“Hinky:” NPR Permitted Billy Barr to Lie More than Once

The other day, NPR’s public editor did a piece exploring how the NPR allowed itself to spread Billy Barr’s lies about vote by mail uncontested. It reviews the exchange, noting where Steve Inskeep did not ask obvious follow-ups.

Inskeep had 20 minutes to do the Barr interview, which was conducted at the Justice Department. In the portion of the interview on election security, Inskeep sounds, to my ear, off his game. His follow-up questions don’t reflect the facts that NPR had already reported, and are therefore ineffective at holding Barr accountable for his statements.

The transcript is available here. When Barr conflates the broad issue of foreign interference with the specific claim of ballot tampering, Inskeep does not call him out.


When Barr compares the ballots to paper money, to suggest they can be easily duplicated, Inskeep asks: “Do they not also go through procedures like that with mail-in ballots?” Barr answers: “You’ve seen them. They’re pretty primitive.”

A journalist specializing in election security would have pressed Barr more firmly, by asking again whether intelligence of ballot tampering exists, and getting him to explain exactly how he imagines outsiders would attempt to circumvent the numerous safeguards in place, including barcodes, enumerated ballots, duplicating the specific paper stock and printing methods and signature verifications. Suggested question: How would a ballot counterfeiting scheme work at scale, to get around the well-established and tested controls, including the individual codes on each ballot and the signature comparisons?

It talks about the decision to include Barr’s lies (about vote-by-mail) rather than take more time and edit them out.

Inskeep worked with a show editor and producer to prepare the package. Together, they chose to air the bulk of Barr’s claims rather than truncate the statements to air only those not widely disputed as false. He could have decided to delay the air date of that particular segment in order to do more reporting and bring additional voices into the conversation, an internal or external expert to say that Barr is making a false statement.

Running an extensive portion of the exchange could only be a good option if Inskeep was willing to add more context, as you are about to see below.

And it described how NPR could have made it far clearer that Billy Barr lied to NPR.

There are many techniques to prepare listeners to hear false information. You can straight-up tell the audience the upcoming statements are inaccurate — while also explaining that part of our job is to sometimes allow public officials to make such statements so that the listener can hear it for herself. Stewart said he was grateful Inskeep got Barr on tape falsely claiming mail-in ballots will jeopardize the election. “This looks like pure, unadulterated Barr,” he said. “And I’m really glad the country got to hear that.”

I wish Inskeep would have spent a little air time making clear in the set-up that state election officials use several well-tested methods to ensure the integrity and security of mail-in ballots, and that transparency of those checks and balances is baked into the system.

Given that Barr primarily does interview with old friends from the Poppy Administration or propaganda outlet, I’m grateful that NPR reviewed this interview and laid out how Barr has successfully, relentlessly lied to the American people.

But they should have gone one step further, and noted all the other times Barr lied to Inskeep. And even before he lied about vote-by-mail, he falsely claimed that his interventions in both the Mike Flynn and Roger Stone case was proper. In the Stone case, for example, he explained his intervention in the sentencing recommendation because there was a dispute.

I was the decision maker in that case because there was a dispute. And usually what happens is, disputes, especially in high profile cases, come up to the attorney general.

To the extent there was a dispute, it was only because he had removed the Senate confirmed US Attorney and put in someone he told to dispute the sentencing guidelines. NPR also let Barr claim that his recommendation is what Amy Berman Jackson adopted, which is not at all true (she adopted most of the prosecutors’ guidelines sentence but gave Stone a lenient sentence on her own).

Worse still, NPR let Barr claim as fact that there was a lot hinky with Flynn’s case.

There was a lot of hinky stuff in the Flynn case. Everyone knew that. Everyone was wondering why was this case ever brought?

That’s not only false, but both DOJ Inspector General and Judge Emmet Sullivan had reviewed it and found nothing “hinky.” Effectively, Barr put in a flunkie to override the judgement of those people who are supposed to assess whether something is hinky.

Importantly, only people who haven’t consulted the public record believe that — which is why it is so dangerous for NPR to let the claim go unchallenged. So here, as with the vote-by-mail, Inskeep simply gave Barr the opportunity to provide false excuses for unprecedented abuse of power.

And the public editor should note that.

