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:
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:
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:
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:
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.