NPR Journalist Boosts Liberal Cause of Former Employer, Omits Affiliation

April 24th, 2012 6:15 PM

Peter Overby filed a one-sided report on Thursday's All Things Considered about a liberal coalition's campaign against the conservative organization ALEC. Overby cited the "good government group" Common Cause without mentioning the organization's left-of-center ideology. More importantly, the correspondent failed to mention that he is a former employee of Common Cause.

The NPR journalist lined up three talking heads, who all criticized ALEC, while failing to include sound bites from defenders of the conservative group. Overby also omitted that one of the three works for a law firm that represented Common Cause.

Fill-in anchor Audie Cornish introduced the correspondent's report by highlighting "a political organization that's been a focus of controversy: ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. It brings together state lawmakers and corporate lobbyists to write legislation, usually measures that have strong conservative support. As we've reported, liberal groups have been pushing corporations to abandon ALEC....But corporate backers aside, another issue remains with ALEC: its status as a charity."
Peter Overby, NPR Correspondent | NewsBusters.orgOverby first noted that ALEC is "shutting down its task force on public safety and elections, which wrote the controversial measures on voter ID, 'stand your ground,' and immigration reform. But closing the task force doesn't address the question of ALEC's tax status." After outlining that "on ALEC's annual tax returns, where it asks point blank, did the organization engage in any lobbying activities, ALEC officers checked no," the former editor for Common Cause turned to Marcus Owens, whom he identified as "tax attorney and the former head of the IRS division on tax-exempt organizations."

The journalist cited Owens and played two clips from him throughout his report, but as Mike Flynn of pointed out on Monday, the lawyer works for the firm Caplain & Drysdale, which represented Common Cause in a recent case against the IRS.

Later in his report, Overby followed his second clip from Owens with a sound bite from the president of Common Cause, Bob Edgar. Just as he did during an April 5, 2012 report on Morning Edition, the correspondent labeled his former employer a "good government group" and omitted mentioning its liberal ideology.

Interestingly enough, the NPR journalist didn't mention that his third talking head, Professor Leslie Lenkowsky of Indiana University, was a former Reagan administration official. However, Lenkowsky himself stated that "they've [ALEC] got to be very careful. It's a very fine line."