Tovia Smith

An award-winning correspondent based in Boston, Tovia Smith covers breaking news, as well as a wide range of feature stories on legal issues, politics, and social concerns. Most recently she has reported on the advent of gay marriage in Massachusetts, the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic church, the ongoing battles around the 9/11 victims' compensation fund, the case against "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid, and the Rhode Island nightclub fire. She has also covered the New Hampshire and Yankee primaries, the trial of British au pair Louise Woodward, the crashes of Egypt Air, John Kennedy, Jr., and TWA flight 800, and the trial of women's clinic gunman John Salvi.

Smith specializes in in-depth features on a variety of social issues. She has produced award-winning reports on mothers raising their babies in prison, race relations in Boston, and juvenile crime. Her coverage of families and the law includes stories about adoption, custody disputes, and same-sex civil unions. She has also filed several documentary-length reports, including an award-winning half-hour special on modern-day orphanages.

Smith has won more than two dozen national journalism awards including the Casey Medal, the Unity Award, a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award Honorable Mention, Ohio State Award, Radio and Television News Directors Association Award, and numerous honors from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Public Radio News Directors Association, and the Associated Press.

In 1998, Smith took a leave of absence to launch Here and Now, a daily news magazine produced by public radio station WBUR in Boston. As co-host of the program, she conducted live daily interviews on issues ranging from the impeachment of President Bill Clinton to allegations of sexual abuse in Massachusetts prisons, as well as regular features on cooking and movies.

In 1996, Smith worked as a radio consultant and journalism instructor in Africa. She spent several months teaching and reporting in Ethiopia, Guinea, and Tunisia.

She is a graduate of Tufts University, where she earned her degree in international relations. She lives with her family near Boston.

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6:04am

Thu September 6, 2012
Law

Mass. Prison Reviews Court's Transgender Ruling

Originally published on Thu September 6, 2012 10:17 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Prison officials in Massachusetts say they are still reviewing a federal court decision in Boston ordering them to provide sex-change surgery for a prison inmate. Critics are urging officials to appeal what they call an outrageous abuse of taxpayer funds. But as NPR's Tovia Smith reports, the decision this week reflects national trends of prisons treating gender identity disorder as a legitimate medical condition deserving treatment like any other.

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3:38pm

Mon August 20, 2012
Presidential Race

Ann Romney Adds Fire, Faith To Husband's Campaign

Originally published on Mon August 20, 2012 8:52 pm

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, greet supporters during an Illinois primary victory party in March.
Scott Olson Getty Images

If you want to see how much Mitt and Ann Romney consider themselves a team, check out his official portrait at the Massachusetts Statehouse. He's the first governor to request that an image of his wife be included in the painting — he's posed beside a framed picture of her.

By all accounts, the Romneys consult each other on everything. So after a bruising campaign in 2008 that left Mrs. Romney openly disgusted by the process and vowing she would never do it again, it looked like that might be it for Mitt.

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3:39am

Wed August 15, 2012
Law

The Law — And Reality — Of Gun Access

Originally published on Wed August 15, 2012 6:44 am

Federal law bars gun sales to the mentally ill only if they've ever been deemed by a judge to be mentally incompetent or involuntarily committed. States reporting of such things to the federal database is spotty, and very often, it doesn't show up when a gun seller does a background check.
Gabriel Bouys AFP/Getty Images

Timothy Courtois' family had been worried about him for weeks. They repeatedly told police in Biddeford, Maine, that the 49-year-old was off his meds for bipolar disorder. And police were also told he had guns. But still, because he wasn't doing anything that rose to the legal definition of imminent threat, police said their hands were tied.

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4:16pm

Wed August 8, 2012
News

To Prevent A Tragedy, How Much Can A School Do?

Originally published on Wed August 8, 2012 6:15 pm

A Colorado judge on Thursday will consider whether to lift the gag order in the case of James Holmes, 24, who's accused of killing 12 and wounding dozens more at a movie theater last month.

NPR and other news organizations want access to case files, including a notebook that Holmes reportedly sent to a university psychiatrist before withdrawing from the school that may have described an attack.

