NPR published several corrections of “major mistakes” as well as a second editor’s note on an eleven-month-old story headlined, “The Other WWII American-Internment Atrocity.”
The editor’s note explains there have been questions about the author’s background and “tribal affiliations.”
The Feb. 21 opinion piece was written by author John Smelcer, who says he is a “member of the Ahtna tribe of Alaska” and writes about American naval personnel interring Aleut, indigenous people who live on Alaska’s Aleutian Chain islands. Smelcer wrote that the Nazi POWs were “treated far better than the Aleuts” and the “United States government even enslaved many of the men.”
Smelcer’s background has come into question, NPR’s editor note explains, pointing to a summer 2017 article from the Los Angeles Times that reported one of Smelcer’s books was “withdrawn from contention for the PEN Center USA Literary Award,” and that “for more than 20 years, the Native literary world has wondered about Smelcer’s bona fides.”
The editor’s note reads:
Editor’s note on Jan. 3, 2018: This post has been edited to correct several major mistakes that NPR discovered since its original publication and after questions were raised about the author’s tribal affiliation and other representations about himself. John Smelcer has defended himself against the allegations. This is the second editor’s note on this story. The first, which was posted on Aug. 30, addressed the questions about Smelcer. Details about the corrections are at the end of this post.
An NPR spokesperson told iMediaEthics that the first editor’s note was published Aug. 30 and was similar to the new editor’s note, explaining, “It linked to questions raised about the author’s self-representations and his defense, and corrected factual errors. The note was expanded on January 3 to flag additional mistakes and point to their corrections.”
NPR began reviewing the article after a “reader-listener email with concerns about the piece, which triggered a review.” The spokesperson added, “NPR has no stance on his background. Both editor’s notes include links to questions raised about the author’s representations about himself and his defense against allegations.”
Smelcer’s “communications liaison” Logan Mack pointed iMediaEthics to Smelcer’s statements on his website, which features a document saying “his Blood Quantum is 1/4 Alaska Native.” (The woman whose signature is on the document disputes signing it, the Los Angeles Times reported.) On his website, Smelcer maintains he is “Alaska Native/Native American,” “the son of a half-blood Native father,” a “voting member” of Ahtna, Inc. and the Traditional Native Village of Tazlina, and was “raised Native.” He says the dispute over his ethnicity “ended in 2018” and “Cyberbullies misrepresented the truth for decades.”
NPR added six corrections on Jan. 3 to the article. They are:
A reference to all Aleut villages being burned as part of a “scorched earth” policy has been removed because not all the villages were, in fact, burned.
A reference to a quote from a video has been removed because the online transcript of that documentary does not include the quote, in which an Army officer purportedly told Aleuts that “y’all look like Japs.”
Details about how and when Aleuts were moved from their villages were removed to clarify that they were not all transported at the same time.
A reference to “Excursion Bay” was fixed to say “Excursion Inlet.”
The year the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was established was 1980, not 1988 as originally published.
A correction posted here on Feb. 22 has been removed because it mistakenly stated that President Reagan signed that commission into law. In fact, it was President Carter.