50 replies
  1. RMD says:

    Thank you Marcy. NPR and their affiliates often pull their punches, or refrains from throwing them. It cannot be an accident, it occurs too often.

    • Rugger9 says:

      NPR, like much of the public media (hi, KQED) is thoroughly greenmailed by Koch Industries and their ilk. Their government funding is also dependent upon the whims of the WH and DJT, so of course they are going to pull punches because if they do not they will be shut down.

      • Rayne says:

        Have you looked at how much federal funding NPR receives? This is from 2010 but I don’t believe the percentage has changed much.

        The Corporation for Public Broadcasting doesn’t really provide a lot; if the public was suitably pissed off at a threat attributed to Trump they’d raise NPR’s 2% within a very short time frame.

        I personally don’t understand why a wholly independent endowment hasn’t been established to prevent partisan hackery and corporate extortion from influencing NPR’s programming.

        • boba says:

          I do not believe it is the money that holds these people back. It’s the access and invitations they desire, and the opportunity to move up the food chain. Go along to get along is an venerable tradition.

    • Tom says:

      A day or so ago I heard a reporter on NPR describe President Trump as making “racially conservative” comments during his Rose Garden speech a few days ago. Nicolle Wallace also said on her “Deadline: White House” program yesterday that she thinks the media have been “too timid” in covering Trump over the past few years. She seemed to include herself in that group, though one of her colleagues disagreed. I’d say it’s not too late to make up for lost time.

      I was reminded of the reports that came out a year or two ago concerning how White House reporters would try to extract some sense from Trump’s rambling speeches and diatribes by cobbling together assorted quotes into some sort of coherent message, rather than simply reporting that the President’s lies, non sequiturs, and stream-of-consciousness musings made little sense and were evidence of erratic, uncritical thinking and wilful ignorance.

      • dude says:

        I see no reason whatever to provide full coverage of everything that Trump or Trump officials say anyway. Editing for time is common. Editing for waste of time should be practiced more.

      • ducktree says:

        Thank you ~ Exactly this! The media continues to mindlessly and needlessly weave the Emperor’s New Clothes *for him* from their own whole cloth. That’s NOT what “journalism” means. I’m getting to the point of yelling at the monitor as I read the WaPo on-line (I’d lost that joy when I cut off the TV years ago).

        But back to the issue of Barr and his lazy, shifty rhetorical styles of speech. Is “hinky” a legal term? It sounds more like locker room Monday morning quarterbacking – not something the AG would argue either in public or in court. And by lazy I’m referring to his preference for use of contractions and, if I can paint a metaphor, his mental foot shuffling when speaking in general. /rant

    • dude says:

      I think an interesting contrast to NPR is BBC News on the radio. I frequently hear their reporters aggressively challenging their ‘guests’ in interviews.

      • Rayne says:

        Your mileage may vary. BBC’s coverage favors Tories; they did a spectacularly bad job with Brexit and with Scotland’s independence referendum.

          • MB says:

            I agree with Rayne about varying mileage with BBC. I heard a full 1/2 hour interview between BBC and Christopher Ruddy, who runs Newsmax, and it was a full 1/2 hour of Trump apologetics.

            The interviewer was clearly trying to ask “tough” questions, but Ruddy had him wrapped around his little finger, and clearly the BBC assumed Newsmax is a legit news organization and was failing to realize that he is basically just a close pal of Trump and he spends at least some of his time carrying Trump’s water in trying to soften Trump’s sharp edges to credulous foreign audiences. The entire interview was a PR exercise to make Trump seem “misunderstood” from start to finish.

          • Tim E says:

            When it was good, I thought, featuring: Susan Stamberg, Linda Wertheimer, Robt Krulwich, Bob Edwards, Robt Siegel, Robt Conley and of course, Nina T

    • BobCon says:

      This is a really good deep dive on Kelly McBride, NPR’s public editor.


      Her long time at Poynter made her a key advocate for the kind of journalism that has poisoned the country. In one telling section, reporter Laura Wagner points out that McBride has both criticized mentions of the rape allegation against Kobe Bryant after his death and called for a full airing of unflattering parts of the life of George Floyd after his death.

      McBride is one of the top champions of the slippery advocacy of the right wing agenda in the name of neutrality and balance. She attempts to justify Cotton’s call for sending troops with no quarter orders after civilians by drawing a crazy comparison to Eisenhower’s use of troops to protect school children — what matters tk McBride is not any attempt to grapple with reality, it’s making sure the right and the powerful are always heard.