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5:46pm

Thu July 19, 2012
Around the Nation

When Hyphen Boy Meets Hyphen Girl, Names Pile Up

Originally published on Fri July 20, 2012 8:43 pm

Sasha Harris-Cronin and her partner struggled with their daughter Shannon's last name. They finally decided on two middle names and a hybrid hyphenated last name: Shannon Bayard Cronin Harris-Taylor.
Courtesy of Sasha Harris-Cronin

Those born at the height of the name-hyphenating craze will be the first to tell you — having two last names can be more trouble than it's worth. There's the perennial confusion at school and at the doctor's office, and the challenge of squeezing your name onto forms.

And now that the hyphenated generation is marrying and parenting, a whole host of new tricky situations has emerged.

Take Leila and Brendan. Their story is one of those fairy tale stories of love at first sight. She was in the lobby of her apartment building when this cute guy started moving in.

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5:00pm

Mon July 2, 2012
Education

Online Classes Cut Costs, But Do They Dilute Brands?

Originally published on Tue July 3, 2012 8:15 am

Recently reinstated University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan came under fire for failing to move fast enough into online education.
Steve Helber AP

The University of Virginia may have settled its most urgent controversy by reinstating President Teresa Sullivan after initially forcing her out. But still unresolved is one issue underlying her ouster: whether the university was too slow to join the stampede of schools into the world of online education.

Many other schools share the concern and wonder if the technology will live up to its hype.

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6:30pm

Thu May 10, 2012
Mitt Romney

Romney's Views On Gay Marriage: Also Evolving?

Originally published on Fri May 11, 2012 2:39 pm

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters at a campaign stop in Omaha, Neb.,on Thursday.
Jae C. Hong AP

A day after President Obama announced his support for gay marriage, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney avoided the issue at a campaign appearance Thursday in Nebraska.

But in an interview with Fox News, he reiterated his belief that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry.

Obama has said his position on gay marriage "evolved" over time, and a case can be made that Romney's views on gay rights have changed as well.

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5:57am

Sun May 6, 2012
Election 2012

Pledge Holds Attack Ads At Bay In Mass. Senate Race

Originally published on Sun May 6, 2012 11:38 am

Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren holds up a poster of herself as Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., looks on during the annual St. Patrick's Day Breakfast in Boston on March 18. A civility pledge between the candidates has kept attack ads largely on the sidelines in their race.
Michael Dwyer AP

It was no big surprise when outside groups started spending millions of dollars on attack ads in the high-stakes U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts between Republican incumbent Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Republican strategist Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS superPAC aired spots highlighting Warren's ties to the Occupy Wall Street movement, saying she "sides with extreme left protests who support radical redistribution of wealth and violence."

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3:31am

Mon April 30, 2012
Education

Economy Puts Value Of Liberal Arts Under Scrutiny

Originally published on Tue May 1, 2012 6:47 am

Wellesley College English professor Yoon Lee teaches a class on the rise of the novel.
Tovia Smith NPR

As high school seniors wrestle with big decisions before Tuesday's deadline about which college they want to go to, some of the nation's top liberal arts colleges are dealing with big decisions of their own. Many of the most elite private schools are trying to figure out how they may have to adapt at a time when they're seen as a more expensive — and less direct — path to landing a job.

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6:34pm

Thu April 19, 2012
Sports

A Century Of Joy And Heartbreak At Fenway Park

Originally published on Fri April 20, 2012 12:09 pm

The flag covers the Green Monster as the national anthem is played before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays on April 16 at Fenway Park in Boston.
Elsa Getty Images

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about Fenway Park. A century after it was built, fans still gush about this "lyric little bandbox," as John Updike called it. To guys like Ed Carpenter, Fenway is history and home, magic and mystique.

"I love this place," he says, tearing up. "I mean, it's not mortar and bricks and seats."

Carpenter first started coming to Fenway with his dad in 1949, when he was 6.

"We walked up this ramp right behind this home plate," he recalls. "I can still see everything was green, emerald green. It was love at first sight."

