NPR, under criticism from listeners and intactivists over their “mishandled” news item featuring pro-circumcision “Bioethicist” Dr. Douglas Diekema, offers an explanation and mea culpa. We need to hold journalists responsible for poor reporting on this issue, and we commend NPR for acknowledging their error.
Selected Excerpts from the Ombudsman statement:
Less than two months ago, Ronald Goldman called to complain that NPR “always” adopts a pro-male circumcision stance in its coverage.
The words “NPR always” or “NPR never” always give me pause. It’s far more helpful and credible to provide specific examples, rather than offering vague impressions, particularly concerning a subject one feels strongly about.
I thanked Goldman and suggested he contact me again when he found a case in point. It didn’t take long.
Goldman is director of the Boston Circumcision Resource Center, which advocates against circumcising males, arguing there are no health benefits, it’s painful and it causes medical and psychological harm.
“When the news came out about this startling drop in circumcisions, our intention was to find someone who wasn’t a partisan—someone who could present both sides,” said Rick Holter,” the top editor on the weekend show. “So we decided to go with a bioethicist. And that’s how we settled on Dr. Diekema.”
Diekema, however, on air didn’t turn out to be the non-partisan they intended.
The story prompted phone calls, emails and 253 comments on npr.org.
The debate —and there clearly is one — centers on two strongly differing beliefs about whether circumcision for a baby boy is medically necessary. One side believes that circumcision prevents disease and promotes cleanliness. The other believes that disease prevention is a red herring that is used to perpetuate a social custom and that the lack of circumcision rarely leads to disease.
Listeners did not get both sides of the controversy in this interview.
“There’s no balance to this report,” said Goldman. “There are plenty of reputable people who can fill in the blanks which Dr. Diekema continues to ignore. I would hope in future stories, NPR would include a perspective to describe the harm. Europeans think we are crazy and they don’t have any particular health problems. The U.S. is the only country in the world that circumcises to the degree that we do for non-religious reasons.”
Also, it became clear that he [Diekema] had a definite opinion and we probably should’ve either cut it differently or sought another voice.”
Either option would have been preferable and provided more balance and context.
There was another problem as well. Circumcision opponents are sometimes referred to as “intactivists.” Cornish mentioned this and both she (mostly) and Diekema giggled at the reference, which furthered the perception that NPR may think opposition to this medical procedure is silly.