Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Fair reporting on the Israel-Hamas war

An NPR team's protective vests and helmets in a hotel room in Tel Aviv. (Courtesy of NPR)
An NPR team's protective vests and helmets in a hotel room in Tel Aviv. (Courtesy of NPR)

There's been a lot of public conversation this past week about whether NPR's attachment to bringing diverse voices onto its staff and airwaves is a good thing or a bad thing.

This current debate arose in reaction to a column last week written by a frustrated NPR editor who claimed that NPR's embrace of diverse perspectives has gone too far. NPR responded with a defense of its journalism, a defense of its mission and a few well-crafted volleys.

Among his claims, senior business editor Uri Berliner, who resigned yesterday, asserted that NPR is biased against Israel. Since that's the charge that has dominated our inbox for the last six months, I responded in a column, where I ask: Should the news coverage of this war be proportional to the number of civilian deaths? You can read it here.

Below, we also respond to two audience letters. In the first, an NPR reader is frustrated by some missing details in a story about a proposed Georgia law banning the American Library Association from public libraries and schools.

In the second letter, a listener is annoyed by the term "pregnant people" — a frequent complaint.

Finally, we were impressed by the Consider This episode reminding us of O.J. Simpson's deep cultural significance. — Kelly McBride


Here are a few quotes from the Public Editor's inbox that resonated with us. Letters are edited for length and clarity. You can share your questions and concerns with us through the NPR Contact page.

More information on a proposed state law

Jeff Schmidt wrote on March 1: I am frustrated with reporting on proposed legislation. This story is about a bill that is working its way through the Georgia Legislature, that has something to do with library relationships with the American Library Association, but ...

1) There is no link to the bill text, or even a reference like GA House Bill 1234 or whatever they use in Georgia, so I can't easily go search for it, and

2) The article never exactly says what the bill would DO, that is, what are the provisions of the bill. The headline says "cut all ties," but in practice, does that mean all librarians would have to cancel membership in ALA or they would be fired? That no libraries in Georgia could ever accept any grant money from the ALA under any circumstances? I mean, what does the bill actually say?

There's also no discussion of the potential Constitutional issues raised by such a bill, like freedom of association (can a state really fire or not hire someone simply for belonging to a disfavored professional association?), non-discrimination under the 14th amendment, etc.

The story, by NPR national correspondent Tovia Smith, originally published on March 1. In addition to the Georgia legislation, it is also about the growing number of states and local governments across the country attempting to minimize the American Library Association's influence on public libraries and schools. The story points out that the Georgia bill, which had just passed the Georgia Senate, is more strident than similar efforts in other states.

Smith's reporting is straightforward and clear. The story — both in its digital and audio version — does tell the audience what the bill proposes. Specifically, the story says that if the bill were made a law, it would "bar any school or public library in Georgia from doing business with the ALA, the predominant professional organization which provides materials, training and funding." Smith goes on to explain that the bill would prevent state colleges from using public funds to seek accreditation from the ALA, which is currently the only organization that accredits library programs that train future librarians.

Indirectly quoting one of her sources, Smith points out that the bill could be considered an act of censorship. In the audio version, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, tells Smith: "It just stuns me. We are the professional membership organization for librarians. Would you do this to the American Bar Association? Would you do this to the American Medical Association?"

In the written version that appears on NPR's website, Smith quotes her as asking whether libraries would "become arms of the state, only communicating those messages that a political actor believes is appropriate?"

Of Schmidt's comments, Smith said: "As you note, the person who wrote the letter is incorrect in his claim that the story did not say what the bill would do. We detailed not only what this Georgia bill would do, but also what a previous similar measure at the local level in a different state did do."

We studied several other stories about the bill, all from local outlets in the state. All laid out clearly what the measure would do and labeled the measure by its assigned number.

Though Senate Bill 390 passed the Georgia Senate, it never made it out of the House.

We did wonder if it was possible to link directly to the text of the bill. Smith told us this week that, when she filed her story shortly after the bill passed the Senate, the latest version of the bill was not immediately available online. A staffer at the Georgia Secretary of the Senate's office told us that the bill text would have been updated at midnight, adding that it's standard practice for measures to be updated online at that time. The latest version is available now on the Georgia General Assembly's website, as well as the previous versions.

A link to the bill text would have been helpful, especially since the official name — Senate Bill 390 — was not mentioned in the story, which makes searching for text more difficult.

As the story stands, it clearly describes how schools and public libraries would be limited from working with the ALA. And the story appropriately addresses the possible Constitutional issues with the now-defunct bill. It's noteworthy to emphasize that, though this story is about one bill, at the core, it's a story for a national audience about the expansiveness of a campaign to restrict books. — Amaris Castillo

The term 'pregnant people'

Lori Neufeld (producer and host of Alaska Live on NPR member station KUAC FM) wrote on March 18: I'm writing on behalf of one of our listeners who is wondering why NPR chooses "pregnant people" instead of "pregnant women." I'm going to use her words too because she describes her issue below:

"... I have been increasingly disturbed by everyone across the public broadcasting network referring to 'pregnant people.' The last I heard, the only people able to become pregnant are women. When did it become discriminatory to refer to 'pregnant women?'" ...

I do know that some folks are transgender, and I believe that there are folks who consider themselves as 'nonbinary,' but seriously....?

We've addressed this question in one of our 2022 newsletters. The question keeps coming up, though, so we'll do a short revisit.

Not everyone who is pregnant identifies as a woman, we wrote in that newsletter. Some people who are pregnant may identify as trans men or nonbinary, as the KUAC listener points out. Because of this, several medical organizations — like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — began using the term "pregnant people" in recent years. The term is also being adopted in legal language. For NPR, the term "pregnant people" is used to be more accurate and inclusive.

Sometimes, the phrase "pregnant people" is used by a medical practitioner, not the NPR reporter. Reporters often use other language. This story uses the phrase "pregnant patients," and this one, about pregnant students, does not use "pregnant" as an adjective at all.

In May 2021, NPR guidance said that either the phrase "pregnant people" or "pregnant women" could be used. "It is not necessary to discard the term 'pregnant women' — use the words that make sense in context and words that help the audience understand, instead of adding confusion," the guidance read.

NPR still goes by this guidance, standards editor Tony Cavin said in an email.

The term "pregnant people" is used in news stories only when discussing an abstract or theoretical group of people for accuracy. When journalists know that every person they are referring to identifies as a woman, then "pregnant women" works just fine. — Emily Barske Wood


The Public Editor spends a lot of time examining moments where NPR fell short. Yet we also learn a lot about NPR by looking at work that we find to be compelling and excellent journalism. Here we share a line or two about the pieces where NPR shines.

Contextualizing O.J. Simpson's death

In the wake of the death of O.J. Simpson last week at the age of 76, Consider This recaps the complicated cultural significance of the former running back and celebrity, who was also famously acquitted for the murder of his ex-wife and her best friend. The show recapped his climb to fame and fall from grace while providing context about what it meant to the country at then and now. The conversation with a veteran sportswriter was helpful both to audience members who may have remembered the news coverage of Simpson being charged with murder, and his eventual acquittal, and to listeners who were too young to recall. Context is key to informative journalism. — Emily Barske Wood

The Office of the Public Editor is a team. Reporters Amaris Castillo and Emily Barske Wood and copy editor Merrill Perlman make this newsletter possible. Illustrations are by Carlos Carmonamedina. We are still reading all of your messages on Facebook, Twitter and from our inbox. As always, keep them coming.

Kelly McBride
NPR Public Editor
Craig Newmark Center for Ethics & Leadership at the Poynter Institute

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit