NPR

NPR Should Have Revealed Totenberg-RBG Friendship Earlier

Why is it OK for a senior correspondent to be close friends with a key source on her beat, but it's not OK for her colleague to march in a Black Lives Matter protest?

In the wake of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, one of the most popular stories NPR produced was a 9-minute essay by Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg on her 48-year friendship with the legendary judge.

Totenberg offered a moving collection of stories that gave listeners a look at Ginsburg's "extraordinary character" through the eyes of her friend and fellow legal pioneer. It remains among the most popular stories on NPR's website nearly a week after Ginsburg's passing.

As one of American journalism's most respected legal affairs and Supreme Court reporters, Totenberg's long history of working with Ginsburg is not in and of itself surprising. Great reporters have great sources, and often know them well.

But the touching essay reveals a double-edged sword: Totenberg's access to Ginsburg yields deep reporting that has well-served NPR audiences for years. But the closeness of that Totenberg-Ginsburg relationship was never fully disclosed, and raises the question of whether journalistic independence — also vital to NPR consumers — was as solid as listeners have a right to expect.

In failing to be transparent about Totenberg's relationship with Ginsburg over the years, NPR missed two opportunities. First, NPR leaders could have shared the conversations they were having and the precautions they were

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