NPR suspends Uri Berliner for five days

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NPR has suspended Senior Editor Uri Berliner following publication of his essay complaining that NPR had “lost America’s trust,” NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik reported Tuesday. 

Berliner’s five-day suspension began Friday and is without pay, Folkenflik reported. 

In his essay, published April 9 by the Free Press, Berliner described a “rise of advocacy” in NPR’s newsroom that was spurred by Donald Trump’s presidency. He also criticized former CEO John Lansing’s “North Star” strategic goal of diversifying NPR’s staff and audience, questioned the roles of staff affinity groups and suggested that NPR is telling its audience how to think. 

He wrote that “an open-minded spirit no longer exists within NPR.” 

Folkenflik, who reviewed the reprimand letter, reported that NPR punished Berliner for contributing to another news outlet without seeking prior approval, which is required. He said the letter served as a “final warning” and that Berliner would be fired if he violated the policy again. 

Berliner’s essay caught the attention of conservative activists such as Christopher Rufo, who has been criticizing old tweets of CEO Katherine Maher, including one in which she called Trump racist. His essay also prompted Trump to call for defunding NPR

The essay has also led to internal rebukes.

In a Code Switch email newsletter, editor Leah Donnella took issue with a line in Berliner’s piece questioning whether America is “beset by systemic racism in the 2020s — in law enforcement, education, housing, and elsewhere?” 

“We know that systemic racism exists,” Donnella wrote. “… NPR has reported in depth on every single one of these topics. That reporting existed long before 2020. Anyone who, in good faith, wanted to know if systemic racism was real would have decades of resources to turn to, both within NPR’s archives and in the vast library of human knowledge.”

Scott Detrow, weekend host of All Things Considered, called out Berliner for appearing on other outlets after publishing his essay. “[G]oing public to torch your workplace, then doing media hit after media hit to continue torching it, is not a thing you do when you have good-faith intentions,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

In a message to staff Friday, CEO Katherine Maher addressed Berliner’s criticisms without identifying him by name.

“Asking a question about whether we’re living up to our mission should always be fair game: after all, journalism is nothing if not hard questions,” Maher wrote. “Questioning whether our people are serving our mission with integrity, based on little more than the recognition of their identity, is profoundly disrespectful, hurtful, and demeaning.”

In the letter, Maher announced NPR News would convene monthly meetings “to review our coverage across all platforms.” NPR will also hold quarterly “editorial planning and review meetings” with member stations.

“These will serve as a venue for NPR newsroom leadership to hear directly from Member organization editorial leaders on how our journalism serves the needs of audiences in their communities, and a coordination mechanism for Network-wide editorial planning and newsgathering,” she wrote.

Chapin announced Monday that Executive Editor Eva Rodriguez will lead the monthly meetings, according to Folkenflik. 

Morning Edition host Michel Martin told Folkenflik that some staff at NPR share Berliner’s concerns that coverage is presented through an ideological lens.  

“The way to address that is through training and mentorship,” Martin told Folkenflik. “It’s not by blowing the place up, by trashing your colleagues, in full view of people who don’t really care about it anyway.”

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