Nina Totenberg

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Nina Totenberg
Nina Totenberg.jpg
Totenberg in 2013
Born (1944-01-14) January 14, 1944 (age 70)
New York, NY, USA
Nationality United States
Education Boston University
Occupation Journalist and legal affairs correspondent for National Public Radio.
News commentator for Inside Washington (1992-2013)
Years active 1965–present
Spouse(s) Floyd K. Haskell (1979-1998; his death)
H. David Reines (m. 2000)
Relatives Roman Totenberg (father)
Amy Totenberg (sister)

Nina Totenberg (/ˈnnə ˈttənbɜrɡ/; born January 14, 1944) is an American legal affairs correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR) focusing primarily on the activities and politics of the Supreme Court of the United States. Her reports air regularly on NPR's newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition. From 1992 to 2013, she was also a panelist on the syndicated TV political commentary show Inside Washington.

Newsweek magazine called her "the creme de la creme" of NPR, and Vanity Fair refers to her as "Queen of the Leaks".[1] She has won many broadcast journalism awards for both her explanatory pieces and her scoops.

Among her scoops was her groundbreaking report of sexual harassment allegations made against Clarence Thomas by University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill, leading the Senate Judiciary Committee to re-open Thomas's Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Previously, in 1986, she broke the story that Supreme Court nominee Douglas H. Ginsburg had smoked marijuana, leading Ginsburg to withdraw his name. And in 1977, she reported on secret Supreme Court deliberations relating to the Watergate scandal.

Personal life and family[edit]

Nina Totenberg was born in New York, the eldest daughter of violinist Roman Totenberg,[2] who was born in Poland, and Melanie (Shroder) Totenberg, who was a real estate broker. She is the widow of U.S. Senator Floyd K. Haskell (D-Colorado), whom she married in 1979. She remarried in 2000 to H. David Reines, a trauma surgeon and Vice Chairman of Surgery at Inova Fairfax Hospital. On their honeymoon, he treated her for severe injuries after she was hit by a boat propeller while swimming.[3] In March 2010, Totenberg's sister Amy Totenberg was nominated by President Barack Obama to the U.S. District Court in Atlanta.[4] Amy Totenberg was confirmed the next year.

Early career[edit]

Totenberg enrolled in Boston University in 1962, majoring in journalism, but dropped out less than three years later because, in her own words, she "wasn’t doing brilliantly".[5] Soon after dropping out of college, Totenberg began her journalism career at the Boston Record American, where she worked on the Women's Page and learned breaking news journalism skills by volunteering in the news department.[6] She moved on to the Peabody Times in Massachusetts and Roll Call in Washington, D.C.

At the National Observer, Totenberg began covering legal affairs. In 1971 she broke a story about a secret list of candidates President Richard Nixon was considering for the Supreme Court. All the candidates were later rejected as unqualified by the American Bar Association and none was nominated.[6]

After Totenberg wrote an Observer profile of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the latter wrote a long letter to the paper's editor demanding she be fired. Instead, the editor printed the letter in the Observer along with a rebuttal of Hoover's complaints regarding the article.[6]

She was fired from that paper for plagiarism in 1972 regarding a profile she wrote of then-soon-to-be Speaker Tip O'Neill which included, without attribution, quotes from members of Congress that had previously appeared in The Washington Post. Totenberg has said that the dismissal also related to her rebuffing of sexual overtures from an editor.[7] Many of Totenberg's colleagues have defended her, noting that this was a case of using previously reported quotes, a common journalistic practice in the 1970s.[1][6] In 1995, Totenberg told the Columbia Journalism Review, "I have a strong feeling that a young reporter is entitled to one mistake and to have the holy bejeezus scared out of her to never do it again."[8]

She next worked for the New York based news magazine New Times. At that publication, she wrote a celebrated article called "The Ten Dumbest Members of Congress", prompting the senator at the top of the list, William L. Scott, to call a press conference to deny that he was the "dumbest member of Congress."[6][9]

National Public Radio[edit]

In 1975, Nina Totenberg was hired by Bob Zelnick to work at National Public Radio and has been there since.

