To the editors:

Glenn Garvin, in his attack on my criticism of his piece on NPR [Letters, August 13], makes much of the fact that FAIR, the organization I represent, appears on a list of contributors published by NPR. Writes Garvin: “Once we know that–once we know that Naureckas is not a media critic but an NPR public-relations spokesman–his letter makes a little more sense. After all, lying and distorting the truth to improve a client’s image, well, that’s what press agents do.”

Using an obscure reportorial tool–the telephone–I asked NPR why we were listed as a funder. They sent me a copy of a letter thanking our executive director, Jeff Cohen, for sending them a check–for ten dollars.

The check was apparently for a tape or transcript, and not a donation. But the way Garvin jumps to an illogical conclusion–since FAIR has supposedly given money to NPR, FAIR must be NPR’s agent–points out once again the unreliability of his reporting.

Garvin’s basic reply to my criticism–the point that makes him wonder whether I am an “idiot” or a “liar”–is that I only reviewed about 75 percent of the material that appeared on NPR’s news shows during the week he listened to it, because not all of NPR’s stories are transcribed. If I had heard the 25 percent that wasn’t transcribed, Garvin implies, I would realize that his critique of NPR as a univocal platform for liberalism and the Democratic Party was correct.

Unfortunately, after I found that the bulk of NPR’s news coverage during Garvin’s one-week “study” period bore no resemblance to the one-sided screed he described–that he took quotes out of context, ignored stories that contradicted his thesis, etc.–it’s hardly possible for me to assume that he accurately depicted the remainder of NPR’s reporting. Village Voice columnist Allen Barra has, in fact, listened to tapes of the NPR stories that were not transcribed, and his views of their contents are at odds with Garvin’s.

Garvin’s shrill, personal attack–complete with reference to my “little buddies at NPR”–shows the desperation of a writer who can’t defend the facts in a largely fictionalized article. I don’t really expect anything different from him.

From the Reader, however, I do expect some effort to be made at fact-checking–both in its articles and in the replies its authors make to critics. Before my letter ran, I got a call from the Reader’s editor, Michael Lenehan, who asked me if I was likely to sue the paper over Garvin’s reply. I told him that I personally didn’t believe in libel suits. I should have added that it shouldn’t be the threat of legal action that prevents a paper from printing lies, but a commitment to ethical journalism.

If Lenehan had been interested in checking the truth of Garvin’s wild charges, and not just concerned about his legal liability for them, the Reader would have been spared the embarrassment of one of its writers spinning conspiracy theories out of ten-dollar checks.

Jim Naureckas

Editor, EXTRA!

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

New York