What Did NPR Reporter's Friendship With RBG Cost Us?

Politico essay examines journalist Nina Totenberg's longtime relationship with Supreme Court justice
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 25, 2022 5:10 PM CDT
What Did NPR Reporter's Friendship With RBG Cost Us?
NPR's Nina Totenberg, left, and US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stand onstage at the New York Academy of Medicine on Dec. 15, 2018, in New York.   (AP Photo/Rebecca Gibian)

Nina Totenberg, a longtime correspondent for NPR, has a new memoir out, and it delves into her storied 40-year relationship with the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Dinners With Ruth examines Totenberg's conflict as she watched her old friend's health decline in 2020, and on the complexities of being a high-profile journalist who happened to be close to a similarly high-profile Supreme Court justice. But now, in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Michael Schaffer of Politico is asking harder questions that have been troubling him since reading Totenberg's memoir: "What if she'd been a more single-minded journalist and a lousier friend?" he writes. On why she kept Ginsburg's deteriorating health status close to the chest before RBG died in September 2020, Totenberg notes in her book that "I chose friendship," calling it "the best choice I ever made."

That decision, Schaffer writes, was part of Totenberg's decision to become a "hype machine" for RBG, and he brings up inquiries regarding journalist ethics, and how elite journalists' relationships with their subjects affect the rest of us. "What exactly do we get out of her friendships?" he notes. If only Totenberg had revealed just how poorly her friend was doing, "there's a chance that a blunt story about Ginsburg's decline might have changed the trajectory that led to the end of Americans' right to abortion," Schaffer writes. "When you're a powerful reporter covering things that shape the life of a country, the matter of how you do your job is a lot more important than one lovely friendship or some quasi-academic debate about a journalist's true duties." More from Schaffer here. (More Ruth Bader Ginsburg stories.)

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