Watergate appeals[edit]

In 1977, Totenberg broke a story about the Supreme Court appeal of three men who had been convicted in the Watergate scandal: H.R. Haldeman, John N. Mitchell, and John D. Ehrlichman. Totenberg revealed the results of their secret 5–3 vote against reviewing the case and that the three dissenters were appointees of President Richard Nixon. Nixon had resigned three years earlier, in the wake of Watergate. Totenberg also revealed that Nixon-appointed Chief Justice Warren Burger delayed announcing the results of the vote, hoping to sway his fellow justices.[6] Her reporting of private Supreme Court deliberations was a novel development in Supreme Court reporting and led to speculation about who on the Court gave her the information.[10]

William Rehnquist's Chief Justice nomination[edit]

In 1986, Totenberg broke the story that William H. Rehnquist, who was nominated for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, had written a memo in 1970 opposing the Equal Rights Amendment, in which he said that the amendment would "hasten the dissolution of the family" and that would "virtually abolish all legal distinctions between men and women".[11] The memo was written when Rehnquist was head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in the Nixon administration.

Douglas Ginsburg's Supreme Court nomination[edit]

Totenberg broke the story that Douglas H. Ginsburg, who had been nominated to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, had smoked marijuana "on a few occasions" during his student days in the 1960s and while an Assistant Professor in the 1970s, something that did not appear in Ginsburg's FBI background check. The revelations resulted in Ginsburg's withdrawing his name from consideration. Totenberg was awarded the 1988 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton award for outstanding broadcast journalism for the story.[5][9]

Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings[edit]

In 1991, a few days before a confirmation vote was scheduled for Republican George H. W. Bush's Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, Totenberg disclosed allegations of sexual harassment lodged against Thomas by University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill.[12] Totenberg's report about Hill's allegations led the Senate Judiciary Committee to re-open Thomas's Supreme Court confirmation hearings to consider Hill's charges.

Totenberg was criticized by many of Thomas' supporters,[13] including Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee. The Senate appointed special counsel Peter E. Fleming Jr. to investigate the leak. Totenberg and Newsday's Timothy Phelps were subpoenaed by Fleming, but refused to answer questions about their confidential sources.[14]

Totenberg was confronted by one Thomas supporter, Republican Senator Alan K. Simpson, during and after the taping of an episode of Nightline. On the show, Simpson criticized Totenberg, saying "What politicians get tired of is bias in reporters. Let's not pretend your reporting is objective here. That would be absurd." After Totenberg defended her reporting and objectivity on the show, Simpson followed her out of the studio and continued to criticize her, even holding open the door of her limousine so she could not leave. "He was in a complete rage. He was out of control," Totenberg said.[1][9] Accounts differ on Totenberg's response, but she used what she called "choice epithets" and said: "I think I told him to shut the fuck up."[1]

Following Totenberg's allegation to The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz that she had been sexually harassed at the National Observer, Al Hunt of The Wall Street Journal brought up the plagiarism incident in a column about media coverage of and responses to the Thomas hearings. [15] Some observers connected Hunt's rehashing of a then nearly 20-year-old incident to the stance of the Journal, whose conservative editorial pages had "editorially championed" Thomas and had previously criticized Totenberg,[13] but Hunt denied any ideological motivation.[1]

For the report and NPR's gavel-to-gavel coverage, Totenberg received the George Foster Peabody Award. The same year, she won the George Polk Award for excellence in journalism and the Joan S. Barone Award for excellence in Washington-based national affairs/public policy reporting (the latter also in part for her coverage of the retirement of Justice Thurgood Marshall). The American Library Association presented her with its James Madison Award, given to those who "championed, protected, and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know".[5][16] She also earned the Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for investigative reporting.[17]

Distinction and acclaim[edit]

In addition to awards mentioned above, and among her other awards, Totenberg has been honored seven times by the American Bar Association for excellence in legal reporting[17] and won the first-ever Toni House award presented by the American Judicature Society for a career body of work, and was the first radio journalist to be honored by the National Press Foundation as Broadcaster of the Year. She has written articles for the Harvard Law Review (including tributes to Justices William J. Brennan, Jr. and Lewis Powell when they retired[18]); the New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine; the Christian Science Monitor; and numerous other legal and general circulation publications.[17] She also contributed to the Jewish Women's Archive's online exhibit Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution with regard to her reporting on Anita Hill's allegations against Clarence Thomas.[19][20] In the 1990s Totenberg was a regular contributor to ABC's Nightline.

