Survivor: Radio Land

Radio Survivor’s Facebook page declared “Dang if this isn’t one of the best things we’ve ever published,” and we have to agree. In a piece entitled “Radio’s Fall—Part Two: NPR’s ‘Liberal’ Identity Crisis,” Gavin Dahl does an outstanding job of tying together the problems faced by the public radio giant. What follows are quotes liberally lifted from his fine piece, beginning with his commentary on the Juan Williams “episode” (note Gavin’s reference to the “former journalist”):

First Juan Williams, who is a black news analyst for NPR, makes racist statements to suck up to his other employer Bill O’Reilly on Fox News. Then the civil rights historian and former journalist gets a phone call from NPR informing him he’s been fired. Immediately Newt Gingrich and other conservatives demand an end to public funds for NPR. In the midst of pledge drive season, stations receive calls from “viewers” who promise to stop “watching.”…

Then there’s NPR honcho Vivian Schiller opening her mouth to change feet, followed by more outraged bellowing. But, as Gavin continues:

Civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald points out that NPR’s firing of Juan Williams “threatened to delegitimize” all ”fear-sustaining, anti-Muslim slander.” With so much of the emphasis of Endless War built up around a foundation of hate and racism, he concludes “there are too many interests served by anti-Muslim fear-mongering to allow that to change.”

Adam Serwer writes in Williams’ old paper the The Washington Post, “It’s clear from the context that Williams wasn’t merely confessing his own personal fears, he was reassuring O’Reilly that he was right to see all Muslims as potential terrorists.”…

But hey, at this point you’ve gotta feel sorry for Juan Williams. Sure, first he signed a new $2M contract with Fox News, and now he’s got a book deal. But his new book will “focus on free speech and the growing difficulty in America of speaking out on sensitive topics.” Wouldn’t you hate to try and explain how difficult speaking out can be while banking millions as a commentator?

Plus, the poor guy must have some conflicting voices inside his head, considering his earlier writings on the psychology of hate. “Common sense becomes racism when skin color becomes a formula for figuring out who is a danger to me,” wrote Williams in The New Republic back in 1986.

Touché, monsieur. Gavin is just warming to the task:

During four years of work for NPR, Kiss the Sky author Farai Chideya saw no evidence of particularly liberal leadership, insisting instead the network is “run by a Beltway cohort.”

Although her African-American issues program was canceled and she no longer works there, Chideya blogged on Huffington Post recently that “this country needs NPR, now more than ever.”

She says they fired Williams for acting as hype man for Bill O’Reilly, the same thing he has been doing for years: “Do I think NPR fired him because he is black? No. Do I think NPR kept Williams on for years, as the relationship degraded, because he is a black man? Absolutely. Williams’ presence on air was a fig-leaf for much broader and deeper diversity problems at the network. NPR needs to hire more black men in house on staff as part of adding diverse staff across many ethnicities and races.”

And here is something we’ve remarked on in regards to local public radio stations like KUT. In a city like Austin that’s nearly half non-white, the makeup of the station, its programs and personalities, doesn’t even hint at that demographic:

In 2009, minorities represented less than 9% of the radio work force despite making up at least 34% of the population. In 2008, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) calculated that minority news employment was statistically almost zero at English language, non-minority owned radio stations.

MMTC co-founder David Honig credits the collapse of minority employment in radio journalism to “word of mouth recruitment from a homogenous workforce.”

Considering the FCC’s own report on the need for diverse broadcast ownership — that the “welfare of the public” requires “the widest dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources” possible — Honig wants stronger equal employment opportunity enforcement.

So would Republican presidential hopefuls agree with him, that a more diverse NPR would be a better use of public funds? Do the elephants care about the quality of news that’s accessible in the peanut gallery?

Or are they grandstanding and whipping up ill-informed Americans into a frenzy in the name of Muslim-bashing? Despite a desperate need to change course in the Middle East,  this fall the GOP laughed all the way into office as NPR war reporters joined up with the rest of the subservient national press to please the Pentagon with their favorable coverage.

