NPR Ombudsman Still Investigating Native Foster Care Series

It has been almost eleven months since the NPR series on Native children in foster care in South Dakota first aired in late October of 2011.   The overwhelming majority of my previous entries have dealt with the series in some fashion.  In short, the series was a dishonest and deceptive piece of work designed to be sensational rather than accurate.  I, and presumably many others, voiced concerns about the series to the Ombudsman at NPR, Edward Schumacher-Matos.  The Ombudsman indicated on his blog on December 23rd of 2011, (almost two months after the series ran) that “a look back at an investigation of Native American foster care in South Dakota” would be “coming soon.”  As of yet, nine months later, the Ombudsman still has not published anything else regarding the series.

When I hear that something is “coming soon,” I usually don’t interpret that to mean nine months or more later.  However, just in case my perspective was a bit off, I took a look back at the previous work of the Ombudsman.  Mr. Schumacher-Matos became the ombudsman for NPR in June of 2011.  Since assuming that role, his office has posted approximately 146 blog entries.  This number excludes the “Open Forums,” which are generally not participated in by the Ombudsman.  Out of those 146 entries, the longest time I have found from initial story to specific response was approximately four and a half months (February 3rd to June 15th).  This was far from the norm though.  Response times of several days to a little over a month were the most common.  At this point, it is approaching eleven months since the Native foster care series was aired.

I recently sent another inquiry to the Ombudsman’s office, asking if it still planned to address the Native foster care series.  The email reply I received stated as follows: “Yes, Edward Schumacher-Matos still plans to respond to the complaints filed about the South Dakota Native foster care series. Our office has been conducting an ongoing investigation and working with the governor’s office and the newsroom at NPR.”  So, it appears that some sort of response by the Ombudsman’s office is still to come – eventually.  I hope that it will be worthy of the time it is taking to publish it, which at this point is already well in excess of twice the current record for longest response time.

Hopefully the fact that the Ombudsman is working with the newsroom at NPR also means that a corrective story will actually air at a time when people will hear it.  Rather ironically, the Native foster care series won a Peabody Award.  Apparently minor details like objectivity and factual accuracy cannot trump emotionally compelling sensationalism.  In my opinion, it would be a disgrace for NPR to accept a Peabody award for this series and then relegate any acknowledgement of the series’ flaws to a relatively little-read blog.  Despite noting the lack of exposure the Ombudsman Blog has on NPR’s website back on August 15th of 2011, the only indication that it exists remains a nondescript link at the bottom-right of NPR’s website. It should be NPR’s “obligation to make a correction that is as prominent as the original mistake.”