November 9, 2022
Being friends with a source
NPR’s Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg holds an accolade that is a rarity in journalism – covering one beat for multiple decades. However, some have raised concerns about her friendship with the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the subject of Totenberg’s most recent book), and the impact it has on Totenberg’s ability to report on the Court and other legal issues. The SPJ Code of Ethics says journalists should act independently and “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.” NPR editors have said Totenberg has been able to do her job without compromising the friendships she has with her sources, and has been public about it all. NPR’s Public Editor and Poynter Institute Ethics Chair Kelly McBride calls for more transparency and encourages Totenberg and the network to acknowledge her relationships more directly. McBride says it is perhaps time for a new role to allow NPR to not only fairly cover the Court, but also allow listeners to benefit from Totenberg’s analysis in making sense of the stories surrounding the Court and the Judicial Branch.