    • John Paul Jones says:

      SFAIK, “hinky” is NYPD slang, from the 80s or earlier, and it became part of the cop-movie, cop-show discourse in the early 90s with shows like “Hill Street Blues” and “NYPD Blue,” whose show-runners prided themselves on using actual cop consultants. It’s now decidedly old-school slang, and it probably tells you when Billy Boy stopped watching cop shows on TV. My guess? These days he would only watch a cop show if it was put out by Vatican TV: “Guardie svizzere; blu” anyone?

  2. Rugger9 says:

    I sent my rep Ro Khanna a note about the proceedings in Portland and Tampa, and observed that Pelosi’s plan to let the election do the work for her assumes that there will be an election. It is clear as noted by others on the last thread that this assumption is becoming more dubious.

    However, we have the USPS strangulation process to squelch balloting, the fining of protestors in Tampa FL to make them ineligible to vote in FL, the disappearing of protestors in Portland OR in direct opposition to the local authorities, the chaos surrounding COVID-19 making vote-by-mail a principal option as well as the justification to shut down polling places in the “wrong” part of town, and the fact that with very few exceptions the instigators of violence are the police, Boogaloos and their MAGA allies. The last is being encouraged by Barr to justify cracking down and combined I think we’ll see the calls to suspend or delay the election coming from the WH in the next month or so. Keep in mind that this idea to delay a Presidential election was something floated by the GWB WH in 2004 due to the Iraq War fears and ignoring the fact when we held elections during the Civil War, both World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Great Depression.

    Biden leads by double digits almost everywhere, which tells me there is no political path to DJT’s re-election. The downfall of Sessions in AL and Huntsman in UT make it clear that ideological MAGA purity and Trump loyalty will be the litmus test for the GOP so in addition to the known Russian support in 2016 and probably 2018, the GOP knows that crossing DJT is a political death sentence. Molly might remember Tom Campbell here in Silicon Valley, who was far too liberal to survive the first purge, and even Reagan wouldn’t make the cut now. The GOP will not help here.

    Pelosi needs to understand that AG Barr under impeachment will not be as free to cause more destruction, and will make it crystal clear to everyone who the criminals are just in time for the November election. I really do not see a political downside here at all, only Beltway Villagers would.

    • Molly Pitcher says:

      I think neither Reagan nor Nixon would be in the GOP now. Nixon, of course dallied with those commies in China and proposed the establishment of EPA on July 9, 1970 by executive order. How quaint that level of corruption seems now.

      I was shouting at my radio when Inskeep interviewed Barr. I can only think that they are so timid interviewing the right because the right has demonized Public radio and television and they are afraid to poke the rattlesnake with a stick. I fired off a complaint to NPR and KQED but all I got was crickets in the form of a computer generated reply in both cases.

    • BobCon says:

      What is really dumb about Pelosi’s plan for a glide path to November is that GOP plans for voter supression and interference are not just about Biden-Trump.

      They are fighting tooth and nail for the Senate, but also for every state house. Redistricting is due in 2022, and they want do everything they can to control the process for a preserving and extending gerrymanders, including gerrymanders of congressional seats.

      This kind of short term risk aversion is putting at risk the down ballot races for seats that Democrats desperately need in two years.

        • S Chepaitis says:

          Great article on the success in MI. Thank you for giving me some hope. We have been trying to accomplish this here in PA as well (where I am a county leader for Fair Districts PA) but to no avail. PA has a more cumbersome system in which an amendment to the state constitution takes three years to pass. Ours has not gotten even one vote in the legislature. Republicans, of course, buried it in committees until recently when it has begun to look like democrats might flip the legislature in 2020. Now it is the democrats who are stalling it with amendments and other delay tactics because they want their revenge.
          It’s bad either way.

          • Rayne says:

            Don’t go through the state legislature — that’s what the Michigan folks figured out. Our state legislature has become GOP and resistant to anything not GOP agenda. Pennsylvanians need to fix their system to allow a more direct democracy. The 2016 effort needs to be revisited first, and then a ballot initiative needs to be pushed for nonpartisan redistricting commission.

