Truth and/or Bias in South Dakota
August 18, 2013 1:44 AM   Subscribe

Last week the NPR Ombudsman made a series of posts about problems with the investigation and framing of a 2011 story on foster care among Native American children in South Dakota.

The ombudsman argues that:
The series committed five sins that violate NPR's code of standards and ethics. They were:
1. No proof for its main allegations of wrongdoing;
2. Unfair tone in communicating these unproven allegations;
3. Factual errors, shaky anecdotes and misleading use of data by quietly switching what was being measured;
4. Incomplete reporting and lack of critical context;
5. No response from the state on many key points.
The editors defended the series and many others have weighed in.
posted by gubenuj (14 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
We talked about it at the time.
posted by HuronBob at 3:28 AM on August 18, 2013

I don't have any particular insight on the claims of the ombudsman vs the NPR editors, and in fact, no personal opinion at this point, because I'm too ignorant of the issues, but I would like to understand the position of the lawyer Kyle Krause (from the "others have weighed in" link) who seems to be specifically invested in this.

He seems to be in some adversarial position regarding the tribal organizers of the Great Plains Indian Child Welfare Act Summit, as seen in this video* ( ... and the boycotting of – or failure to attend – the summit by official state representatives was something that NPR reported on). He responds to the suggestion that he was a "spy" by saying, "First, I’m not sure why one would have to spy on a public gathering of hundreds of people that was being streamed online. Second, I’m self-employed, and lost money due to the three days I took off from work so I could attend the summit," but fails to clarify why he would make that financial sacrifice and what his official or professional interest is, exactly.

At any rate, he has created a Twitter account solely for the purpose of supporting the ombudsman's report, extensively linked and reported from his professional site, and I am curious if it's because the claims of tribal representatives are somehow in conflict with his work in family law and adoption, or if he is associated with the state, or both, or neither / other?

* I came across a link to the video on Kyle Krause's site, here
posted by taz at 3:39 AM on August 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

You'll also see Kyle Krause's name quite a bit in the comments section of the "The editors defended the series" link.
posted by NoMich at 5:52 AM on August 18, 2013

Can anybody weigh in on this who knows what's going on, either factually or whether an abuse of journalistic standards occurred (outside of those acknowledged by the editor)? It seemed with a reading of both the ombudsman's report and the editor's note, that the editor's note did not go into much specificity with regards to the ombudsman's claims. Which sort of makes the ombudsman's report seem of greater impact.
posted by angrycat at 7:15 AM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Priorities seem to be interesting over at NPR. The Ombudsman has nothing at all to say about all the glowing, cheerful, stories NPR has about Obama's drone wars, nothing at all to say about NPR's unrelentingly negative reporting about Occupy Wall Street. But a story that challenged an authority gets a lot of attention.

Funny how that works...
posted by sotonohito at 7:56 AM on August 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

Not to say that, if the story in question was inaccurate it shouldn't be corrected. But it seems as if the Ombudsman's main job is going after stories that question authority, while ignoring bias in stories that defend or praise authority.
posted by sotonohito at 7:57 AM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

An Ombudsman looks into complaints. If no one is complaining about those stories you mention he gets to sit on his ass.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:15 AM on August 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is fascinating and heartbreaking. Thanks for posting.

I've been wrestling with trying to say something about this, but I think instead I'll just link to an article that I'm pretty sure has been up on Mefi before - the New York Times report on the dysfunction within St. Christopher's, the largest minority-run foster care agency in New York City. I also feel like I mention Fosterhood in every other comment I make these days, but I think there is no better illustration of the bitter conflict between what is best for the community as a whole and what is best for individual children.

The goal of keeping minority children within their communities is both unquestionably admirable and anything but simple. It is located at the nexus of the fucked up way that our country apparently cannot keep itself from punishing poor people at the same time it tries to help them. Unfortunately, top-down legislation about what "should" happen to these kids too often ends up causing more harm than good. Passing laws that demand that children need to be kept within their communities without providing adequate funding to ensure that there are enough trained and competent local foster care families to take them in is just bullshit grandstanding and will only ensure that kids end up with even less stability and lower levels of care, as they bounce around in homes that are only tenuously capable of providing for them and are denied permission to stay in more stable placements that some bureaucrat considers less than ideal. The system is broken at every level. Until we address the underlying causes of what's going wrong, both the kids and their families will continue to suffer.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:33 AM on August 18, 2013 [12 favorites]

I wish the Ombudsman would look into the recent story on SSI benefits. That was a pee-yes de crap. With respect to this story, I'm not qualified to comment other than to agree with pretentious illiterate. Anecdotally, I foster parented and am still the mama/payee for a Native-Black foster child who is now 24 and living independently. I support the ICWA but for my kid it did not translate into much tangible benefit (a few of the countless failed foster placements were led by Native foster parents, that's about it).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:48 AM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wish the Ombudsman would look into the recent story on SSI benefits.

I was thinking the same thing. It seemed that a lot of his criticisms of the reporting of the South Dakota story were relevant to the SSI story, as well.
posted by jaguar at 11:01 AM on August 18, 2013

Yo, To Sir With Millipedes, got anything to add to this? I expect OTM to be all over it.

(I am so glad I've never had an editor or ombudsman savage me like this, despite a few stories where I can now look back and realize there was more ambiguity than I'd like. On the other hand, I totally understand how doing a story on any bureaucracy can turn adversarial really fast, and how that can cripple the ability to present strong conclusions — I did one on the Michigan DEQ once and had to end up leaving a string of wickedly unfair questions on voicemail with the notice that I was going to print those questions individually, including a bunch of "Why wouldn't you deny this?" sort of stuff, with the notice that they declined to comment, just to get a real scientist to talk to me instead of the vague, massaging flacks that had run me around.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:46 PM on August 18, 2013

I would like to understand the position of the lawyer Kyle Krause (from the "others have weighed in" link) who seems to be specifically invested in this.

As far as I can tell, he's just a young attorney who focuses on family law, particularly those cases having to do with kids, and has worked with kids in some capacity for his entire adult life. As he lives in Rapid City, SD, it makes perfect sense to me that he'd be all over something like this.
posted by valkyryn at 2:23 PM on August 18, 2013

Janklow's only been dead for 18 months. Truth and/or Bias in South Dakota will take at least a couple more decades to recover. Outside Indian Country, even longer.
posted by Twang at 5:09 PM on August 18, 2013

From my reading, it sounds as though the original reporters early on became invested in the story going in a certain direction and committed some serious journalistic sins as a consequence. Unfortunately, the ombudsman seemed to go the other direction, and took great pains to absolve the state in any wrongdoing, or at least present a strong "preponderance of the evidence" case. The truth probably lies between these two great extremes, but I'll be damned if I can figure out exactly where, in spite of all the words spilled on the topic by both sides.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:22 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

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