Elizabeth Jensen

Once again, NPR finds itself in the uncomfortable position of reporting on unverified information, just as it did last year when WikiLeaks dumped troves of what it said were hacked emails taken from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, and from top officials of the Democratic National Committee.

A week after the election, the Ombudsman inbox is still fielding a heavy influx of emails with audience opinions about NPR's presidential campaign journalism. Many of the emails have been vitriolic, a reflection of hard-felt voter emotions, no doubt.

During the second presidential candidate debate, on Oct. 9, Republican candidate Donald Trump singled out one of his guests, a woman named Kathy Shelton.

Here's Trump: "One of the women, who is a wonderful woman, at 12 years old, was raped — at 12. Her client she represented, got him off. And she's seen laughing on two separate occasions — laughing at the girl who was raped. Kathy Shelton, that young woman, is here with us tonight."

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, then Hillary Rodham, was the lawyer he referred to as laughing at the victim.

Four years ago, my predecessor, Edward Schumacher-Matos, wrote about listener unhappiness concerning NPR's conversations with ordinary voters, or what is known in journalism as "person on the street" interviews or vox pops. Similar criticisms have been rolling in to the Ombudsman mailbox in recent weeks.

My office has spent many recent hours responding to readers and listeners who believe NPR has not covered, or covered enough, the ongoing release of hacked emails allegedly taken from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta. In fact, NPR has covered the content of the emails fairly extensively (and that coverage has brought its own complaints from listeners and readers who believe the email revelations are relatively unimportant compared to other issues bubbling up in the presidential race, or policy discussions).

How would you describe, in brief, the conversation Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump had in 2005 with then-Access Hollywood co-host Billy Bush, a recording of which was leaked to the Washington Post last Friday?

My office is tracking NPR's candidate coverage, online and on its morning and evening newsmagazines, in response to requests from listeners. From Sept. 11 through Sept. 24, there were 42 stories focused primarily on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, compared with 34 stories focused mostly on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson was the main focus of one story during that period.

Many listeners (and political commentators, too) have expressed concerns about Monday's political commentary on Morning Edition, in which Cokie Roberts said, with no specific attribution, that whispering "Democrats" are discussing the possibility of having Democratic party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton "step aside and finding another candidate."

After two weeks off for the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions, my office is back to tracking NPR's newsmagazine and online campaign coverage. In the week starting Sunday, July 31, NPR again devoted the most stories to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

With the Republican and Democratic party conventions behind us, my office is back to tracking NPR's campaign coverage. We will publish the latest numbers later this week. But, first, a look at a pair of good pieces by Tom Gjelten (it's not just me saying so) on the religious backgrounds of the Republican and Democratic presidential and vice presidential candidates, and why some listeners ended up seeing bias that didn't exist.

On Friday, Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep interviewed David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who is running for U.S. Senate in Louisiana. Duke ran for the same office twice in the 1990s and lost; in announcing his new candidacy, he cited the current political climate, as evidenced by support for Donald Trump's campaign.

We've made it through two weeks of back-to-back political conventions, with an accompanying burst of emails from listeners. The majority of messages to my office this week and last concerned the joint NPR/PBS prime-time convention broadcasts, which I addressed in an earlier column. But there were other concerns, as well. Here are some thoughts on just a few of those concerns

The campaign for president — including how NPR covers it — is clearly top of mind for many listeners and readers who write to the Ombudsman's office. The topic has far outweighed any other in the hundreds of emails we've received each month during the past year.

The issue is a priority for us, as well. No other story is likely to take up so much NPR airtime or online space in the coming months. NPR needs to get its coverage right. But what exactly does "right" sound and read like in an election year as unusual as this one?

Too Much Trump

Apr 5, 2016

For weeks the letters have streamed in from listeners unhappy about the amount of time NPR is devoting to all things Donald Trump.

An email came recently from listener Stephen K. Reeder from Cerritos, Calif.:

Morning Edition listeners heard an awkward exchange this morning between regular Monday commentator Cokie Roberts and David Greene, one of the hosts. As part of Roberts' usual commentary, the two discussed Roberts' role at NPR. The short version of that part of the conversation? She is a commentator, not a reporter or a senior news analyst under contract (her previous title). She has not been a full-time staff member at NPR since 1992.

Election related concerns continue to roll in to the Ombudsman's office, as is to be expected in any election year, and even more so when the rhetoric and anxieties are as heightened as they are in this cycle. Many of them are being forwarded to the newsroom, but one interesting issue arose that seemed particularly worthy of a public airing.

An addendum of sorts to last week's column on NPR's move to add more live interviews to its newsmagazines: Sometimes that makes for messy journalism.