            If we have a solid blue wave, the PA legislature could pass a ballot initiative bill and then a non-partisan group could work on a redistricting commission.

            Lot of work but it’s necessary to save democracy.

  3. SteveL says:

    Inskeep let Barr get away with some other very dubious statements as well. To wit:

    1. Barr argues that his Stone and Flynn interventions were appropriate because the AG supervises the whole department. This neglects the ethical responsibilities of all DOJ employees to avoid actions that create the appearance of impropriety (https://www.justice.gov/jmd/ethics-handbook). In these interventions Barr clearly violated his ethical obligations.

    2. Barr argues that the Stone intervention was appropriate because the ultimate sentence imposed was appropriate. This is a bad-faith dodge as of course the sentencing result does not necessarily say anything about the appropriateness of the DOJ actions in question. The original sentencing memorandum correctly hewed to the sentencing guidelines, whereas the superseding memorandum grossly departed from department policy in this respect. This was noted by the judge, who described the original memorandum as appropriate and under whose questioning Shea abandoned essentially all the arguments from his extraordinary and unpersuasive superseding memorandum.

  4. Molly Pitcher says:

    It is time to practice what ever belief system you have, Ruth Bader Ginsberg has announced that she has cancer again and that she has been on chemo therapy since May 19.

    • P J Evans says:

      She also said that chemo is working. That’s important.
      (She just has to make it until the next session of Congress starts.)

  5. Jenny says:

    Thanks Marcy.
    There is a lot of hinky Barr behavior considering he acts like Trump’s personal lawyer.

  6. Savage Librarian says:

    Hinky, Stinky and Odd

    Hinky, Stinky and Odd one night
    were trying to land their plane,
    A station radioed with their plight,
    not thinking to use a brain.

    “What do you wish, what can we do?”
     the station asked the three.
    “Just scratch our itch & stick like glue,”
    they smirked with ghoulish glee.

    “Follow our red herring fish
    that live in our grotesque sea,
    Then flush them with a flourish
    and help our poor flunky.”

    The station laughed & sang a song
    as it helped usher in the plane,
    And the wind that sped them all along
    pretended not to be insane.

    Some folks thought ‘twas a dream,
    But not Hinky, Stinky and Odd,
    who knew they’d secured the scheme
    as they gave each other the nod.

  7. Matthew Harris says:

    The media has already done all it can, and has done more than enough. The media can keep on asking questions, they can identify lies, they can be rude, and it doesn’t matter, if the listening public doesn’t act on what they hear.

    Without the media pursuing the lies and evasions of Trump representatives, it should be obvious to anyone who has made it to adulthood without giving their social security number to a Nigerian prince that the lies are lies. Trumps supporters, except for the most gullible, are aware that Trump is lying, or at least not an honest person. What can a reporter do? Keep on asking the same questions, and getting the same lies?

    The only way we can reverse from this, and build a better government, is if the accountability comes not from the press, but first from the voters, and secondly from the legal system. Barr and Whittaker being asked questions by a reporter isn’t enough: they will have to answer those questions in a court room.

    • BobCon says:

      If you follow the uproar in the NY Times news room, you’d know that large numbers of reporters strongly disagree with the idea that “The media has already done all it can.”

      There is a huge amount of anger among many reporters about the way editors and managers put their thumbs on the scales. “Done all it can” doesn’t add up.

    • Eureka says:

      The media has already done all it can, and has done more than enough.[…]

      This is the craziest thing I have read all day — and that bar is high — and this here on a post by a journalist doing crucial meta-analysis of how another journalism outfit’s auto-meta-commentary has failed (by omission, and why that omission further matters due to information silos, etc.), no less.

      Yikes, yikes, yikes. YIKES!

      • Matthew Harris says:

        The situation: Trump has a plurality of people who support him, around 40%.
        His support is amplified by the structure of the United States Senate, as far as how it represents small states, and how its staggered elections mean that senators in states that don’t support Trump aren’t up for reelection.

        Say you were the editor of the New York Times in October of 2018. What news story are you going to put on the front page that is going to change this situation? You have a suburban, educated Republican voter in suburban Tampa, who has been reading for two years about how Trump and his associates have been getting arrested, being indicted, and in addition, that Trump has been saying and doing things that are outrageously crass. This voter, who is an educated person who can make decisions in their personal life, is going to vote for Rick Scott. This voter also voted for Trump in 2016 because taxes and “but her e-Mails”.

