But what bothers me is the way this story is being framed. Suddenly NPR is a far left propaganda machine that won't tolerate anyone voicing contradictory opinions. Quotes from far left journalists who were last heard on NPR 15 years ago are being played on Fox as if they happened yesterday. The fact that NPR only a few weeks ago forbid its journalists to attend John Stewart's Rally To Restore Sanity because NPR didn't want any of its journalists to attend a public event hosted by a liberal political satirist unless they were covering it for an impartial story rarely gets mentioned. For the record, I think journalists should be able to express their fears, be they rational or irrational, and attend rallies they think might be fun. Journalists are, after all, human beings and human beings aren't impartial in every aspect of their lives.
I'll admit that there's a lot of programming on NPR that I just can't deal with. It irritates me, it bores me and it interferes with my music-listening time. And yes, It's also true that some of their programming has a liberal bent. How liberal depends on the area of the country you live in. If you live in San Francisco the NPR member station will probably hand select many of the more liberal pieces but when I was listening to NPR in Virginia that really didn't seem to be the case. But what I do listen to (when I'm int he car at the right time) are NPRs more popular shows, Morning Edition, Market Place and All Things Considered. In fact the majority of NPRs listeners listen exclusively to one or more of those three shows. In fact All Things Considered is so popular most member stations choose to replay the hour long show three times in a row so no matte what time your commute is, you'll hear it. Market Place is usually replayed twice a day and although I'm NEVER listening to NPR before 8 in the morning I'm assuming that Morning Edition is also replayed a couple of times. What these three shows have in common is that none of them are really liberal. That's up to seven hours of programing every weekday that is dedicated to pretty impartial news reporting. Do they give liberal interviewees airtime? Yes, absolutely. Recently I posted a link to a NPR interview with Michael Savage, a proudly liberal and gay activist. He was talking about the issue of bullying of gays in our middle schools and high schools as well as his Youtube, It Gets Better project. They interviewed him for about 9 minutes. A few days after they had him on they had a military analyst on who expressed his opinion that we needed to make sure that our all-volunteer military force really was okay with gays serving before we changed the Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell policy. He also pointed out that our military is now mostly made up of people who grew up in very conservative areas of the country and we need to be sensitive and accommodating of their views. I'm not going to get into whether or not I agree with him but I will say that he was expressing what most people would consider a conservative opinion and he did so eloquently. The interviewer asked pointed and tough questions but he allowed the man to give long nuanced answers without being interrupted. And he too was given 9 minutes of airtime.
And that brings me to another point. Nine minutes. In a world where all the news organizations are hungry for sound bites NPR always gives people time to give long descriptive and satisfying answers. There are so many times when I'll start to listen to a story, get out of my car to fill it with gas and then turn the radio back on to discover they're still on the same topic. NPR doesn't just report on the sensational stuff. Nothing is glossed over and they're not all that into "highlight reels." They give you the story in all its complexity and allow you to form your own opinions with as many facts as possible. Again, there aren't many news organizations doing that anymore because the market for it isn't very big. But for those of us who WANT to hear the whole story and both sides of it, NPR is one of our last bastions of hope.
But there are even more reasons why NPR's most popular programming is a cut above the rest. 3 1/2 years ago, when I first started listening to NPR with any regularity, I listened to their reports about the escalating drug violence in Mexico. Now everybody is reporting on that but VERY few news organizations were reporting on it 3 1/2 years ago. The other major news outlets waited until Mexico was practically under martial law. I also remembering them doing a series of stories about a year and a half ago on a situation in Minnesota where American-Somali youths who were being recruited at their houses of worship by a terrorist group called Al-Shabab. Without the teenage boys' parents knowing what was going on, representatives of Al-Shabab would woo these kids and somehow convince them to hop on a plane to Somalia where they would fight and be part of the terrorism that is now tearing apart that country, frequently at the expense of their lives. So far over two dozen youths have quietly left Minnesota for Somalia to become terrorists.
Did you know anything about that? Probably not. Only a few news organizations have even mentioned it and that's only happened within the last six months. Most news outlets now wait for a politician to set a talking point and then they dissect and, if we're lucky, research their talking points. In other words they wait for our government officials to tell them what to investigate or for a problem to become a catastrophic crisis. On the rare instances when they investigate something that isn't a talking point it's called a "special report." True investigative journalism shouldn't be "special." It should be the norm. Remember when BP was telling us only a few tons of oil were being spilled into the gulf per day and then all those university experts took a look at the footage and revealed that the amount was at least ten times higher than BP's estimates? You know who contacted those professors and asked them to look at the footage and use their equipment to make estimates? That would be NPR. Do you know that there's been a religious revival in China (despite the Chinese government's discouragement) and that Christians may outnumber communists in China now? Did you know that Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac might end up getting an additional $90 billion from our Treasury Department over the next three years in ADDITION to the $135 billion tax payers have already given them? Did you know that in 23 states unemployment has actually fallen but that it has risen in 11 of them? Do you know which states? Again, you probably don't if you aren't listening to NPR. And tell me, which of the stories that I've just listed are "liberal?" The Al-Shabab story has so much potential for sensationalism (and even when reported evenly is incredibly disconcerting) that I'm sort of surprised Glenn Beck hasn't been screaming about it from the rooftops. But then again, maybe he doesn't know about it. It's not like Beck is a journalist. But the people on NPR are.
So yes, the CEO of NPR screwed up and yes, NPR's guidelines for journalists is unreasonably restrictive. But 1 + 1 doesn't equal 4. Those who want really liberal programming listen to Air America because as far as their concerned, NPR is too conservative and not...well, angry enough. Fox News watchers will undoubtedly feel just the opposite (although they may agree about the noticeable lack of shouting). However if we start labeling NPR as a far left station conservative politicians will be less likely to talk to them and potential listeners who consider themselves to be somewhat conservative will never even give NPR a chance. Then NPR will be forced to gear all their programing towards predominately liberal interests just to keep their listeners. We'll lose one of the few truly balanced news sources left to us. Then there will be a problem. But there isn't one now. Let's not create one.
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