Kwanzaa, Manti Te’o and respect

I enjoy reading other media critics and ombudsmen, (er, ombudspersons?) and thought about discussing this recent take on Kwanzaa coverage by NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos. He updated the post today and it gives me an opportunity to show it to you, too. You can read the initial column (“Gaining Or Losing Credibility By Humanizing A Reporter: A Kwanzaa Story“) for analysis of how NPR covered Kwanzaa on a couple of different programs.

The focus of the analysis is how a Morning Edition segment on Jan. 1 introduced and treated the topic. The host sort of interviews the reporter of the story — who, because he’s a black man, is also giving a first-person take on how he celebrates Kwanzaa — and it doesn’t exactly go well. In short, the reporter is a good personal example of a main point of the story about how celebration of Kwanzaa is on the decline. But this means that he’s a really bad “expert” source as a reporter on the story.

Much navel-gazing ensues, of course, and the host and producer of the show defend their use of an unknowledgeable source because it lends honesty and credibility to their reporting. Of course, listeners were less than pleased:

As Darcelle Gill of Leland, N.C., wrote:

“What a way to introduce Gene Demby, a journalist of race and ethnicity, to your NPR family/audience. I was disappointed to start my 2013 to hear an incomplete description of Kwanzaa.”

Exactly. No need to overthink this one. It’s disappointing as a listener to get an incomplete description of something.

Schumacher-Matos also made some references to how another NPR program — Tell Me More – approached the Kwanzaa story in a “standard” manner … by talking to an actual expert.

Michel Martin responds with an amazing smackdown:

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Manti Te’o, fake girlfriends and confirmation bias

Way back in my guilt file is a story I wanted to highlight from CNN about Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s star linebacker. The story is a detailed account of the role religion plays in his life and I found it fascinating. Te’o is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is from Hawaii. My husband was raised Mormon and is from Hawaii, so I’d been following Te’o’s story. He’d been a leader in the top-ranked Notre Dame team that went on to the National Championship game. A sample from that story:

Graduating from Punahou High School in Hawaii, Te’o had his choice of the best football programs in the country. His Mormon faith was a serious factor in the decision-making process, said his former high school coach, Kale Ane.

“A lot of that weighed on him,” Ane, who coached Te’o for three years, told CNN.  “The final weight was getting his message out on a broader scale.  A Mormon at a Catholic school was a good way to say, ‘You can keep your faith no matter where you go.’ “

Team chaplain Father Paul Doyle is interviewed:

“Manti is a very religious guy. He seeks out his Mormon congregation and attends off-campus faithfully,” Doyle said.

Te’o has been a member of the local Notre Dame Ward the Mormons’ rough equivalent of a Catholic parish in Mishawaka, Indiana, for four years, according to ward Bishop Jim Carrier.  The five counties in and around South Bend, Indiana, are home to about 2,000 Latter-day Saints, Carrier said.

A common practice in the LDS Church, which has no professional clergy, is having members give testimonies during Sunday worship services.

“I asked (Te’o) to talk about what influenced him to come to Notre Dame and how he used prayer in prompting him to make that decision,” Carrier said.

Carrier said Te’o spoke about leaning toward attending the University of Southern California. But as he prayed about his decision, coaches from Notre Dame called to check in. “He said he just felt an overwhelming feeling it was where he needed to go,” Carrier said. “He said, ‘It was an answer to prayer for me.’”

The story discusses whether Te’o plans to serve on a two-year mission and how other football players handled that.

What turned out to be the most interesting part of the story, as you may have heard today, was inserted pretty late in the report:

Te’o has been vocal about the role his faith plays in his life and how he leaned on it earlier this year after both his grandmother and girlfriend died in the span of less than two days during football season.  His girlfriend died after battling leukemia.  Te’o stayed with the team throughout the ordeal, playing one of the best games of his career the following Saturday.

Turns out that there may not have been a girlfriend, that she didn’t have leukemia, and didn’t die.

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