Processing the outrage over NPR movie review

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NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard endorses the editorial policy that prohibited the naming of closeted gay politicians in a review of the documentary Outrage, but she agrees with critics who questioned how NPR handled the piece filed by freelance film critic Nathan Lee.

The whole point of Outrage is to identify political leaders who oppose gay rights but are rumored to be secretly gay, as well as to illuminate the mainstream media’s complicity in not exposing them as hypocrites. Both NPR and the Washington Post withheld the names of the politicians identified in Outrage, but other daily newspapers, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Variety published them, Shepard reports on her blog.

Shepard faults NPR editors for dancing around the issue. “As it turned out, NPR did handle its online review in the manner of a blind gossip item,” she writes. “Rather than name a particular prominent politician, the edited version gave enough information for the cognoscenti to easily figure out who the review was talking about.”

In addition, NPR illustrated the review with a photograph of former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who was arrested in 2007 for soliciting sex from an undercover male officer and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct while denying that he was gay. “If NPR is not going to name names, then his photo should not have accompanied the review,” Shepard writes.

Both Shepard and NPR Executive Editor Dick Meyer have agreed with critics who pointed out that NPR’s policy protecting the privacy of individuals hasn’t been consistently applied.