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SAN FRANCISCO - Bicyclists commute along Market Street on the 12th annual Bike to Work Day May 18, 2006 in San Francisco, California. (Getty Images)

Did An NPR Story Empower Road Rage Against Bicyclists?

Aug 21, 2014

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Reporters and editors have to make editorial judgments every day for which there is no single right answer. NPR West Bureau Chief Jason DeRose and reporter Alex Schmidt made one such call as they edited Schmidt's story about bicyclists in Los Angeles who move in group "trains" for support and safety. Schmidt recorded her experiences while biking with one train and then separately interviewed a driver who admitted to threatening bicyclists with her car.

Some listeners did not like how DeRose and Schmidt decided to handle the driver's admission in their report. See what call you might have made.

We pick up midway through the story:

SCHMIDT: And then there's the issue of safety. In fact, on the morning of the ride, a car cut through the single file of bicycles, missing one by just a couple of feet.

TRAIN LEADER CHARLES DANDINO: That was a dangerous maneuver.

SCHMIDT: So perhaps the greatest obstacle to bike trains is that drivers don't like sharing the road.

JACKIE BURKE: It's like they enjoy taking up the lanes.

SCHMIDT: Jackie Burke has lived in LA her whole life, and bicyclists slowing her down drive her crazy.

BURKE: It's very frustrating to the point where I want to just run them off the road. And I've actually kind of done one of those drive-really-close-to-them kind of things just to scare them to try to intimidate them to kind of get out of my way.

SCHMIDT: With road conditions like those, it's no wonder our conductor has been playing a mellow soundtrack piped through a small speaker...

After the piece aired, tweets like this one from handle @KristinJVal started arriving almost immediately:

woah WTF, wow. Don't usually hear NPR guests saying they intentionally bully and threaten death

And this one from handle @msfour:

At the very least, it's disappointing that the remark passed without comment or response.

Then came the emails. "NPR should know better than to allow quotes like this without adding that this individual is doing something both illegal and life-threatening," wrote Lauren Welsh of Atlanta, GA.

Frank Wilson of New Haven, Conn., expressed "disgust" with the editorial decision, explaining with some philosophical thoughtfulness: "A society which fails to challenge aggressive actions by citizens who essentially put others in physical peril by driving cars (which can be deadly weapons) too closely, is to my mind, no longer civil. Perhaps the last decade of wars has made some callous, but to fail to point out that aggressive driving is legally actionable and potentially fatal to unprotected bicyclists, is in my opinion a glaring journalistic lapse."

DeRose and Schmidt, however, say that they purposefully left the comment to stand on its own. They did so after discussing some of these same objections. DeRose, an accomplished editor who oversees the largest bureau outside of Washington, remains convinced that the right call was made. He wrote to me:

Aggressive drivers are a problem for bikers in L.A.. While recording, the reporter observed near misses between bikes and cars. She then spoke with drivers who don't like sharing the road with bikes. It's clear from the reporter's framing of the quote that this behavior—aggressive driving—is precisely one of the reasons why the bike caravans exist in the first place. The quote demonstrates exactly what bikers are up against.

Schmidt, who has received the brunt of the complaints, is a little more ambivalent:

I think a story about bicyclists feeling threatened, and banding together for safety, benefits from the perspective of one of the people causing the fear. It's shocking to hear someone speak this way, but it is the reality of how many drivers feel. Road rage is a problem.

Did the statement deserve a response? Truly, I am not sure. On one hand, I can see how leaving it hanging may sound like we think it's okay behavior, or maybe just "funny, haha." On the other hand, there are plenty of behaviors that don't need to be acknowledged as wrong. In a story about murder, must we point out that murder is illegal? Elder abuse? Verbally harassing someone on the street? Where do we draw the line? (There are laws on the books in both California and L.A. that aim to keep bicyclists safe.) Are there behaviors that are just in the process of being collectively "called out" and acknowledged as wrong? As we slowly evolve from car-centric cities to multimodal ones, perhaps bicyclist harassment is one of these.

I do think Jackie Burke indicted herself without help from me or any response at all. But again, I am not sure of the answer here. I'd also be interested in sussing out, if the statement did get a response, what exactly that would be.

If anyone cares to engage, I'd love a wider conversation about this and it would certainly inform my reporting going forward.