        So you are the editor in chief of The New York Times, or the Washington Post. Tell me what story you are going to run to get it through to this voter that would make them reconsider their support for Trump and the Republican Party?

        • Rayne says:

          Dude. Do you even know what a managing editor does? Because this:

          “…Tell me what story you are going to run to get it through to this voter that would make them reconsider their support for Trump and the Republican Party?”

          is not an editor’s job.

        • Eureka says:

          I am talking about journalism — the innards, the content, what Marcy is doing [a key critique of (a critique of)] in this post. And in fact I know a Trump 2016 voter who specifically would be informed by accurate, agentive journalism — reportage with a voice, context, and expertise — about mail ballots (and why the GOP is and would be gaslighting about them).

          So if this person had even heard the revised report that NPR’s public editor imagines — much less the fully reported* version EW describes — yes, that would make a difference to this voter. Add-in a perspective piece: that there is a campaign against mail voting, who is doing this campaign against mail voting, why are they doing it, etc., and that would be even better — and surely is necessary, in any case. One might find pragmatic proof for my points by the very propaganda campaign Barr is promulgating with his “authority”.

          2016 Trump voters are not monoliths. Portraying things as a lock gets you/one nowhere.

          *As I’d nearly added in my original comment, the failure of NPR’s public editor to *_mark_* other of Barr’s statements as falsehoods, especially in the context of a supposed critical look, has the implicit effect of endorsing as A-OK the rest of his claims.

          • Matthew Harris says:

            And my point is that the job of the media is to inform voters.
            The idea that the media is not doing its job, is the idea that there is some specific information that the media could give voters to make them change their mind.

            Yes, there are individual voters that could be swayed by a media story. Obviously, in a country with hundreds of millions of voters, some of them are still open to reason. Especially because some of the 2018 elections were close.

            But on the whole, Trump’s support is not shaped by people not having access to information. It has been shaped by people purposeful rejecting good information, and replacing it with things that they know are false.

            The supporters of Trump are not innocently mistaken. They are people who have been complicit in believing easily-checkable lies because it gives them emotional comfort to wrap themselves up in a narrative.

          • Eureka says:

            ^ “Quality” was a word I wanted above ^.

            And to be clear, I am talking about an informed citizenry, and the Fourth Estate doing its job, not setting out to sway voters per se [in contrast with MH’s comment(s) and which also must be noted because of the overlap in GOP tactics of quashing and crippling all means of public education — be it via schools, press — to quell opposition].

            Edited to add: I was replying to myself, had not yet seen MH 2:34a comment posted to the page.

        • P J Evans says:

          And the other 60%, the ones who don’t support Trmp – do they somehow not have opinions that count? (It’s actually more than 50%, by most polls.)

  8. BayStateLibrul says:

    Holy Shit

    A win for Vance

    The Supreme Court just expedited the implementation of its ruling in VANCE. This is about two weeks earlier than the ruling would typically take effect, and Trump didn’t object.

    The House is asking for similar consideration in Mazars but Trump has opposed that effort.

  9. Bill 179 says:

    Very good points.
    Barr distorts the truth like Trump. By not exposing his lies, NPR is complicit
    in promoting them. Barr’s statements about voter fraud should have been researched before
    the final product was aired.

    The media allowed Trump to gain traction in 2016 by not fact-checking his lies.
    He could have been exposed as a fraud and a con-man. Now his base is learning
    that you can’t con a virus.

    • Worried says:

      Remember, folks in this regime always accuse everyone else of doing the very thing they are themselves doing…..projection.

      Kellyanne Conway has made accusations that those who go on television lie frequently because they are not under oath.


      Actually the cornerstone of the current administration, and its allies.

  10. Oxcart says:

    I’m surprised the public editor addressed that debacle. In the past she has pledged to look into similar debacles listeners have complained about, with no follow through. Perhaps pushback from within made it impossible to stuff the Barr interview down the memory hole. Interesting that the location of the interview (DOJ) is part of the set-up to the piece. Is that a hint that Inskeep felt intimidated? Is that why he was “off his game?” Thanks for your analysis and correctives, Marcy. I just can’t listen to NPR anymore.

Comments are closed.