Why won’t NPR’s ombud speak to Salon’s Glenn Greenwald?

alicia shepard nprSalon blogger Glenn Greenwald has rarely been one to avoid responding directly to his right wing critics. He’s been on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show on multiple occasions and has even appeared on Michael Savage’s show. As an opinionated pundit, he believes that people like him should be willing to face off with others in public forums that are not always friendly to their views, and he finds those that avoid doing so “cowardly and irresponsible.”

So when National Public Radio’s ombud, Alicia Shepard, refused to come on his Salon radio show to address his criticisms, he decided to write about it. Shepard wrote a column in June defending NPR’s tendency to refrain from referring to enhanced interrogation techniques as “torture,” and Greenwald followed it with a paragraph-by-paragraph rebuttal the day after. Shortly after his response was posted, he asked a Salon intern to reach out to Shepard to see if she would speak to him for his online radio show. According to Greenwald, an NPR spokesperson said that the ombud was out for the week and would get back to him Monday. Salon’s intern said that when she spoke to Shepard on Monday she refused to go on the show because she didn’t “want to get into a shouting match.” (I reached out to NPR for comment this morning. A representative responded that he would try to get someone to speak to me on the record. I’ll update this post if I receive a response)

“I think Shepard has an obligation to engage NPR listeners when it comes to controverisial issues surrounding NPR,” Greenwald told me in a phone interview this morning. “Even that original column that she wrote was due in part to the fact that I had written about NPR’s practice of not calling interrogation techniques torture, and that’s what caused her to get so many emails in the first place and respond. So I felt like it was clear that my blog was sort of the centerplace where a lot of NPR listeners were voicing these complaints, so it was a natural place for her to go in order to have this discussion to address these issues interactively rather than the one way monologue.”

But doesn’t a person have the right to refuse an interview? After all, some have refused to go on shows like the O’Reilly Factor because they felt like they wouldn’t be given a fair platform to present their views, and many that have gone on such shows have come out regretting it. Greenwald seemed to agree that there are certain circumstances in which it would be practical to turn down an interview request, but he said that when you opine on controversial topics you should make a reasonable effort to respond and engage with your critics or those you criticize.

“That doesn’t mean you have to go and confront every single person,” he said. “If you’re inundated with requests I think it’s fair to pick and choose based on audience size and other factors, but it was pretty clear that I was the primary critic in this regard. I played a large role in spawning the controversy in the first place. I think it was pretty cowardly and irresponsible for her not to being willing to address it.”

Greenwald said that he has conducted over 100 radio interviews for Salon Radio, and not one has degenerated into a “shouting match,” so he finds that excuse without merit. I suggested that perhaps Shepard felt that she had addressed the criticisms against NPR and readdressing them in an interview would seem redundant.

“I thought that her column left a lot of questions unresolved and unanswered,” he replied. “You can write a column addressing critics and be pretty thorough and address all the arguments, where you won’t satisfy your critics but at least you would have answered them, whereas I felt like her defense of NPR’s policy left open more questions than it answered. So I thought that it made sense to try to explore those questions with her.”

Greenwald said he still hopes to have Shepard on the show, and there has been at least some conversation via email with an NPR representative about that possibility.