NPR Ombudsman: Applaud Mara Liasson's Work, Do Not Tar Her By Association With Fox News

NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos is accusing liberal NPR fans of guilt by association. Some want NPR reporter Mara Liasson fired, just as they succeeded in ranting against Juan Williams appearing on Fox until he was abruptly fired.  The ombudsman reviewed  her reporting, and says “Applaud her.”

"Would you please consider letting Mara Liasson go?" wrote listener Michael Duba in what Schumacher-Matos said “is typical of the several complaints that come in almost every time Liasson does a story.”

"Her affiliation with the Tea Party channel and willingness to just go along with whatever is said by others on the fake news shows she appears on has ruined whatever small remaining shreds of credibility she had left,” Duba added.

The ombudsman smelled politics in these agitators to put Liasson on the unemployment line:

Much of the complaints about Liasson, it seems to me, are really about Fox. The complaining listeners do not like Fox's rightward stance, and especially the incendiary views of some of its prime time talk show hosts such as Bill O'Reilly. They tar Liasson by association.

The criticism is partly an extension of the three years ago. Whatever you may think of how NPR handled that case, it is very different from this one. Williams did much outright opinion commentary; Liasson is strictly a reporter.

Schumacher-Matos cited an NPR ethics manual about NPR reporters appearing on talk shows:

..[W]e refrain from appearing on television discussion shows where the format is designed to produce heated, highly political debates. We go on TV to talk about our reporting and the news of the day, not to offer opinions (with the obvious exceptions of our music, arts and books critics - and, if any are hired, news commentators). If asked to offer opinions when on the air, we rely on our reporting and offer context - citing, for example, what public opinion polls signal about how an issue is playing rather than our personal opinions.

The ombudsman did not make any attempt to mention, let alone defend, NPR reporter Nina Totenberg’s opinion droppings weekly on “Inside Washington.” NPR's senior vice president for news Margaret Low Smith stood behind Liasson in a note to the ombudsman:

Mara is a first class reporter. She has a keen understanding of national politics and does a beautiful job helping our audience make sense of what's unfolding in Washington and across the country.

As for her Fox appearances, we reviewed this issue when we were re-writing NPR's ethics guidelines in 2011 and early 2012. We think Mara's TV appearances are fine. There too, she does a very good job sharing her knowledge, insight and reporting expertise.

 We view this as an opportunity for a broader audience to benefit from NPR's editorial depth.

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