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5:03pm

Thu April 19, 2012
Sports

Fenway Park Celebrates 100 Years Of Baseball

Originally published on Fri April 20, 2012 3:30 pm

The nation's oldest ball park is turning 100. Boston's Fenway Park has been home to the Red Sox through some of baseball's greatest highs and most heartbreaking lows. The park also narrowly escaped the fate of similar old stadiums that were torn down.

3:53am

Fri March 30, 2012
Education

In Bullying Programs, A Call For Bystanders To Act

Alyssa Rodemeyer, 16, talks about her younger brother Jamey at an anti-bullying rally in San Francisco. Jamey committed suicide in September 2011 after being bullied. More schools are looking for ways to combat bullying among students.
Marcio Jose Sanchez AP

The documentary Bully opens in theaters Thursday, and the heated controversy over the appropriate rating for the film has frustrated many schools hoping to use it as a teaching tool.

Administrators have struggled to find effective ways to help curb bullying in their schools in recent years, and a growing number of bullying prevention programs have emerged to meet the demand.

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12:01am

Fri March 9, 2012
History

Girl Scouts: 100 Years Of Blazing New Trails

Originally published on Mon March 12, 2012 11:09 am

Brownies from Troop 65343 in Brookline, Mass. recite the Girl Scout pledge. Enrollment in the organization has declined since the 1980s, but a modernizing makeover and new focus on minority and immigrant communities have helped some.
Tovia Smith NPR

It's hard to imagine Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and Lucille Ball as part of the same club. But they were all, at one time, Girl Scouts. Founded 100 years ago in Savannah, Ga., the Girl Scouts now count 3.2 million members.

Girl Scout cookies have become as much of an American tradition as apple pie. At a busy intersection in Brookline, Mass., a gaggle of Girl Scouts stand behind a folding table piled high with boxes of Thin Mints, Samoas and Shortbreads.

"They are really, really good," the troop collectively assures a prospective buyer.

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2:02pm

Mon March 5, 2012
Education

Schools Get Tough With Third-Graders: Read Or Flunk

Originally published on Mon March 5, 2012 6:36 pm

A student reads at a public elementary charter school in New York City. Educators like to say third grade is when students go from learning to read, to reading to learn.
Chris Hondros Getty Images

There's little dispute among educators that kids are not reading as well as they should be, but there's endless debate over what to do about it. Now, a growing number of states are taking a hard-line approach through mandatory retentions — meaning third-graders who can't read at grade level will automatically get held back.

To those pushing the idea, it's equal doses of tough and love: You are not doing kids any favors, they say, by waiving them on to fourth grade if they aren't up to snuff on their reading.

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12:01am

Wed February 22, 2012
U.S.

Should Valets Be Responsible For Drunk Drivers Too?

Bars and restaurants are already legally on the hook for stopping would-be drunken drivers. Some in Boston say valet parking attendants should be, too.
Getty Images

That old public service announcement is pretty well ingrained these days: "Friends don't let friends drive drunk." But who else should be responsible for stopping would-be drunken drivers? Bars and restaurants are already legally on the hook. Some in Boston say valet parking attendants should be, too.

City Councilor Rob Consalvo says he decided something needed to be done after a 23-year-old on a scooter was mowed down by a drunken driver in Boston. The driver later said he was "blackout drunk" and couldn't believe that a valet guy actually handed him his car keys.

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4:12pm

Tue January 24, 2012
Law

Same-Sex Marriage May Hinge On Supreme Court

Originally published on Tue January 24, 2012 7:27 pm

In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 8, making same-sex marriage in the state illegal. Now, legal challenges to that initiative mean it could soon get a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Max Whittaker Getty Images

With New York's legalization of same-sex marriage effectively doubling the number of Americans living in states where gays can marry, gay advocates like to say 2011 was a big year.

It's hard to imagine another doubling this year, but proponents are still hoping to build on last year's success. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in six states plus Washington, D.C., and it may come up for a vote in six more. All the while, legal challenges are pushing the issue closer to getting an opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court.