Agree with their decision or not, at least they made it openly and thoughtfully—a judgment call, in other words, made with defensible reasoning that reflects the care and intelligence that goes into so much of NPR's reporting.

Still, I side with the critics who would have liked a line noting that what the driver admitted to was dangerous and illegal. It could be as simple as the reporter saying: "That, of course, is dangerous and illegal." The lack of such editorial guidance and context is a common complaint from listeners about many NPR stories, as I wrote last week. Otherwise, it seems as if the driver's attitude and actions in this case are normal, even acceptable. At least to me.

But I recognize the journalistic legitimacy and storytelling power of DeRose's argument. It credits the audience with having the intelligence to know that buzzing a bicyclist is dangerous and illegal, even if it is not so obvious as murder.

The edit of the story also draws on that famous advice to writers, filmmakers and radio producers to evoke rather than explain. Jackie Burke's quote certainly evokes.

Each of us will have our own judgment of whether this was enough on its own, within the context of the story, or whether an on-air comment by the reporter would have been helpful or, instead, unnecessary and perhaps even annoying.

In a related matter, the piece, which aired July 29 on Morning Edition, was a repeat of a story that first ran last December. Host Renee Montagne introduced the July airing as an "encore report," but if you didn't know what this meant, you didn't realize that you were listening to a rerun. In a column last November, I agreed with listeners who demanded that reruns be better labeled. I still think that.

Part of the logic behind the encores is that different NPR shows largely have different audiences. That makes sense. The first airing of this particular story on Weekends On All Things Considered, however, received many similar complaints, suggesting that perhaps they should have been addressed in some way the second time around.

Editorial researcher Annie Johnson contributed to this article.

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Meshell Ndegeocello. (Courtesy of the artist)

Meshell Ndegeocello On World Cafe

Aug 21, 2014 (WXPN-FM)

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Meshell Ndegeocello broke through with her hit song "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)" in the '90s, then turned to more brooding and eclectic fare with her 1999 album Bitter. Her experimentation has continued even when she's recording other artists' work, as she does on last year's Pour Une Âme Souveraine: A Dedication To Nina Simone.

Here, Ndegeocello explains how Simone's work continues to influence her own — and performs songs from her own new album, Comet, Come To Me.

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, left, with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey during a Pentagon briefing on Thursday. Hagel said Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria posed a threat "beyond anything we've seen." (Reuters/Landov)

ISIS 'Beyond Anything We've Seen,' Hagel Says

Aug 21, 2014 (WXPN-FM)

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel describes a failed U.S. mission into northern Syria earlier this summer to rescue Americans believed held there — including a journalist who was executed earlier this week — as "flawless" despite not recovering the hostages.

"This was a flawless operation, but the hostages weren't there," Hagel told journalists at a Pentagon briefing with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dempsey, asked if he thought the hostages were ever at the targeted location in northern Syria, said simply: "I do."

Among the captives the U.S. hoped to free was freelance journalist James Foley, who was beheaded on Tuesday by his captors, members of the al-Qaida inspired group Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL.

Hagel defended a decision by the Pentagon to release information about the classified rescue mission in July, which involved radar-evading helicopters and ground components, saying that "a number of news outlets already knew about it."

He said a high-level decision was made that as long as specific methods of the operation were not revealed that it was OK to discussion it in general terms.

Even with U.S. airstrikes directed against Islamic State militants Hagel said he expects the terrorist organization to "regroup and stage an offensive," adding that U.S. military efforts in Iraq were not over.

The defense secretary said the U.S. was continuing to provide military assistance and direct military support to Iraq's Kurdish militias, known collectively as the peshmerga: "Overall, these operations have stalled ISIL footing," he said.

Hagel described the challenge of the Islamic State as a "whole new dynamic."

He said the group was "as sophisticated and well-funded as any organization we've seen.

"Oh, this is beyond anything we've seen," he said emphatically in response to a question as to whether the Islamic State represented a "9/11-level threat" to the U.S.

Hagel said the U.S. needs to "take a cold steely look" at the group "and get ready."

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, left, with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey during a Pentagon briefing on Thursday. Hagel said Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria posed a threat "beyond anything we've seen." (Reuters/Landov)

Weakened By TB And Malaria, Iyengar Took The Yoga Cure

by Rhitu Chatterjee
Aug 21, 2014 (WXPN-FM)

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The diseases of the developing world took a toll on Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja (B.K.S) Iyengar. As a boy, he was physically weakened from typhoid, tuberculosis and malaria.

