NPR Ombudsman Finds NPR Editors Think Abortionist's Life More Newsworthy Than Army Private's

On June 5, I reported that National Public Radio was piling on the story of murdered abortionist George Tiller, but had yet to report the shooting of Army private William Long, a gap of at least seven stories to zero. In her Ombudsman column on June 9, NPR’s Alicia Shepard asked the NPR staff why Tiller was more newsworthy than Private Long. They said because Tiller was a long-time figure of controversy. Liberals seem much quicker to conclude a soldier is a cold-blooded killer and more predisposed to think an abortionist is just a humanitarian doctor:

NPR Managing Editor David Sweeney defended last week's coverage decisions.

"The fact we gave more coverage to the killing of Tiller doesn't diminish the value of Long's life," said Sweeney. "But Tiller was a national figure given his practice and the attention he drew from abortion opponents. His killing has wider implications for the emotive debate on abortion on this country and we have covered those angles in reporting his death."

In one example, Morning Edition on June 5 carried a story exploring whether a 1994 law is sufficient to protect abortion providers.

But complaints from listeners and bloggers and questions from the listener’s advocate may have moved the ball:

In Private Long's case, NPR National Editor Steve Drummond added: "This story has grown into more of a national story as the news has come out this week and it became clear that federal authorities have been investigating this guy and that he may have had much broader plans for violence. We are pursuing some reporting out of the FBI that may result in a piece on Monday [June 8] with help from the member stations covering Long's funeral."

On Tuesday, June 9, NPR’s All Things Considered newscast offered two Long stories, one on the funeral and another on the government’s surveillance of Long’s killer. But the Tiller story kept churning alongside it. Shepard noted:

On Tuesday, however, Morning Edition and All Things Considered each carried one story centering on Tiller's death. And [the afternoon talk show] Talk of the Nation explored the topic of doctors deciding whether to perform abortions.

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