Curious Listener: The Spoil(er Alert)s of War

Nov 25, 2013

For a news organization, the question of when spoiler alerts may be appropriate can be a nuanced one. It's certainly not unreasonable for listeners to hope that NPR might avoid revealing key plot points or endings when reviewing books and movies. But what if those books or movies are based on real life events? And what if those events have already been reported in the news?

Last week, Morning Edition featured a "Word of Mouth" series segment with Daily Beast Editor Tina Brown discussing stories of survival. A film and a book, each chronicling real-life survival tales, were reviewed in that segment. The film, Lone Survivor, is based on the memoir of former Navy SEAL, Marcus Luttrell. The book, The Siege: 68 Hours Inside the Taj Hotel, covers the true story of the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel in Mumbai. Both of these stories have been widely covered by NPR and other news organizations.

Morning Edition has previously covered Luttrell's memoir, which has been available to the public since 2007, and, of course, countless stories have been produced about the terrorist attack in Mumbai. Nonetheless, NPR received more than a dozen complaints from listeners who were upset when Brown discussed key events from each of those stories. This email from Susan, a Curious Listener in Bethesda, MD, is representative of the criticisms we heard:

"I heard Tina Brown on Morning Edition today, November 19, for the first time. She was reviewing a war film with Wahlberg, the book The Siege and a news story about Robert Redford. I was very interested in her review...until...she gave away the ending of the movie. The Navy seals die, but the main character is saved by an Afghan villager, and in the Siege, the GM's wife and daughter die in a firebomb. I would prefer for the major climatic event results to be left veiled."

Dear Susan,

Thank you for contacting NPR.

We appreciate your feedback, and we regret to hear that you were disappointed we did not provide spoiler alerts when discussing Peter Berg's film, Lone Survivor, or Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy's book, The Siege. We do often add a warning prior to revealing plot points from works of fiction, however these particular stories were about real-life events that have already been widely reported, including by NPR. Nevertheless, we do apologize if you were surprised by any of the information covered in that discussion. Your comments have been viewed by Morning Edition's staff and your thoughts will be taken into consideration.

Thank you for listening to NPR, and for your continued support of public broadcasting. For the latest news and information, visit


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