NPR issued a mea culpa for its publication of a much-criticized interview with the author of a new book entitled, “In Defense of Looting.”
NPR Public Editor Kelly McBride said in a newsletter Thursday that the interview “did not serve NPR’s audience” and was “wrong about recent events.”
“Publishing false information leaves the audience misinformed. On top of that, news consumers are watching closely to see who is challenged and who isn’t. In this case a book author with a radical point of view far to the left was allowed to spread false information,” McBride wrote.
The author of the new book, Vicky Osterweil, made many statements without fact-checking, or push back from journalist Natalie Escobar, who was interviewing her.
Osterweil opened the interview with a contradictory explanation of what looting is.
“When I use the word looting, I mean the mass expropriation of property, mass shoplifting during a moment of upheaval or riot. That’s the thing I’m defending. I’m not defending any situation in which property is stolen by force,” Osterweil said.
Many readers quickly pointed out that the “mass expropriation of property” requires something being “stolen by force.”
Osterweil later discounted looting as harmless because stores are insured.
“Most stores are insured; it’s just hurting insurance companies on some level. It’s just money. It’s just property. It’s not actually hurting any people,” she said.
The damage to private property has been massive during the summer’s riots, and insurance hasn’t always covered the bill.
According to the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, where at least 400 businesses were damaged, most insurance policies limited reimbursements from $25,000 to $50,000, but contractors’ bids have been between $200,000 and $300,000.
She also claimed that people don’t travel to other cities to riot and loot.
“One of the ones that’s been very powerful, that’s both been used by Donald Trump and Democrats, has been the outside agitator myth, that the people doing the riots are coming from the outside,” Osterweil said.
The data on this claim isn’t certain, but it has been refuted by some police departments around the country. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham said that most of those arrested in Washington were from out of state.
“From Thursday until early this morning, the large majority of arrestees, over 70 percent, are not from the District of Columbia. So they appear to be folks who are coming into our city, our peaceful city, with the intent of destroying property and hurting folks,” Newsham said this week.
The police department in Kenosha, Wis., where protests swept the city after the shooting of Jacob Blake, said that 102 out of 175 people who were arrested for looting and rioting were from outside the city.
Later, Osterweil seemed to glorify looting.
“Looting strikes at the heart of property, of whiteness and of the police,” Osterweil said. “And also, it provides people with an imaginative sense of freedom and pleasure, and helps them imagine a world that could be. And I think that’s a part of it that doesn’t really get talked about — that riots and looting are experienced as sort of joyous and liberatory.”
After outrage erupted over the interview, NPR added a new introduction to the piece and a note that says the “original version of this story, which is an interview with an author who holds strong political views and ideas, did not provide readers enough context for them to fully assess some of the controversial opinions discussed.”
McBride said the editor of Code Switch, the section of NPR where the interview appeared, told her the interview was fact-checked, but they “should have done more.”
“Casual observers might conclude that NPR is more interested in fact-checking conservative viewpoints than liberal viewpoints,” McBride notes in closing. “Or possibly, that bias on the part of NPR staff interferes with their judgment when spotting suspect information.”