NPR Explains Why It Doesn’t Label Some Donald Trump Statements ‘Lies’

Donald Trump

An NPR News executive explained on Wednesday why reporters have avoided using the word “lie” in describing President Donald Trump’s claims of massive voter fraud in the election.

“Our job as journalists is to report, to find facts, and establish their authenticity and share them with everybody,” Michael Oreskes, senior vice president of news, said on NPR’s “Morning Edition.” “It’s really important that people understand that these aren’t our opinions. … These are things we’ve established through our journalism, through our reporting … and I think the minute you start branding things with a word like ‘lie,’ you push people away from you.”


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Other news organizations, like the New York Times, did use that term, and NPR acknowledged that there was some debate within its newsroom.

While reporting on Trump’s visit to CIA headquarters on Saturday, in which the president said that the media created the riff between himself and intelligence agencies, NPR News’ Mary Louise Kelly said the claim was “provably not true,” but refrained from using the word “lie.”

She pointed to the Oxford English Dictionary definition of lie — a false statement made with intent to deceive. “Without the ability to peer into Donald Trump’s head, I can’t tell you what his intent was,” she said.

Update: Oreskes issued a statement with additional comments. “I have been in journalism for more than  forty years. It’s my editorial judgement that use of the word lie has not been necessary to fully communicate the facts of the situation so far. That’s my judgement as a journalist and my decision as editorial director.  Our job is to report and present the facts. That’s what gives our audiences the information they need to be good citizens. They are as capable as we are of judging the meaning of those facts. Many have concluded that those facts mean the president has lied. They seem to be the ones pressing for us to use the word. But if they’ve reached that judgement why do they need us to say it for them?”

There were also reports last week that the Trump transition team was mulling a budget plan that would privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides funding to NPR stations. An NPR spokeswoman said that “funding has absolutely nothing to do with the editorial decision-making process in the NPR newsroom.”

Clarification: Mary Louise Kelly quote was corrected to read that the claim was “provably not true,” not “probably not true.”

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  1. Dave Hunt says:

    According to Merriam-Webster there is MORE to a lie than a lie (intent to deceive). And since when is it the job of journalists to determine INTENT when politicians “offer untruths” even repeatedly? I believe NPR got this one wrong – a lie (untruth) IS a lie! “b : an untrue or inaccurate statement that may or may not be believed true by the speaker or writer the lies we tell ourselves to feel better historical records containing numerous lies”

  2. Jester Warrior says:

    Oreskes is correct. Saying liar, and lie is usually a sign the writer or speaker is taking something personally and wants to shame and attack the other person. Recall that one person yelled liar at Obama and that was cause for much drama.

  3. Charlie says:

    Oh Ted you mean like you can keep your doctor – you mean a real bald face lie – how about when Harry Reid spoke out about illegal Immigrants in 93 that defines Hypocrcisy or the media industry offended by Trump when ever rapper out there uses the P word and talks about doing a lot more than grabbing it. Really why not report on this as well. Because you are biased

  4. Richard1725 says:

    NPR…National Propaganda Radio……Would make Joseph Geobbels proud!

  5. Thomas Engel says:

    Why are these marxists funded with tax dollars? Let npr compete in the market place

  6. Lynn Grey says:

    A lie is a lie is a lie! Very disappointed in your statement.

  7. A Jackson says:

    If the words coming out of Trump’s mouth are a lie (which they are) then they are in his head Mary Louise. In the case of Trump fight fire with fire. Get off of your intellectual high horse and really call a spade a spade! Or as in this case a lie a lie.

  8. Repeating a lie over and over doesn't make it the truth says:

    “Without the ability to peer into Donald Trump’s head, I can’t tell you what his intent was,” – so it’s not a lie. What a load of crap. What a cop out. Check facts. When it’s not accurate and the person is shown and told it’s not accurate and the person keeps repeating the statement then it’s a lie. NPR and their so-called open-minded, liberal mindset is weak when it comes to dealing with personalities like Trump and his minion. They will roll over you with the weight of their corruption and you’ll be standing there saying “Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt” long after they’ve stolen every last right that you have. NPR is a “Neville Chamberlain.”

  9. Aaron says:

    better question, why doesn’t NPR label some of their own “lies”
    Who is NPR?

  10. graycliffer says:

    Then let’s see NPR investigate the possibility of mental/psychological impairment because some of what NPR calls “probably not true” have been debunked multiple times, even sycophant Ryan disagrees on fraud claims. So there is no excuse for Trump continuing to push “probably not true” remarks aka LIES unless there is an underlying condition.

    • Julian Lean says:

      but then you have the CBS reporter tweeting out that Trump removed the bust of Martin Luther King from the Oval Office. Bad journalism or a lie? He may not have lied by the strictest definition of the term, but since he knows it is a racially charged bit of reporting, and knowing that he only had one imperfect view of the room, he still went ahead to tweet it as a fact. He knowingly made up facts that fit his narrative. He knew exactly the reaction it would get, and that that reaction would be negative towards Trump. Him saying he made a mistake was a lie itself. He should have said, I wanted so badly to be first to report this racially insensitive act by Trump that I didn’t even bother to ask anyone. Part of not asking is that it would have been less impacting. Why less impactful? By just stating it as fact devoid of reasons, the first conclusion people would have is that it’s about race, that Trump doesn’t like MLK or black people. The reporter didn’t want to have a non-racial reason for the removal. But does he acknowledge that? Did the news acknowledge that? Nah, they just went with the lie that it was an honest mistake…

      When the news starts making assumptions, and NPR knows this, they open a can of worms that can come back and bite them in the behind. Like the CBS reporter. The only thing the news has going for it is credibility. Politicians are held to a different standard. They are by definition motivated by their own agendas and they will spin facts to suit them. A news organization needs to maintain their neutrality. Look at Fox’s “Fair and Balanced” marketing spin – they are self marginalizing. NPR doesn’t want to be seen in the same light.

      • Richard says:

        Well the reporter unlike Trump and his various media representatives when presented with the facts acknowledged he was wrong and made the correction. The administration keeps repeating lies when told that the facts that they say support their lies don’t exist . Just tonight on ABC NEWS interview with Trump he was told the Pew research study he keeps siting as proof that 3-5 m illegal votes were cast, according to the author of the report says the report says no such thing. Not only that but Trump knows not one of those illegal votes could have been cast for him ..not one. Yes dead voters or those now living in another state would only have voted for Hillary. This man is delusional and those who voted for him and can’t see it probably that the emperor has no clothes.

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