NPR Pulls Branding From 'Latino USA' Episode On 'Chuy'
Updated at 2:45 p.m. ET.
NPR has asked Latino USA to remove all NPR branding from last weekend's episode of the show, saying it "does not meet NPR's editorial standards." A tough penalty, to be sure, but in this case it's warranted; the show's execution simply did not meet the goals the producers had intended. NPR's statement follows, along with a response from Latino USA.
A note from NPR's editors:
"Chuy and the battle for Chicago," the April 3, 2015, episode produced by Latino USA, does not meet NPR's editorial standards. NPR distributes Latino USA to more than 130 stations, and did not have an opportunity to review the program prior to distribution.
In the episode, his opponent and other critics make some serious charges about Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the way he has governed the city. There are mentions of "financial mismanagement," that he cares only about "millionaires and billionaires," that he threw immigration reform "under the bus" and that decisions he made while working for President Obama led to deportations. The episode appeared just four days before Chicago's run-off election.
But there are no responses to those charges from Emanuel or his aides. There was no mention in the episode about whether Latino USA even tried to get any comment from them.
In fact, a Latino USA producer did contact the Emanuel campaign to get its assistance in reaching prominent Latino supporters of the mayor. But the campaign also needed to be informed that specific complaints would be heard during the episode and then be given a chance to respond. If the campaign wouldn't cooperate, Latino USA needed to find and use previous responses.
Conversely, almost no critical attention was focused on Jesus "Chuy" Garcia. Latino USA's producers were aiming to tell a tale about what it is like to be a Latino running for the highest office in a major American city. That is a good story. But listeners learned little about Garcia's record or how he would govern. Instead, he was more generally portrayed as a rebel who was fighting against "the machine." He was the "long-time grassroots activist ... giving one of the most powerful men in America a run for his money."
"Fairness" is among NPR's core principles. Our Ethics Handbook clearly states: "We make every effort to gather responses from those who are the subjects of criticism, unfavorable allegations or other negative assertions in our stories."
We also value "completeness." As the Handbook says: "Errors of omission and partial truths can inflict great damage on our credibility, and stories delivered without the context to fully understand them are incomplete."
We are not saying that Latino USA needed to split its story and give both candidates the same amount of time. There is a place for a profile that focuses more on one than the other.
But this episode did not meet our standards. Following consultation with NPR Programming, NPR News and NPR Standards & Practices, NPR will ask the Futuro Media Group, the organization that produces Latino USA, to remove NPR's name and branding from all digital versions of this episode. NPR Programming leadership is in active discussion with the producer to reaffirm the principles of our Ethics Handbook.
Latino USA responded:
Latino USA and the Futuro Media Group acknowledge NPR's concerns regarding the "Chuy and the Battle for Chicago" episode. Having covered Latino issues in the United States for over two decades, we understand the weight of our responsibility. We regret any appearance of imbalance or lack of fairness in the episode, particularly as it may have reflected on NPR.
We should have made clear in the program that we had reached out to the Emanuel campaign numerous times without response. We also are reviewing other ways in which the program might have been better executed.
We intend to redouble our efforts to bring to our listeners overlooked stories while conforming at all times to the highest journalistic standards.
My original post continues below.
Latino USA—a program which NPR distributes but does not produce in-house—devoted the entire hour of last weekend's episode to an inside look at the Chicago mayoral campaign of Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who forced incumbent Rahm Emanuel into the unexpected and unwelcome (for Emanuel) position of a run-off election.
Garcia lost the Tuesday election, with about 44 percent of the vote to Emanuel's 56 percent. But the Latino USA program, which was broadcast just four days before the election, raised concerns among some listeners, including NPR executives, for its perceived one-sided-ness. I agree with those concerns.
Garcia's campaign was hugely newsworthy, and not just if you're a radio show that is Latino-centric. Emanuel, a former congressman and President Obama's first White House chief of staff, is one of the country's edgiest politicians, and he had expected an easy route to re-election. When Latino USA host Maria Hinojosa first interviewed Garcia, a former community organizer, longtime Chicago elected official and current Cook County commissioner, for a mid-February episode, she told him candidly: "your chances don't look so good."
When Garcia forced Emanuel into a run-off, and the national press focused more on Emanuel's weakness rather than Garcia's surprising showing, Hinojosa, a former NPR correspondent, and her team felt they had an opening to revisit the subject.
"Our role is to talk about things that are happening in the Latino community that you might not know because they are not being covered," she told me, adding that she was hearing from many Latinos, including a number who don't live in Chicago, that "this is an important moment for Latinos."
Initially, the show's team thought they would focus, in the second Garcia episode, on the topic of Latino leadership and that it would air after the election. But when it became clear they would be granted solid access to Garcia's campaign—including a second interview with Garcia and being allowed to accompany his door-to-door canvassers—they decided to stretch themselves to knock out a full-hour to air just days before the election.
That's where the problems began, as I see it. If the program had run after the election, fewer questions would have been raised—but then, of course, it would have risked being less newsworthy if Garcia lost.
"As the station serving Chicago, we were concerned about airing an hour based so deeply in the perspective of one candidate and campaign."
Ben Calhoun, director of programming and content at member station WBEZ-FM in Chicago—which airs the show on Sunday afternoons—articulated some concerns, in an email to me (and a similar one to the show's staff) explaining why the station decided not to air the one-hour Garcia episode.
