NPR Ignores Reporter's Blatant Conflict of Interest as He Reports on His Former Employer's Liberal Activism

June 5th, 2012 2:01 PM

Journalists are said to love transparency, at least when it comes to other people. When it comes to others exposing reporters' own conflicts of interest and past histories, however, some take a decidedly different tone.

Ben Howe, contributing writer to both and, has posted video of a brief but instructive conversation with NPR reporter Peter Overby regarding NPR assigning Overby to cover stories about the liberal Common Cause challenging the tax-exempt status of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, even though Overby is a former Common Cause employee. In recent weeks, Overby has written five stories about Common Cause's attack on ALEC.

Overby was senior editor at Common Cause for several years in the 1990s. Common Cause was originally founded in the 1970s ostensibly to push for increased transparency in government.

Keep that in mind when you hear Overby's response to the question about the seeming conflict of interest of having a former high-level Common Cause employee cover a story in which Common Cause is a central actor.

After at first trying to dodge the questioner, Overby then simply dismisses the concern about the ethics issue, saying, "I don't think I want to talk to you about it."

Transparency, it seems, is something Overby would rather write about that practice. Pressed a bit, Overby responds, "The ombudsman wrote about it. Other people have written about it. I'm good with it."

Indeed, NPR's ombudsman did write about the situation - nearly 2,100 words, almost all of them devoted to dismissing the ethical questions and defending NPR's decision to assign Overby, a former "senior editor" for Common Cause - to cover a story which pits Common Cause against ALEC.

The NPR ombudsman largely dismisses the criticism, briefly summarizing the criticism rather than directly quoting the critics.

And, without a sense of irony, the taxpayer-funded NPR frets that Common Cause's challenge to ALEC raises legitimate questions because, "If ALEC is a lobbying group, then we as taxpayers have been helping fund it."