CPB Office of the Ombudsman

“Here's David Who Writes, . . . ”

Joel Kaplan

November 4, 2013

Occasionally the ombudsman receives a query/complaint that is interesting and raises ethical issues but cannot be resolved.

Such was a complaint submitted by David Stork, a long-time NPR listener who is also a member of San Francisco's KQED-FM:

I'm writing to ask you to investigate what I believe is an inappropriate editorial action of Mr. Michael Krasny, host of the daily two-hour interview show (with call-ins and email questions), Forum.

Yesterday Mr. Krasny interviewed Dr. Richard Dawkins of Oxford University during the second hour of the show. I submitted a question via email a bit before the show started, signed "Dr. David G. Stork, Portola Valley." I listened to the show over the web somewhat delayed (as I was indisposed during the live broadcast hour).

Mr. Krasny indeed posed an email question to Dr. Dawkins from "David,” but this question bore no relationship to the one I posed. Moreover, it eliminated key points I was trying to make (such as I'm an atheist, supporting fellow atheist Dr. Dawkins).

It is of course common for talk-show hosts to decide not to pose a contributed question, for time, redundancy or paraphrase a question for editorial reasons. But I believe it is unacceptable for a host to fundamentally alter the question to where it bore no relation to the posed question. This abuses the trust of listeners and skews the content and tenor of the show inappropriately--likely toward the host's personal preference.

I fully admit the (small) possibility that there was another "David" who posed the question as "read" by Mr. Krasny, and if so my concerns are moot. Nevertheless I'm asking you to read through questions submitted to forum@kqed.org for ones from "David" and listen to the archived show to judge for yourself (and on my and your other listeners' behalf) whether Mr. Krasny inappropriately altered the question as it appeared on-air and, if so, let him know that this editorial behavior is unacceptable.”

Let me begin my saying such editorial behavior—intentionally altering submitted questions that changes their meaning—is indeed inappropriate and unacceptable if that is what happened.

Mr. Krasny evidently agrees. He says:

I do not make a practice of altering e-mails. Nor do I read the last name of those who send them. If any changes are made they are usually for typos or grammatical errors or simply for brevity and not for content.

The problem here is that there is no way of knowing whether Dr. Stork's email question was altered because KQED does not keep the questions once they are submitted.

Here is the question Dr. Stork submitted:

I am a fellow atheist and great admirer of your writings and presentations. There is only one answer you've given I find unsatisfactory: In Melbourne 2012 you were asked how one might ever criticize Islam, and you replied (in essence) be quiet, but make it clear you do not honor those threatening violence against infidels. America's Founding fathers fought and died for our freedoms, including our First Amendment. I have no wish to be a martyr, but don't we have a responsibility to uphold and exercise this amendment? How do we criticize Islam?
Portola Valley

Here is what was heard during the radio interview:

Here's David who writes, “I'm a huge fan of Dawkins and share his view on religion. However, I'd like his reaction to the criticism that he's undermined his atheist arguments by being belligerent, disrespectful towards religion. I think calmer, well-reasoned arguments against religion would convince more people rather than shut their mind by offending them so aggressively.”

There is no question that the two questions differ substantially in tone and content. Nevertheless, in this case it is impossible to determine whether, as Dr. Stork suggests, there may have been two Davids or whether Dr. Stork's original question was altered.

Amanda Stupi, KQED Engagement Producer, said that all questions asked via email are deleted once the questions are asked and that all the inboxes are emptied once the show airs. She said there is no record of who that David was, where the questions came from or what the original question was.

So Dr. Stork's complaint cannot be resolved.

But for what it is worth, all radio hosts should attempt to be as true as possible to the questions submitted by their listeners—whether they are live on the air or submitted via email. If the host changes those questions, he or she should let the audience know. Better yet, allow the original question to be asked and then follow-up that question with any the host deems appropriate.

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