NPR Censors Its Own Review of Outrage, Cites “Old-Fashioned” and Quite Possibly Dishonest Policy


Please note: This story has been updated here.

In the midst of a burgeoning if mini- media scandal, indieWire reports on NPR’s decision to censor their own review of Kirby Dick’s politician-outing documentary Outrage. The lede:

    Kirby Dick’s new documentary, “Outrage,” continued to skirt controversy and stir debate in its opening weekend in U.S. theaters, particulary [sic] among some media circles. As the film opened, NPR trimmed its review of the film, cutting mentions of the American political figures depicted in the movie. Critic Nathan Lee subsequently removed his byline from the article in protest and lodged a comment on the NPR site, which was also quickly removed by NPR executives.

Lee, a former critic at this paper, had named both Florida governor Charlie Crist and the former senator Larry Craig in the piece–it would have been hard not to, as both men feature prominently in Dick’s doc. Nevertheless NPR, after edits, and unbeknownst to Lee, decided at press time to cut out all reference to both men, citing a general policy of not reporting on the private lives of public figures “unless there is a compelling reason to do so.” Lee rightly pointed out that the entire subject of the documentary is the hypocrisy of men who behave one way in private life and then try to legislate against that very same behavior in public life. A fact which might well constitute a compelling reason:

    “Let’s say Charlie Crist had a record of voting for vigorous anti-immigration policies, and then it was rumored that he employed illegal immigrants. The press would have absolutely no qualms investigating him to the hilt in the public interest of exposing hypocrisy. Why should it be any different in the case of possibly gay public figures who vote against the civil rights of gay people, or, in the case of HIV/AIDS funding, their very life and death?”

NPR “neglected to tell” Lee about their plans to bowdlerize his article before doing so. In response, Lee–who is an out gay man–pulled his byline off the piece, and wrote a comment below the article explaining his position:

    “I asked that my name be removed in protest of NPR’s policy of not ‘naming names’ of closeted or rumored-about politicians – even those who actively suppress gay rights, and thus whose sexual identities are of significant importance to the press. I personally disagree with NPR’s policy – there is no other area of ‘privacy’ that elicits such extreme tact, and also feel that it is a professional affront to my responsibility as a critic to discuss the content of a work of art, and an impingememnt of my first amendment right to free speech and the press.”

Both of which are fair points: it’s hard to think of a critic who, in good conscience, would leave salient facts about the work under review out of a piece merely because those details might upset someone. Especially when those details are inarguably relevant to the issues of public morality around which so many debates about gay rights take place.

NPR, in a further and basically disgraceful decision, deleted Lee’s comment shortly after he posted it, which appears to be how the whole story ended up on indieWIRE:

    “Readers of the review should know the reason WHY the name has been redacted, which NPR is not allowing me to do on the comment section, and has made unclear in the disclaimer emended to the review. It has been suggested by one commenter on the site that the author is, in fact, closeted! I felt it important to clarify why the review stands as it does.”

At the moment, NPR is merely noting that “Given the nature of this film’s media critique and the NPR editorial policy mentioned above, the writer has asked that his byline be removed from this review.” But they are not providing Lee’s reasons for yanking his byline, nor are they exhibiting any apparent shame about running a redacted review on their site. indieWIRE also solicited this hilarious quote from an NPR exec: “This may be considered old-fashioned by some, but it is a policy we value and respect.” A policy I’m sure they were all too happy to violate during Spitzer’s hookers and infidelity scandal, to name one of any number of other instances when embarrassing private information came to light about public figures.

Lee’s stance is fundamentally admirable and more to the point, really reasonable: It’s not like the guy wrote a polemic aimed anywhere near Crist or Craig. He reviewed a movie in the public domain that is inarguably about both men. A review that NPR assigned, edited, and signed off on before doubling back and purging the piece without Lee’s knowledge or consent. The least they could do would be to mention that fact to their readers.