NPR: National Propaganda Radio

One of the classic articles from 30 years ago that still gets recalled fondly was Glenn Garvin’s “How Do I Hate NPR? Let Me Count the Ways,” which I think first appeared in the late Washington DC City Paper. Even back then I referred to NPR’s two main shows, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” as “Morning Sedition” and “All Things Distorted.” The very voice tones of Susan Stamberg and Noah Adams could peel lead-based paint, so smug, supercilious, and obnoxious as they were.

I’ll add that with only one exception,* every experience I had appearing on an NPR show when I lived in Washington went badly, as it became clear that I had been set up or was invited in bad faith, such that I finally told any NPR bookers who called, with extreme prejudice, that I would not appear on an NPR show because they were dishonest media. And then I’d hang up.

Of the typical NPR listener, Garvin noted:

Most NPR listeners, I’m sure, wouldn’t trust an economist who bragged that he accepted only the scholarship of Milton Friedman, or a politician who read only the works of Lenin. But somehow they think their own understanding of the world is enhanced by basing it exclusively on a news organization that labors in an antiquated, one-dimensional medium and whose entire staff wouldn’t fill the city room at the New York Times.

This is something of a mystery—that highly educated, well-to-do people (for that is what NPR’s listeners are, mostly) would adopt the kind of intellectual isolationism that we would ordinarily associate with survivalist cults holed up in the Ozarks. Like survivalists, NPR listeners are not exactly numerous—”There are more people falling off the face of the earth than there are listening to NPR,” observes Bill McCleneghan, ABC Radio’s vice president for research—but, like survivalists, their very existence is a troubling enigma. You always have to wonder: Do they know something the rest of us don’t?

After deciding to listen to NPR for an extended period, Garvin concluded: “My conclusion: I’d rather be a survivalist.”

And this passage will sound familiar to all conservatives:

Laurence Jarvik, a conservative critic of public broadcasting, once asked plaintively: “Why is it that there’s room at NPR for a practicing witch, but not a practicing conservative?” (By the way, this was not—as the uncharitable might have suspected—a reference to Nina Totenberg, but to reporter Margot Adler, who actually casts spells and stuff like that.)

This, I suspect, has a good deal to do with the ideological drift of NPR’s news. It’s not that the network’s editorial brain trust meets each morning to plot the day’s campaign to rid America of Republican taint. It’s that the newsroom is composed almost entirely of like-minded people who share one another’s major philosophical precepts. When my sister says that she wants to hear news from people who think like me, she’s put her finger on the problem.

Their thinking is apparent in both what they report and their approach to it. They believe that government is the fundamental agent of change, that government can and should solve most problems. They believe most of those solutions involve spending large sums of money. They believe that taxes are not only an appropriate way of raising money, but an important social responsibility. They believe that, although individuals cannot always be trusted to make correct choices, bureaucrats usually can.

In short, NPR reporters are the kinds of people who voted for Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton, not as the lesser evils but enthusiastically, in the firm belief that what the world needs is better social engineering.

This background is useful to taking in today’s sensational article on Bari Weiss’s Free Press  site by 25-year NPR veteran Uri Berliner who makes the case that NPR is worse than it ever was back in the 1980s or 1990s, in an article “How NPR Lost America’s Trust.” (This assumes NPR ever had it in the first place.)

Berliner is nuts in thinking that NPR ever deserved a reputation for “reliable journalism,” but he does make a good case that Trump drove them around the bend:

Like many unfortunate things, the rise of advocacy took off with Donald Trump. As in many newsrooms, his election in 2016 was greeted at NPR with a mixture of disbelief, anger, and despair. (Just to note, I eagerly voted against Trump twice but felt we were obliged to cover him fairly.) But what began as tough, straightforward coverage of a belligerent, truth-impaired president veered toward efforts to damage or topple Trump’s presidency. . .

Berliner reviews NPR’s credulous coverage of the Trump-Russia hoax, and how they were essentially a mouthpiece for Adam Schiff. But the sequel is more revealing:

In October 2020, the New York Post published the explosive report about the laptop Hunter Biden abandoned at a Delaware computer shop containing emails about his sordid business dealings. With the election only weeks away, NPR turned a blind eye. Here’s how NPR’s managing editor for news at the time explained the thinking: “We don’t want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories, and we don’t want to waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions.”

But it wasn’t a pure distraction, or a product of Russian disinformation, as dozens of former and current intelligence officials suggested. The laptop did belong to Hunter Biden. Its contents revealed his connection to the corrupt world of multimillion-dollar influence peddling and its possible implications for his father.

The laptop was newsworthy. But the timeless journalistic instinct of following a hot story lead was being squelched. During a meeting with colleagues, I listened as one of NPR’s best and most fair-minded journalists said it was good we weren’t following the laptop story because it could help Trump.

When the essential facts of the Post’s reporting were confirmed and the emails verified independently about a year and a half later, we could have fessed up to our misjudgment. But, like Russia collusion, we didn’t make the hard choice of transparency.

Question: Given this confession from inside NPR, why shouldn’t Trump, if elected again, arrest and jail the entire staff of NPR on January 20? The legal grounds are simple: NPR accepts taxpayer funds, and have misappropriated public funds for partisan purposes, which has to be a violation of several statutes as Leticia James and Alvin Bragg can surely explain.

* The one exception to my bad experiences on NPR was with Tom Ashbrook, host of NPR’s “On Point” show until 2017, when he was dismissed for creating a “hostile work environment” at NPR. I have no idea what the truth of it may be (though I have to wonder if he was insufficiently hostile to Trump, as he had a bona fide working class background), but his treatment of me the one time I went on his show was straight-up and unbiased.

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