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4:09am

Wed December 28, 2011
Business

New England Fishermen Brace For Cod Restrictions

Originally published on Wed December 28, 2011 1:20 pm

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

In New England, fishermen are bracing for what may be unprecedented restrictions, or even a shutdown, of cod fishing in the Gulf of Maine. Federal regulators say new data show cod as dangerously overfished. But fishermen say they don't believe that, and say drastic restrictions would be catastrophic. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

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2:11pm

Wed December 21, 2011
Politics

Mass. Senate Race A Battle Over Who's More Populist

Originally published on Wed December 21, 2011 5:35 pm

Elizabeth Warren speaks in October during a debate for the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts held by Republican Scott Brown. The race has become a contest of who is the "real" populist.
Elise Amendola AP

Republican Scott Brown of Massachusetts made a point of calling Ted Kennedy's old U.S. Senate seat the "people's seat," and he won it in large part by casting himself as the opposite of that glamorous and privileged dynasty.

Brown won in a special election in 2010. Now, Democrat Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law professor and Wall Street watchdog, is raising Democrats' hopes they can win the seat back. Just months after announcing her first-ever candidacy, polls show Warren pulling out ahead of Brown.

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4:39am

Tue December 6, 2011
Hard Times: A Journey Across America

For Mill Town's Youth, 'It Can't Get Any Worse'

Originally published on Tue December 6, 2011 12:25 pm

High school senior Jared Lyons (center), shown here with his parents, Kim and Bob, worries how he'll afford to achieve his dream of becoming a doctor. The economy, he says, "can't get any worse than it is now."
Courtesy of Kim Lyons

Part of a monthlong series

Coming after Gen X and Gen Y, the next generation of young people have been called "Gen Wrong Place, Wrong Time." With unemployment and college costs both sky-high and the housing market in collapse, young people today are facing extraordinary economic uncertainty.

Perhaps nowhere is that more clear than in a small town like East Millinocket, Maine.

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5:48am

Thu October 6, 2011
Law

Boston Mob Victims' Families Press On In Court Fight

Originally published on Thu October 6, 2011 1:17 pm

James "Whitey" Bulger, shown here in a June 2011 file booking photo, was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., with his longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig.

AP

Families of alleged victims of reputed Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger on Thursday take another step down what they say has been a long, frustrated quest for justice.

They waited 16 years before Bulger — who was finally captured this past June in Santa Monica, Calif. — was even charged in a string of alleged murders. And they've also spent the past decade trying to make the FBI pay for letting those murders happen.

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12:01am

Wed October 5, 2011
Business

Is Nostalgia Enough To Save Friendly's?

Ever since two brothers opened the first Friendly's ice cream shop in Massachusetts 75 years ago, the company has been serving up as much "family and feel good" as it has french fries and frappes.

"My grandma would take me and my brother out and we would always get the watermelon slice," says 23-year-old Lisa Lane. "Ah! The watermelon slice!"

Fans like Lane helped Friendly's expand to more than 600 locations by the 1980s.

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4:05pm

Mon September 19, 2011
Education

Parents Fight Over Pledging Allegiance In Schools

Originally published on Mon September 19, 2011 6:01 pm

Martin Rosenthal, a parent in Brookline, Mass., says he willingly pledges allegiance to the flag but has filed a measure that he says would protect public school students from being pressured into saying the pledge in their classrooms.
Tovia Smith NPR

Residents are waving the flag in Brookline, Mass., both for — and against — the Pledge of Allegiance.

Courts have ruled that public schools cannot compel students to recite the pledge, so in Brookline, as elsewhere, the pledge is voluntary.

But critics say there's still pressure on students to conform, and they want the pledge out of the classroom altogether.

A Concern About Peer Pressure

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3:57pm

Wed September 7, 2011
Reflecting On Sept. 11, 2001

Unlikely Star: A Woman Turns 9/11 Grief Into Action

Carie Lemack, pictured in May, lost her mother Judy Laroque in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Ten years later, Lemack is on a first-name basis with Sen. John Kerry as part of her mission to raise awareness so that another Sept. 11 doesn't happen.
The Washington Post Getty Images

Carie Lemack, 36, gave up a long time ago trying to make sense of the Sept. 11 attacks that killed her mother, Judy Larocque.

"That's not possible," Lemack says.

