Internal investigations usually are merely whitewashes, but occasionally one gets results, since as the NPR ombudsman’s investigation of a deeply flawed 2011 NPR story attacking South Dakota’s foster care system. The ombudsman reported:
The series committed five sins that violate NPR’s code of standards and ethics. They were:
1. No proof for its main allegations of wrongdoing;
2. Unfair tone in communicating these unproven allegations;
3. Factual errors, shaky anecdotes and misleading use of data by quietly switching what was being measured;
4. Incomplete reporting and lack of critical context;
5. No response from the state on many key points.
No doubt the investigative team was driven by the history of injustices suffered by Native Americans. There is much to be outraged about. But good intentions are not enough. Specifically, there is no whistleblower, no document — no smoking gun even — to support the unmistakable allegation that for nearly the last 15 years, state social workers have been so evil as to take Indian children from their families as a way to reap federal funds for the state government. The charge is so shocking and such a potential insult to many dedicated social workers that the burden of proof should have been especially high.
One would like to view this as a story of NPR doing the right thing, if belatedly. Alas, we cannot. The NPR editors have blown off the ombudsman’s damning findings, proclaiming:
NPR stands by the stories.
Wow. We can see how dedicated NPR is to their espoused standards.