AirTalk®

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The journalistic ethics behind NPR’s recent interviews on alt-right

by AirTalk®

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People protest the appointment of white nationalist alt-right media mogul, former Breitbart News head Steve Bannon, to be chief strategist of the White House by President-elect Donald Trump on November 16, 2016. DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

With the appointment of Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon as President-elect Trump's chief strategist, there are mounting concerns that Bannon might bring an alt-right mentality with him to the White House. Bannon, who once called Breitbart “the platform for the alt-right,” has many worried that some of the anti-Semitic and white nationalist political views that have been associated with the so-called alt-right movement will be given a platform in the Trump Administration. 

After airing interviews with Breitbart editor Joel Pollak responding to criticism of Bannon as Trump's choice for chief strategist as well as Richard Spencer, an alt-right movement member who talked with host Kelly McEvers about the alt-right and its beliefs, NPR received a slew of feedback from listeners, enough to merit a response from NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen addressing listeners’ concerns and the idea of whether allowing the interviews to air was helping to normalize hate speech. Jensen even went as far as to say she’d rather those types of interviews not be done live, arguing that live interviews can be too spur-of-the-moment for a topic like this, which requires significant contextualizing and careful planning of the host’s questions and their framing.

Do you think NPR is giving a platform for hate speech by airing these interviews? Should NPR stop doing live interviews of this type altogether? What do you think NPR could or should have done differently in its interviews with Pollak and Spencer, respectively?

Guests:

Kelly McBride, senior faculty member at The Poynter Institute and one of the nation's leading experts on media ethics; she tweets @kellymcb

Judy Muller, an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning television correspondent and a professor of journalism at USC

* Corrections: On AirTalk it was stated that Kelly McEvers' interview with Richard Spencer aired on All Things Considered on Friday. It aired Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. The original version of this article also incorrectly identified Joel Pollak as an "alt-right voice." He is not associated with the alt-right movement.

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