Is he really both revered and reviled?
Carlos Carmonamedina for NPR’s Public Editor
When Dr. Anthony Fauci announced his impending retirement last week, early news stories invariably noted both his long tenure as the top national infectious disease authority and how he has become a political target.
As a public figure like Fauci steps away from his official role, journalism has a lot of work to do, often in a short time. Stories should report the length of Fauci’s career, the major health crises he faced, and mention the criticism he endured.
Fauci supporters take umbrage at the inclusion of the criticism. An audience member wrote in to tell us that mentioning those who criticize Fauci in the same breath as his accomplishments does the doctor a disservice.
Fauci’s critics bristle at the accolades, which are often mentioned in the opening sentences and carry more weight in most stories.
The job of journalism is to chronicle the importance of leaving. The role of the profession as the draftsman of history looms large and will continue to do so as stories about the career of the public health doctor pile up by the end of the year, when he will tidy up his office. These stories are designed to give the audience a broad and accurate insight into his tenure. In years to come, the stories will serve as landmarks for those who want to look back and understand how one man’s 50-year career in government intersected with public policy and popular culture.
We spoke to the newscasts’ executive producer about the language of Fauci’s departure, including the words chosen by a newscaster, “revered” and “vilified.”
We’re also looking at creating a new reporting team designed to fight misinformation, on behalf of a letter writer who had a question about creating the team. It’s definitely a newsroom beat for the modern era.
Finally, we loved a recent conversation with a new author, so we’re spotlighting this interview and her new book.
Here are some quotes from the public editor’s inbox that resonated with us. Letters are edited for length and clarity. You can send us your questions and concerns via the NPR Contact Page.
Revered and reviled?
Malcolm Tronic wrote on August 22: The “headline” of NPR’s news about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s upcoming retirement implies there’s equal reason for him to be admired and reviled. If its critics are numerous, it is only because of their politicized and anti-scientific views, encouraged by unscrupulous politicians, while public health and health professionals, as well as the most informed citizens, are grateful for his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic. NPR did Dr. Fauci a disservice!
During an NPR newscast on Aug. 22, anchor Lakshmi Singh reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci is “leaving his job of more than 35 years as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases” in December, what he announced earlier today. .
After noting that Fauci is known to many Americans for his expertise during the pandemic, Singh said, “As the nation’s top infectious disease expert during the AIDS and coronavirus outbreaks, he was revered by some, reviled by many. ‘others. Although he is resigning, Fauci notes that he is not completely retiring from government service.”
We reached out to NPR Newscasts executive producer Robert Garcia to ask why both “revered” and “vilified” were used.
“It is a fact that Dr. Fauci is both admired and reviled,” Garcia wrote in an email. “Admired by his colleagues, most of the American public, known for his work on the AIDS crisis, a leader on health issues for more than 35 years, including his advice on COVID. He has also been continually reviled by people like Senator Rand Paul, just yesterday [Aug. 25] by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and a host of right-wing politicians and media figures. »
“I can’t imagine not giving that context in a story dealing with his retirement,” he continued. “It is no disrespect to Dr. Fauci to state, with precision, that he was cherished by many and reviled by others.”
NPR was doing its job to accurately portray the politicization of public health issues that Fauci faced during his tenure. To refuse to acknowledge Fauci’s critics while looking back on his career would paint an incomplete picture. The newscast provided a brief summary to break the news on the day it was announced, but NPR also produced more in-depth reporting on Fauci’s impact in the days that followed, including an August 25. consider this podcast that added more context by characterizing the level of vitriol directed at Fauci, as well as the political views of his critics. While it’s important to include the political context of criticisms leveled at Fauci, it’s not an option to ignore it in stories about his long career. -Emily Barske
Exploring NPR’s Misinformation Reporting Team
Ronald Polk wrote on July 18: Hear that NPR was forming a disinformation committee. Will you communicate to the public the selection criteria for the members of this committee?