Listen critically to NPR’s reporting of US foreign policy and you will hear selective storytelling shining favorable light on CIA activities, and so-called experts providing dodgy history lessons on Afghanistan. While popular anchors parrot unsubstantiated claims about Iraq, and others kiss up to conservative politicians, commentators smirk their way through reactionary antagonism of whistle-blowers.

We’re leaving in many of the references, worth a look-see in themselves, including the link to this hilarious monologue leading into a Vanity Fair excerpt:

Calling to mind Patton Oswalt’s over-the-top bit about NPR is author James Wolcott’s recent piece for Vanity Fair, called The Sound of Sanity:

“Today NPR is just about the last outfit that hasn’t retrenched and retreated from Marshall McLuhan’s global village but instead has extended its feelers to tap even the faintest faraway dot on the map with a moving story to tell, navigating near-impossible terrain if necessary.

“This can lead to borderline self-parody, too many dispatches from remote villages about the dying native craft of flute-making narrated by a correspondent who sounds as if s/he majored in empathy at Deepak Chopra Junior College, a mourning dove with a microphone.

“But the beauty of radio is that the ambience of other countries, other cultures, fills the sonic background with no camera eye imposing a single dominant message-image (a close-up of scorched belongings to signify the ravages of war), and no reporter standing in the foreground, colonizing the frame with a face full of concern.”

The Financial Times applauds NPR for being “the closest America comes to the BBC.” However, “it is also a bit smug and boring.”

74% of Spot.Us users surveyed in September think public media is higher quality than their commercial counterparts.

So, we get it, masses of college graduates love NPR, even if it is more Wonder Bread than organic kale roll-ups.

Gavin rightfully saves the big guns for the biggest problem of all in public radio, as we see it — the lack of financial transparency:

For the future of public radio, quite possibly the most important critique of the NPR brand is inaccessibility. Fans of small “d” democracy, libertarians and much of the community radio movement feel the bigger the member station, the more editorially closed off from real people.

Plenty of listeners dedicated to the low end of the FM dial are concerned so-called corporate “persons” have too much influence on the big pubcasters.

For example, one blogger writes, “KBYU should not use the public airwaves to solicit donations from listeners until it first makes complete and regular disclosures of its finances.”

Gavin later channels Jack Balkwill, who writes in the LUV News daily report:

Corporate sponsors include the taxpayer-bailed-out General Motors, Citibank, and Bank of America. Others include Citgo Oil, Mastercard, Visa, BP Oil, Dow Chemical, and Fox Broadcasting.

Throughout the day, NPR’s programs: Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation, The Diane Rehm Show and others invite guests from the corporate funded think tanks to opine. These people are clearly paid to sell out the American public. Transnational corporations get sycophancy in return for their investments to the American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution, Cato Institute and so forth, and what they expect is obedience to their philosophy of lower corporate taxes and higher corporate welfare, at any cost to the public interest.

There’s much more to this piece than what we’ve appropriated here (as much as that is, in our zeal), including a comment from Harry Shearer himself at the end. This — even for somebody who has followed NPR since the ’70s — is an exceptional research job and a fine bit of writing.

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2 Responses

  1. If NPR is popular enough to support more than 1 radio station per market, like they now are trying to claim in Houston, do they really need taxpayer support anymore? Contact your congressman and put the idea in front of them.

  2. Regarding NPR’s transparency: When the Juan Williams story broke, almost all NPR supporters immediately spouted forth that government support was in the range of 2%; now later pronouncements seem to range from 16% to 25%…that’s a big number, even since it includes indirect government support through stations.

    NPR could easily replace 2% from the government, and be truly independent, but not 20%. They’re bought, pure and simple.

    NPR’s financial information page is even more misleading in how they budget: they bundle together news and technical costs in one subcategory (what are they hiding?). And also they show substantial income from the NPR Foundation and from Investment income. Also there’s grant income (federal state, local or private?). They do allow that over 70% of their program income is from ATC and Morning Edition.

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