Totenberg played the part of an election anchor in the film The Distinguished Gentleman, and also appeared briefly as herself in the Kevin Kline film Dave.[21] Her image has also been used for an item produced for NPR called "The Nina Totin' Bag" — a play on her name and the stereotypical tote bag offered as a thank-gift for donating to a public broadcasting pledge drive.[22]

Controversies and criticism[edit]

Totenberg has made friends with a number of politicians and lawyers in national politics, and her personal connections to these people have occasionally generated discussion. Allegations that Totenberg obtained her scoops by untoward means were prevalent early in her career, a fact Bill Kovach, editor of the New York Times, attributed to sexism since she was one of the few women working in a predominately male environment.[23] Totenberg was criticized by some commentators for hugging her friend Lani Guinier during a press conference announcing Guinier's nomination by Bill Clinton to the post of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.[24] Media critic Howard Kurtz reported that while Totenberg said she did not intend to give special treatment to Guinier in her reporting, she had hugged her because she had not seen her in some time.[25] Then in 2000, some journalists expressed concern that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's officiating at Totenberg's marriage[26] could be seen as a conflict of interest.[27] Totenberg responded she did not consider it a conflict of interest since her friendship with the jurist was established long before Ginsburg was nominated to the Supreme Court.[27] She has made the same observation about her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia.

Wall Street Journal editorialist Paul Gigot wrote in 1991 that Totenberg exhibits partisanship in her reporting.[28] Washington Post reporter Thomas Edsall said in 1995 that she was cited as an example of liberal bias in public broadcasting due to her reporting on two controversial Supreme Court nominations.[29]

In 1995, responding to conservative Senator Jesse Helms, who characterized AIDS as a "disease transmitted by people deliberately engaging in unnatural acts" in his effort to cut government spending to combat it, Totenberg said: "I think he ought to be worried about what's going on in the good Lord's mind, because if there's retributive justice, he'll get AIDS from a transfusion or one of his grandchildren will."[30][31][32] On the same show, conservative columnists Charles Krauthammer and Tony Snow also criticized Helms, with Krauthammer calling Helms's remarks "bigoted and cruel" and Snow accusing him of "hypocrisy".[31] Totenberg subsequently expressed regret for her choice of words, saying: "It was a stupid remark. I'll pay for it for the rest of my life."[31] Following his October 2010 firing from NPR for comments he made on FoxNews, Juan Williams said the failure of NPR to discipline her for these statements was an example of NPR's double standard, a charge echoed by Fox News and conservative pundits.[31][33]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Totenberg, Nina (1999). "In Memoriam: Lewis F. Powell, Jr.". Harvard Law Review 112 (3): 602–606. 
  • Totenberg, Nina (1994). "Harry A. Blackmun: The Consientious Conscience". American University Law Review 43: 745. 
  • Totenberg, Nina (1990). "A Tribute to Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.". Harvard Law Review 104 (1): 33–39. 

