The prize for discussion of an issue with a straight face goes to Alicia Shepard, Ombudsman for National Public Radio. Shepard’s latest blog post concedes that a recent Weekend Edition story mishandled the controversial question of male circumcision by (sorry, I can’t help it) cutting an interview with an expert in the field short.
The conversation in question was with pediatrics issues expert Dr. Douglas Diekema of the University of Washington. NPR aired Diekma’s comments critical of male circumcision foes, but “pared down” the rest of the discussion.
“Diekema actually did an okay job of presenting both sides during the 20 minutes or so [the Weekend Edition reporter] talked to him” Shepard quotes an NPR editor as saying, “but we didn’t cut  it in as balanced a way as we could and should have in the four minutes we had allotted for the story. Also, it became clear that he had a definite opinion and we probably should’ve either cut it differently or sought another voice.”
The result was that NPR got some pretty snippy feedback from listeners sympathetic to the anti-circumcision side of the debate. They were particularly upset at Dr. Diekema’s comment that the arguments of male circumcision opponents are “largely emotional.”
“OF COURSE THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST IT ARE EMOTIONAL!” one listener wrote. “What kind of thick, dense head do you have to possess in order to find that so vexing?”
Male circumcision “has always been controversial,” Shepard adds, “and that places an extra burden on NPR to treat the subject fairly and give equal weight to both sides. NPR could remedy what this story failed to do by posting Diekema’s full interview, or letting a circumcision opponent write an essay for the Opinion Page that NPR could link to the original story.”
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