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NPR fact checker cites “five sins” in native foster care story

welcome to south dakotaNo doubt that just about everybody who cares about public radio spent the weekend debating NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos’ massive takedown of NPR’s award winning feature: Native Foster Care: Lost Children, Shattered Families. Schumacher-Matos concludes that the piece on South Dakota’s Indian foster care system should not have been broadcast as it was written. He charges that the feature committed “five sins.”

“1. No proof for its main allegations of wrongdoing;
2. Unfair tone in communicating these unproven allegations;
3. Factual errors, shaky anecdotes and misleading use of data by quietly switching what was being measured;
4. Incomplete reporting and lack of critical context;
5. No response from the state on many key points.”

“Specifically, there is no whistleblower, no document — no smoking gun even — ,” Schumacher-Matos writes, “to support the unmistakable allegation that for nearly the last 15 years, state social workers have been so evil as to take Indian children from their families as a way to reap federal funds for the state government. The charge is so shocking and such a potential insult to many dedicated social workers that the burden of proof should have been especially high.”

You’ll have to listen to the piece and read the report to draw your own conclusions. NPR says it stands by the story. The network even chides Schumacher-Matos for his work:

” . . . we find his unprecedented effort to ‘re-report’ parts of the story to be deeply flawed. Despite the report’s sweeping claims, the only source that figures in any significant way in the ombudsman’s account is a state official whose department activities were the subject of the series. Additionally, the ombudsman’s interaction with state officials over the past 22 months has impeded NPR’s ability to engage those officials in follow-up reporting. Overall, the process surrounding the ombudsman’s inquiry was unorthodox, the sourcing selective, the fact-gathering uneven, and many of the conclusions, in our judgment, subjective or without foundation.”

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