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Ann Louise Bardach (January 1992). "Nina Totenberg: Queen of the Leaks". Vanity Fair: 46–57. 
  2. ^ Bruce Weber (May 9, 2012). "Roman Totenberg, Violinist and Teacher, Dies at 101". New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2012. 
  3. ^ Warren, Larkin (2001-10-01). "My husband saved my life!: three heroic men who did much more than love, honor, and cherish". Good Housekeeping. Retrieved 2009-07-30. 
  4. ^ Rankin, Bill (March 17, 2010). "Amy Totenberg nominated to be federal judge". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  5. ^ a b c "She Made It". Retrieved 2009-07-31. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Nina Totenberg", Current Biography Yearbook, 1996, pages 575–579.
  7. ^ Thomas B. Rosenstiel (October 18, 1991). "Media Squabble Over Coverage of Thomas Hearings Conduct: One reporter has quit, another faces a sexual harassment investigation. The press is accused of being `out of the mainstream' of thought.". Los Angeles Times. p. 22. 
  8. ^ Trudy Lieberman, "Plagiarize, Plagiarize, Plagiarize...", Columbia Journalism Review, July/August 1995.
  9. ^ a b c Nina Totenberg". Newsmakers 1992, Issue Cumulation. Gale Research, 1992. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2009.
  10. ^ Mitchell, Jack (2005-03-30). Listener supported: the culture and history of public radio. Praeger. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-275-98352-9. Retrieved 2010-10-10. 
  11. ^ Kurtz, Howard (September 10, 1986). "Rehnquist Argued ERA Would Harm the Family; '70 Memo Made Case Against Ratification". The Washington Post. 
  12. ^ Jan Crawford Greenburg (2007-09-30). "Clarence Thomas: A Silent Justice Speaks Out". ABC News. Retrieved 2008-10-18. 
  13. ^ a b J. Elson and S.S. Gregory (October 28, 1991). "When Reporters Make News". TIME. 
  14. ^ Lewis, Neil (February 25, 1992). "Second Reporter Silent In Senate Leak Inquiry". New York Times. 
  15. ^ Hunt, Albert R. (October 17, 1991). "Tales of Ignominy, Beyond Thomas and Hill". The Wall Street Journal. 
  16. ^ "Recipients of the James Madison Award and the Eileen Cooke State and Local Madison Award". American Library Association. Retrieved 2011-01-11. 
  17. ^ a b c "Nina Totenberg; NPR Biography". National Public Radio. 2007-09-25. Retrieved 2011-01-11. 
  18. ^ "A Tribute to Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.". Harvard Law Review 104: 33–39. November 1990. 
  19. ^ "Nina Totenberg". Retrieved 30 September 2010. 
  20. ^ "Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution". 23 February 2006. Retrieved 30 September 2010. 
  21. ^ "Nina Totenberg". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  22. ^ "Nina Totin' Bag". NPR Shop. Retrieved 2011-01-11. 
  23. ^ Ann Louise Bardach (January 1992). "Nina Totenberg: Queen of the Leaks". Vanity Fair: 46–57. "It's astounding to me how Nina becomes a lightning rod for other journalists. She is one of the most knowledgeable and aggressive reporters in the business, but whenever she breaks a story, the first reaction in the Washington press corps is `What do you want? She's sleeping with a justice or someone else.' No one says these things about any male reporter, many of whom wouldn't think twice about sleeping with someone to get a story." 
  24. ^ Guinier, Lani (2003-03-07). Lift Every Voice. Simon & Schuster. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-7432-5351-2. Retrieved 2009-08-11. "[The incident was] used by several commentators to question [Totenberg's] 'objectivity'." 
  25. ^ Howard Kurtz, "First Lady's Press Picks; The Ins and Outs of Getting Interviews With Hillary," Washington Post, May 8, 1993 "Totenberg dismissed suggestions that she might go easy on Guinier.... [saying] '[Guinier was] not a close friend.... I have lots of friends. Part of being in this business is knowing lots of people.'"
  26. ^ Phillips, Lisa (2006-05-09). Public Radio: Behind the Voices. Vanguard Press. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-59315-143-0. Retrieved 2009-07-31. 
  27. ^ a b Smith, Ron (2003-04-18). Groping for ethics in journalism. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 368. ISBN 978-0-8138-1088-1. Retrieved 2009-08-04. "I have known Ruth Ginsburg long before she was on the Supreme Court... I do not consider it a conflict of interest." 
  28. ^ As quoted in Ann Louise Bardach, "Nina Totenberg: Queen of the Leaks", Vanity Fair, January 1992: "I think the thing that I would criticize Nina for is that she is simply a partisan."
  29. ^ Edsall, Thomas B. (April 15, 1995). "'Defunding' Public Broadcasting: Conservative Goal Gains Audience". The Washington Post. "Three of the most frequently cited examples of liberal bias are the "Frontline" series and Bill Moyers on public television; and NPR legal reporter Nina Totenberg, who is still criticized for her reporting on two controversial Republican nominees for the Supreme Court, Douglas H. Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas." 
  30. ^ "Williams Fires Back at NPR, Signs Expanded Role at Fox News – ABC News". Abcnews.go.com. 2010-10-23. Retrieved 2010-12-02. 
  31. ^ a b c d "Totenberg On Helms Comment: 'It Was A Stupid Remark' : The Two-Way". NPR. 2010-10-26. Retrieved 2010-12-02. 
  32. ^ [1][dead link]
  33. ^ "Juan Williams Talks Back on "O'Reilly Factor"". CBS News. 2010-10-22. Retrieved 2010-12-02. 

External links[edit]