NPR transcript accidentally casts Poland in negative light in debate

By David Skolnick


A transcript of a National Public Radio interview with the NAACP’s president quotes him saying his organization “would have been very happy for Congress” to get involved in the voting process in “Poland, Ohio,” as it has in other states to ensure the black vote is counted.

But when you listen to the audio of Tuesday’s interview with Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he actually says, “Well, and quite frankly, we would have been very happy for Congress to expand the formula to pull in Ohio for instance” for federal election oversight. The interview was in reaction to a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act.

The mistake in NPR’s “All Things Considered” transcript was discovered Wednesday by The Vindicator, but not after the newspaper sought comments from officials with the national and local NAACP as well as the village and township of Poland.

Steven E. Mickel, head of the Youngstown branch of the NAACP, was the first person contacted who said it had to be a mistake. It was virtually impossible that Jealous would specifically mention Poland when talking about voter suppression of blacks as there are very few minorities there, Mickel said.

Mickel said he contacted other NAACP leaders he knows to inquire about it, and no one could come up with a reason Jealous could have possibly made a reference to Poland.

The Vindicator contacted NPR on Wednesday to point out the error, which prompted a correction.

“Like most news organizations, our transcripts are created on a ‘rush’ deadline,” wrote Cara E. Philbin, an NPR spokeswoman, in response to an email from the newspaper. “As noted at the bottom of all NPR transcripts, ‘rushed’ transcripts do leave room for human error and, occasionally, must be updated accordingly. To me, this is clearly an instance in which the transcriber, who is, likely, unfamiliar with the context of the discussion, simply misheard Mr. Jealous, and transcribed accordingly.”

The supposed Poland comment had Township Administrator James Scharville and Village Mayor Tim Sicafuse scratching their heads. Of the 14,960 residents in the township, there are 58 blacks, 0.4 percent of its total population, according to the 2010 census. In the village, there are 2,555 residents with only 6 blacks, 0.2 percent of its population.

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