Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

UPDATE – We Respond to NPR’s Lighthearted Coverage of Koch Death Threats

Ellen McDonnell,
Executive Director of News Programming
National Public Radio

Dear Ms. McDonnell:

I am writing to raise deep concerns about a Morning Edition segment that aired on April 22 and apparently made light of death threats that had been leveled at gentleman in Iowa but that had been intended for our company.

The item was read by hosts Mary Louise Kelly and Renee Montagne, billed as “our last word in business,” and was clearly framed as an amusing take on the news. Kelly and Montagne made sport of the fact that a Mr. Dutch Koch shares the same surname as that of our company, even musing that he’s also been “confused with the big soda maker” – Coca-Cola, it seems. Kelly quipped that “he does not say which cola he prefers” before cutting away to what sounds like bongo drum music.

But there is nothing even remotely funny about a person’s life being threatened and NPR ought to be ashamed that simple fact of decency has to be pointed out. Here, for example, are three recent stories that NPR has aired about how disturbing and profoundly wrong it is when death threats are made – no matter what motivates them. It is one of the most depraved and lowest forms of discourse and it is also a crime.

As I’m sure you know, that “Last Word in Business” time block is fully intended for lighthearted, laughable items. In recent broadcasts, for example, it has featured reports on smart phones that aren’t so smart, a budget airline’sattempt to market upright seats as “pre-reclined,” and a restaurant accused of “poor taste.”

What is especially perplexing is that NPR has stated many times in recent months that it has a “goal of promoting a civil conversation” and has often reported on calls from national leaders for a “new civility” in public discourse. So I would like to ask for some formal explanation of how NPR could have allowed a segment on this subject to be presented on the air in this fashion?

It is a matter of conscience, I suppose, if Kelly and Montagne want to make some on-the-air explanation to listeners but I would certainly urge them to reflect on that. If they are reluctant, I’d say that tells listeners all they need to know about NPR’s promises of accountability and professionalism.

In the meantime, I’ll be grateful if you could look in to the matter and provide a reply on the thinking that went into this segment and whether NPR truly stands behind it.

Sincerely,

Philip Ellender
President, Government & Public Affairs
Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC

CC: Joyce Slocum, Interim CEO
Dave Edwards, Chairman of the Board of Directors
Alicia Shepard, Ombudsman

 


Following a telephone conversation with Ms McDonnell of NPR, Mr. Ellender responded in writing


Ms Ellen McDonnell
Executive Director of News Programming
National Public Radio

Dear Ms McDonnell:

Thank you for your prompt call in response to my letter of April 26. While I appreciate your response I feel compelled to reiterate the inappropriateness of NPR’s attempt to make light of something as serious as a death threat.

I am pleased we agree listeners of Morning Edition’s “Last Word on Business” on April 22, 2011 could have interpreted the segment’s light-hearted approach toward death threats as poor taste. It was not responsible reporting. Rather, it constituted a major lapse in judgment on the part of the producers, writers and the newsreaders, Ms Kelly and Ms Montagne.

I will take you at your word that you will be more vigilant in the future and that you will hold your news team accountable to the highest standards of journalistic professionalism.

Sincerely,

Philip Ellender
President, Government & Public Affairs
Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC

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