NPR announced in July that it was launching a misinformation reporting team. Misinformation is the deliberate creation of distortions and lies for malicious purposes.
NPR’s announcement said, “The viral spread of misinformation and disinformation has become one of the great civic challenges of our time.”
Senior VP of Information Nancy Barnes said covering misinformation became a serious interest for her in 2019 when she was at a conference and saw a presentation about how it is used to destabilize democracies. “It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” she remembers saying as she watched.
While covering the 2020 election, she said journalists were continually seeing misinformation across the political spectrum.
The recent launch of the Disinformation Reporting Team makes the topic a more permanent staple in NPR’s news coverage. The reporting team’s intention is to explore the role misinformation plays in the world.
The team includes three reporters, Shannon Bond, Lisa Hagen and Huo Jingnan, and is led by editor Brett Neely. The members of the reporting team were chosen based on their respective experience in technology, investigative work and data analysis.
Because misinformation has become so prominent from the local to the international level, Neely said nearly every reporting bureau and many member stations cover the subject. The WITF member station in central Pennsylvania has its own democratic beat.
Barnes and Neely told us more about the formation of the team and their goals.
The team focuses specifically on misinformation because, while misinformation and misinformation are both harmful, misinformation involves deliberate deception.
Neely said, “People in the panic of the moment can spread misinformation, and that’s misinformation. Misinformation is about intentionality – it’s about intentionally misleading.”
This team is particularly interested in examining trends in misinformation and its ramifications. For example, earlier this year, NPR reported on how Russia is using disinformation as a tool in its war against Ukraine and was doing so even before the invasion. NPR reported how authoritarian governments like Nicaragua’s have claimed to be successfully fighting COVID-19 while healthcare workers and citizens say the toll is much higher, how misinformation fuels violence at all levels of government and how Black Lives Matter supporters have faced misinformation in their fight for racial equity.
In their work, the disinformation team plans to show how influencers often lead the spread of misinformation. They recently published an article titled “How Alex Jones Helped Mainstream Conspiracy Theories Become Part of American Life.”
This reporting requires a lot of time and care. “You’re dealing with people who lie casually in a lot of cases, and you’re dealing with people who are litigious,” Neely said. “So there are a lot of lawyers in the story. You try to be extremely fair to people who aren’t interested in being fair to you.”
This new beat is central to NPR’s mission to help the public understand the threat misinformation poses to democracy.
“If we can’t have a reliable, shared set of facts…I say we’re doomed as a democracy,” Barnes said. “At the broadest level, it seems like if there’s anything the public media can do, it’s stand up for the truth and try to hold up a mirror to all of these disinformation, disinformation systems, offshoots and results. I think it’s actually a huge public service. That’s why we want to do this. – Emily Barske with reporting by Kelly McBride
The Public Editor spends a lot of time looking at when NPR failed. Yet we also learn a lot about NPR by reviewing work that we find compelling and excellent journalism. Here we share a line or two about the parts where NPR shines.
A great author interview
Last month on Saturday Weekend EditionNPR’s Daniel Estrin interviewed author Sidik Fofana about his first collection of short stories, Stories from ground floor tenants. The collection follows the residents of a fictional high-rise building in Harlem as gentrification looms. Fofana’s characters include a single mother who is a waitress and does her hair to the side, a grandmother who works nights in airport security, and a 12-year-old boy who quits his dance troupe. The author is also a public school teacher, and he and Estrin discuss where he finds his material and his target audience. One of the best things about NPR is discovering something new, and this interview lets listeners appreciate this new author and his work. —Amaris Castillo
The Public Publisher’s Office is a team. Managing Editor Kayla Randall, Journalists Amaris Castillo and Emily Barske, and Managing Editor Merrill Perlman make this newsletter possible. The illustrations are by Carlos Carmonamedina. We always read all your messages on Facebook, Twitter and from our inbox. As always, bring them in.
NPR Public Editor
Chair, Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at the Poynter Institute