NPR counter-terrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston walked into a testy confrontation recently when she spoke to a YWCA "Women of Distinction" luncheon in Darien, Connecticut. A local journalist was amazed that she would insist on no video or audio taping of her remarks there. The journalist, Jim Cameron, wrote about the fight on his blog. He was upset that print reporters could cover it, but he couldn't record for a cable-access TV channel:
A day before the event, at my request, the Y sponsors circled back to me with more information. Apparently her agent was wrong. It was not an NPR rule about no taping, it was Ms. Temple-Raston's rule. Clearly, the Juan Williams case (of NPR staffers speaking off-air) has had a chilling effect on those NPR staffers' outside, money-making speaking gigs.
The day of the event I decided to give full coverage a final try. Arriving at the Woodway Country Club, I told the YWCA organizers that the community deserved to see the award winners and I promised to record only that... if I could speak to Ms. Temple-Raston and make a final appeal. Seconds later, she appeared and we shared a rather contentious two minute conversation.
"You know you cannot tape my speech"' she said. "So I've heard," I said, "But why? Is it really an NPR rule?". "No," she said, "It's just my personal preference. I am on vacation today."
Then I tried appealing to her as a fellow fifth-estater. "As a journalist are you comfortable in stopping my coverage of your speech?”
"Absolutely," she said without hesitation. "You're lucky I'm allowing you to tape the awards presentations!"
"That's not your call," I told her. "I'm here at the invitation of the YWCA."
"Well, that camera better be off. That's an ethical issue," she said, and then added icing to the cake... "and this conversation is off the record."
"No, this conversation is ON the record, Dina, and it is part of my coverage," I said.
At this point two other videographers arrived, one from The Patch and the other from News12, our local cable news operation. Dina visibly flinched, turning to both and reminding them they too could not tape her speech. "No problem," said one of them.
Her final comment came as a somewhat rhetorical question... "why are you being so hard-assed (about this)?"
Why? Because you, Ms Temple-Raston, can't have it both ways. You cannot promote your private, paid speaking business on the basis of your NPR work and then pretend that your comments are somehow private. Nobody came to pay $85 to hear you as an individual. They came to bask in the glory of your media aura.
If you brand yourself as part of NPR, your remarks should be open to public coverage. I’m guessing that you would tolerate no less in your own journalistic endeavors, would you?
Cameron thought of appealing to the ACLU -- not a great idea, since Temple-Raston co-wrote a book about those horrible Bush terrorism policies with the executive director of the ACLU. One local paper suggested the NPR lady told the women's lunch that she thought the ladies were better journalists:
Dina Temple-Raston, National Public Radio National Security and Counterterrorism Correspondent, spoke of her experiences in the Arab-speaking world, suggesting that female journalists can often succeed where male counterparts can't.
"Women are instinctively more aware of their surroundings than men and more alert to dire developments," she said.