Then his brother-in-law suggested he learn yoga to improve his health.

"Seeing that the general state of my health was so poor, my brother-in-law recommended a stiff regime of yoga practice to knock me into shape and strengthen me up to face life's trials and challenges as I approached adulthood," Iyengar wrote in his 2006 book, Light on Life.

Iyengar, credited for bringing yoga to the Western world, died yesterday in a private hospital in Pune, India. He was 95 and suffering from heart problems, according to the Times of India.

Soon, Iyengar became an international figure, teaching and promoting yoga all over the world, including in the United States. He made yoga more doable and popular by using props — belts, blocks, wall ropes — to help practitioners attain the perfect postures.

"His contribution to yoga was enormous," says Zubin Atré, 27, a resident of New Delhi who has taught yoga for seven years. He says Iyengar paid great attention to the detail of asanas, the different postures in yoga. "Even for a simple asana like Talasana, which is standing straight, Iyengar had lots of details," says Atré. "Toes should be widespread, fingers should be together, toes should be stretched, buttocks are tight, head, neck and spine should be in complete alignment. There's an instruction for every single part of the body."

But it isn't just his creativity and attention to detail that contributed to his success. It was also his knowledge of English, says R. Saraawathi Jois, 73, of Mysore. Jois teaches another traditional form of yoga, Ashtanga Yoga and is the daughter of Pathabi Jois, another renowned disciple of T. Krishnamacharya.

"He [Iyengar] knew English very well," says Jois. "That's the main point. My father didn't know English. He was a Sanskrit scholar."

Despite their different approaches to yoga, Iyengar and her father remained friends throughout their lives, she says. "He was a very good friend of my father."

Iyengar's website announced his death with a picture of him and a quote: "I always tell people, 'live happily, die majestically.' "

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Grown for thousands of years in South America, quinoa crossed the Atlantic for the first time in the 21st century, according to the United Nations. (

Can Quinoa Take Root On The 'Roof Of The World'?

Aug 21, 2014 (WXPN-FM)

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The Food and Agriculture Organization has planted test plots of quinoa in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to see how it fares under the region's climatic conditions.

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For thousands of years, quinoa barely budged from its home in the Andes. Other crops — corn, potatoes, rice, wheat and sorghum — traveled and colonized the world. But quinoa stayed home.

All of a sudden, quinoa is a trendy, jet-setting "superfood." And as we've reported, some American farmers are trying to cash in on its new-found popularity.

But, seriously, would you believe that quinoa is now growing in a remote, mountainous part of Central Asia that British explorers called the "Roof of the World"?

Indeed, it has landed in Tajikistan and Kyrgystan, thanks to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, which has become a cheerleader for quinoa. The FAO, recognizing this crop's nutritional quality and its ability to grow in dry and salty environments, has sponsored tests of quinoa in various nations of Asia and Africa.

According to an FAO press release, quinoa plants at one farm in Tajikistan are more than six-feet-tall and appear to be thriving.

Cataldo Pulvento, a researcher at the Institute for Agricultural and Forest Systems in the Mediterranean in Italy, helped with the quinoa trials in Tajikistan and Kyrgystan. In an email, Pulvento tells The Salt that the FAO is not promoting quinoa as an export crop; the agency hopes that it could become a source of nutritious food for the local population.

Kyrgystan and Tajikistan both import much of their food. They don't get much rainfall, and much of their land isn't well-suited for growing crops.

Quinoa, though, is used to harsh conditions. It tolerates the arid highlands of Bolivia and Peru. So, why not the arid highlands of Central Asia?

For similar reasons, the FAO is also sponsoring trials of quinoa in the United Arab Emirates, where farmers struggle with salty soil. Quinoa, as it happens, can also grow in highly saline conditions.

So far, these trials are simply to try and figure out whether quinoa will grow in these areas. No one knows whether the people will want to grow it, or eat it.

"The [Central Asians] I met can be divided in two categories: the skeptics and the enthusiasts," Pulvento says. The skeptics believe "it will never be sold on the domestic market because no one knows quinoa." Some fear that it could become a weed.

The enthusiasts, he wrote, hope to grow several acres of quinoa starting next year and offer it for sale at the market.

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