Following criticism from Media Matters and other sources for quoting National Federation of Independent Business member Joe Olivo without disclosing his NFIB membership in stories exploring how health care and minimum wage laws could affect small businesses, NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos wrote that Olivo should never have been interviewed for NPR's stories.
The blog Balloon Juice first brought attention to the fact that Olivo, owner of a printing company in New Jersey, appeared on NPR on June 29 to criticize the Affordable Care Act and claim it could harm his business. On July 9, Balloon Juice noticed that Olivo appeared in another NPR story, this time to criticize proposals to raise the minimum wage. NPR did not disclose Olivo's affiliation with NFIB in either of the stories -- even though the organization opposes both the health care reform law and increases in the minimum wage.
In response to this criticism, the NPR ombudsman wrote on Friday that Olivo "shouldn't have been interviewed at all":
Joe Olivo, the articulate owner of a printing company in New Jersey, has become a poster child for the National Federation of Independent Business in its campaign against the government's new health care program. He has appeared in one of the organization's videos and testified before House and Senate committees.
So, when he was interviewed in two recent NPR stories as a typical small business owner--following interviews of him over the past few years on NBC, Fox (repeatedly), Associated Press and Financial Times and on NPR itself in 2009--a howl went up among liberal media critics and scores of listeners that NPR reporters and editors were either leaning right or lazy.
Didn't do your homework is the right answer. What we have here is not a matter of ethics or accuracy, but of sluggish journalism. I don't want to say lazy, because the reporters and producers did hustle; they just didn't hustle enough.
In addition to being an ombudsman, I also teach at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. What we have here is not an ombudsman issue of ethics or standards, but a journalism school issue of good practices and competitive originality. Olivo shouldn't have been interviewed at all.