Calhoun said he is a fan of the show's work and the episode in question "had a lot going for it." But, he said, "as the station serving Chicago, we were concerned about airing an hour based so deeply in the perspective of one candidate and campaign." The episode, he said, "frames the race really heavily from the vantage point of his biography and voice."
If the episode had been released earlier or "if we had something similar that cast Rahm [Emanuel] as a main character in the election narrative, we would have had a more difficult decision to make," Calhoun added.
One important point: Because WBEZ did not air the episode, the show likely had little, if any, direct influence over any voter's election choices (unless Chicago listeners sought out the podcast or listened to the show via the NPR website or another station's digital stream.) That was a concern raised by listener Charles Marshall of Houston, Texas, in an email to me saying he believed Hinojosa was "using her program to benefit Mr. Garcia."
But the fact that the Garcia episode did not air in Chicago doesn't let the show off the hook, in my mind.
Hinojosa and her team maintain that Latino USA, given that it is focused on the Latino community, had no obligation to make the episode a 50-50 look at the two sides. "It was not a local story about these two guys facing each other, it was a story that needed to have a national sentiment, outlook," she said.
I agree, in theory. But by going out on the campaign trail with Garcia and later with his canvassers, and exploring his connection to Chicago's late mayor Harold Washington and his courting of the black vote, among other elements of the hour, the show turned into a de facto local story focusing primarily on just one side in an election. And again, there was the timing. The national implications were only sporadically heavily present.
The episode also raised criticisms of Emanuel that went unchallenged. The Latino USA production team clearly felt it was important to get the other side. Based on notes they showed me, they made a strong attempt to get more from Emanuel's campaign, and were largely rebuffed (although it was the Emanuel campaign that steered them to interviews with Luis Gutierrez and Susana Mendoza, two prominent Chicago Latinos who supported Emanuel and not Garcia.) But that information—that an effort was made to get more perspective from the other side— was not communicated to listeners. Hinojosa agreed it should have been, calling it "a fault."
I also had concerns about the use of 30 seconds or so of a pro-Garcia corrido, a narrative song, which was dropped in, unidentified, as music between segments of the show. Another concern was what I thought was Hinojosa's somewhat perfunctory disclosure that "Now, in total transparency, I have known Chuy for a long time because I grew up in the Second City." Before the February interview she was much clearer about her past interactions with Garcia and stated firmly: "This is not an endorsement." But there's no guarantee that listeners heard both shows so it would have borne repeating.
In the interview, rather than ask Garcia tough questions about how he would govern, and how he would address criticisms of his campaign promises, Hinojosa focused on the issue of Latino leadership and whether Garcia was ready to step into a national leadership role. That was consistent with the episode's intent, but for listeners who were hearing the program as an inside look at a political campaign, it came across as going easy on him.
"We let Chuy speak for himself. Was it his finest moment? That's for Chuy to decide. We did not sugar coat it."
Hinojosa and her staff told me that they believe Garcia's somewhat vague answers to her questions were part of the show's balance.
"To be honest, the interview that we got, he was not great," Hinojosa said, noting that he had come from a Los Angeles fundraiser and had only slept two hours. "We let Chuy speak for himself. Was it his finest moment? That's for Chuy to decide. We did not sugar coat it."
The bottom line for Hinojosa? "I think it was a fine hour. I think we answered the questions we set out to. Could it have been better? Yes. Could it have been edgier? Yes. Could it have been tougher? Yeah. But I still stand behind what we did."
I wish I could agree. NPR executives, meanwhile, have been talking to the Latino USA team about their own concerns and I expect an update will come soon. Meanwhile, a separate complaint came in regarding a free plug for Emanuel on The Diane Rehm Show (another show NPR distributes but does not produce) on Tuesday, the day of the election.
Rehm's guest was Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, who was talking about the pros and cons of having an annual physical.
At the end of the show, Rehm said this: "Off the point, Dr. Emanuel, I have to ask you about your brother Rahm, who is running for major of Chicago. The election is today. What's your prediction?"
Emanuel's reply: "My prediction? My brother's going to win. He's clearly the superior candidate. He has the best interest of Chicago. He's willing, you know a lot of people say 'we want a politician that's willing to make tough choices, willing to lead.' He's done that. And I think he clearly has a vision for Chicago, which is our hometown and I'm very excited."
Listener Halina Szyposzynski in Phoenix, Ariz., called the exchange "completely inappropriate" and wondered, "Doesn't NPR have standards about this sort of behavior?"
It does. Mark Memmott, NPR's standards and practices editor, told me: "NPR does avoid giving political candidates and their supporters the opportunity to score points on Election Day (and, for that matter, the last couple days before) because it can be unfair if the other side doesn't have a chance to respond. The way the question was posed to Dr. Emanuel, it was inevitable that he would sing his brother's praises. My view is that Diane didn't need to bring up Dr. Emanuel's brother. But if she felt she should remind listeners that he's from a prominent family, she might have simply said that 'for those who may be wondering, yes Dr. Emanuel is the brother of prominent Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.'
It should be noted that The Diane Rehm Show does not air in Chicago so it's unlikely many voters heard the brotherly pitch.
Editorial researcher Annie Johnson contributed to this piece.
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