NPR Airs Unbalanced Interview with CIA Psychologist

(Below is the letter we submitted to NPR’s Ombudsman in response to their uncritical, unbalanced interview with a CIA psychologist on the pathology of leakers and whistleblowers.)

On Monday, NPR’s All Things Considered aired an interview with Ursula Wilder (, which I do not believe meets the standards of accuracy, fairness, and truth outlined in the NPR code of ethics.

NPR’s Ethics Handbook states: “In our reporting, we rigorously challenge both the claims we encounter and the assumptions we bring.” Yet this piece neither challenges assumptions, nor questions the claims of the guest.

The segment started off with a montage of disparaging quotes and government talking points promoting a dubious assumption that conflates public-interest whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Reality Winner with palace-intrigue political leakers and even traitors.

It goes on to provide a platform for Ms. Wilder to diagnose whistleblowers — without evidence — of “psychopathy, narcissism and immaturity”. She speculates that leakers cannot cope with technological change, and she implicates news organizations like NPR for exploiting their supposed lack of impulse control by tempting them with “leak-bait”. She makes the claim that alcohol abuse fuels unauthorized disclosures, contrary to the fact that several of the most high-profile whistleblowers are known not to partake. She posits personal crisis as the reason for going public, instead of the ethical and constitutional abuses the whistleblowers were attempting to reveal. She ends the interview by somehow smuggling in an anecdote about Benedict Arnold while answering a question about Edward Snowden.

All of these claims go unchallenged by the interviewer, and no other point of view is offered in balance. These unsupported, nonsensical, and scurrilous claims are simply presented as expert testimony to your audience.

Would NPR provide this kind of uncritical platform for a gay conversion “psychologist” to present homosexuality as a mental illness or a result of substance abuse? It is unclear what distinguishes Ms. Wilder’s work from that kind of junk science, and why she would be interviewed for this kind of expertise in the first place.

Pathologizing leakers and whistleblowers is one of the government’s go-to dirty tricks, stretching back at least to Nixon, who ordered G. Gordon Liddy to burglarize the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in order to find material to discredit the Pentagon Papers leaker, and thereby obscure government wrongdoing. In this case, the government does not need to order a break-in: it can rely on quack psychologists to simply fabricate the damaging insinuations.

I would expect NPR not to enable this kind of smear campaign.

Jesselyn Radack
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at Expose Facts