But she says she will never quit trying to prevent that kind of tragedy from ever happening again.

Ten years after her mother's unfathomable death, Lemack is on a mission that's taken her down a road she also never could have imagined.

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12:01am

Tue August 16, 2011
National Security

Next In Line For The TSA? A Thorough 'Chat-Down'

Boston's Logan Airport will become the first in the nation this week to require every single traveler to go through a quick interview with security officials trying to spot suspicious behavior.

Until now, the so-called behavioral profiling — used successfully in Israel — has been used only sporadically in U.S. airports. As the system expands, so are questions about how behavioral profiling works, and how effective it might be in the U.S.

Unlike the usual security pat-down, the profiling process is what you might call a "chat-down."

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5:00am

Mon July 25, 2011
Living Large: Obesity In America

One Woman's Struggle To Shed Weight, And Shame

Originally published on Wed August 1, 2012 6:59 pm

As part of her exercise routine, Curtis starts most mornings walking a gaggle of neighborhood toddlers to their day care.
Tovia Smith NPR

Part of an ongoing series on obesity in America.

In her 37 years, Kara Curtis has seen every dress size from 26 to 6. Looking through old photos, in her slimmer days, you see a young girl standing tall and pretty in her tiara as high school prom queen, and strong and lean in team shots of her track and swim teams.

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3:44pm

Fri July 22, 2011
Around the Nation

Summer Heat Puts Stress On New England Power Grid

Sweltering heat continued Friday, moving from the Ohio Valley to the East Coast and straining regional power grids.

As temperatures head into near record-breaking territory, demand for power is also getting close to capacity, but authorities in New England say they don't expect to top the record usage set in the summer of 2006. And they're confident they can continue to meet demand.

It's as sure as spring turning to summer. Every time temperatures soar past 90 degrees, fans and conditioners fly off store shelves.

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12:01am

Wed July 20, 2011
U.S.

Gay Divorce A Higher Hurdle Than Marriage

Since gay marriages aren't recognized by the federal government, gay divorce can be a legal mess.
Fiona Shields/Flickr

As thousands of gay and lesbian couples are planning weddings in New York — and celebrating their hard-fought right to marry — others around the nation are fighting for the right to divorce.

Since most states, and the federal government, don't recognize gay marriages, many same-sex couples are left with no way to officially split.

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5:52pm

Thu July 14, 2011
Books

Mrs. Mallard Celebrates 70 Years Of Safer Streets

Brianna Henderson and her brother Ian Henderson play on the Make Way for Ducklings statues in Boston. The bronze figures by sculptor Nancy Schön were installed in Boston's Public Garden in 1987.
Joe Raedle Getty Images

It's the 70th anniversary of the classic children's book, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. But it's perhaps only in hindsight one can see how the ducklings were revolutionaries of sorts.

Call them accidental heroes. A very pregnant Mrs. and Mr. Mallard were never looking to change the world when they came to Boston's Public Garden. They just wanted a safe place to settle down.

'She Was A Lot Braver Than I Am'

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10:40am

Mon July 11, 2011
U.S.

Lesbian Couples Boosting Gay Marriage Numbers

In Boston, experience suggests that pent-up demand for marriage among gays and lesbians will drive a wedding windfall, but it's usually short-lived.

"When marriage is new in a state, there's a surge at the beginning, but then after about a year, that rate starts to slow down. So you see patterns in which same-sex couples are marrying at roughly the same rate as different-sex couples," UCLA demographer Gary Gates says.

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12:01am

Mon June 27, 2011
News

Pro- And Anti-Gay Marriage Take Heart From NY Vote

Revelers celebrate during the Gay Pride parade in New York, two days after same-sex marriage was approved by the state legislature.
Mario Tama Getty Images

New York's annual Gay Pride Parade became a rolling victory party Sunday, two days after the state became the second largest in the country to legalize same-sex marriage.

One of those celebrating, Lindsey Katt, said she felt "a great sense of joy," although she added with a laugh, "there is a resounding feeling of 'we've won the battle, and now need to keep working to win the war.'"

In New York and around the country, activists on both sides are still fighting the war.

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