someone was finally getting challenged (no matter whether you feel Warren is in the right or not).

It was quite clear what Davidson's position was -- he laid it out -- and he challenged Warren, and it made for an interesting discussion. The whole idea that reporters must "keep their opinions to themselves" doesn't seem to make much sense. If someone is talking to a reporter and saying stuff that the reporter believes is wrong, don't they owe their audience the courtesy of digging deeper? I was impressed by Davidson, and am actually a bit disappointed that he backed down so quickly. It actually makes me wonder how much Planet Money will push back on people who state stuff that the Planet Money team feels is wrong in the future.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2009 @ 3:24pm

    Well Davidson's opinion is not fact either, so hearing saying him repeatedly saying that Warren is exceeding her remit without stating explicit reasons why he believes this is the case, is not illuminating. He could have asked Warren to explain why instead of losing it.

    This confrontational interviewer is quite a depature from his other interviews of Tim Geithner and Russ Roberts etc.

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