National Public Relations

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting has a good take, here (“Stinging NPR: James O’Keefe’s Big Nothing”), on the public relations disaster that’s been the campaign to keep funding coming in to public broadcasting. In the midst of the Republican offensive to defund public media, it seems the suits at NPR have only opened their mouths to change feet.

We are longtime supporters of public radio, but take issue with the directions taken of late by the national bean counters in general and by our local cognoscenti specifically. Their hubris in presuming to know what’s good for all the “little people” who listen and cough up their butter-and-egg money to fund “our” stations  is tainted by the same corporatist zeal that pollutes discourse nationwide in regards to The News. It is, as dear Jody in Austin remarked, as though they’re determined to build an overpass to the luxury dealerships and high-end establishments on the outskirts of town, bypassing the hoi polloi and leaving them in the decaying central city.

Be that as it may, we are equally aghast at the far-right attempts to marginalize what passes for “centrist” reporting nowadays by a boisterous parroting of the “NPR is liberal” line. Since the days of “morning in America,” this has proven to be a successful tack for controlling the news agenda — banging on pots and pans, waving the flag, and chanting to beat the band, drowning out opposition in sheer volume and repetition. It’s a cynical belief of an oligarchic minority that continual, repeated proclamations that “night is day” will have the desired effect of a cowed electorate bumping around in the dark with sunglasses on.

As FAIR notes:

FAIR’s 2004 study of NPR, which looked at 2,334 quoted sources in 804 stories on four leading programs, provides one such examination (Extra!, 5-6/04) — and found nothing like that:

Elite sources dominated NPR’s guestlist. These sources — including government officials, professional experts and corporate representatives — accounted for 64 percent of all sources.

Current and former government officials constituted the largest group of elite voices, accounting for 28 percent of overall sources, an increase of 2 percentage points over 1993. Current and former military sources (a subset of governmental sources) were 3 percent of total sources.

Professional experts — including those from academia, journalism, think tanks, legal, medical and other professions — were the second largest elite group, accounting for 26 percent of all sources. Corporate representatives accounted for 6 percent of total sources.

And on partisanship:

Despite the commonness of such claims, little evidence has ever been presented for a left bias at NPR, and FAIR’s latest study gives it no support. Looking at partisan sources — including government officials, party officials, campaign workers and consultants — Republicans outnumbered Democrats by more than 3 to 2 (61 percent to 38 percent). A majority of Republican sources when the GOP controls the White House and Congress may not be surprising, but Republicans held a similar though slightly smaller edge (57 percent to 42 percent) in 1993, when Clinton was president and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. And a lively race for the Democratic presidential nomination was beginning to heat up at the time of the 2003 study.

The conclusion: “If NPR’s main news shows have a bias, it is toward the elite.” But the real zinger comes in closing:

[T]he damage is made much worse by a media that treats O’Keefe’s “scoop” as if it reveals anything important. O’Keefe’s big “get” is that a fundraiser will tell a prospective donor some of what he thinks he might want to hear. The fact that mainstream media have devoted so much attention to O’Keefe’s sting is proof that the corporate media aren’t that liberal at all.

As usual on the blogosphere, some of the best commentary falls within the comments section:

rationalrevolution: Just last night they had a segment about the Wisconsin anti-union legislation and they had a Republican state senator on to talk for a good 5 minutes spouting anti-union nonsense, and to my shock they gave no counter points, questioned nothing, and HAD NO FOLLOW-UP with any union supporters. It was absurd. They didn’t have a Democratic state senator on, the head of any of the unions on, the head of national unions on, nothing…

Don Alejandro: What I can’t understand is why it should be considered a virtual crime for anyone at NPR, especially someone who is not an on-air personality, to express an opinion in private. As far as I can tell, it seems to be perfectly okay with Faux News if their talking heads say, on the air in prime time, the most foul things about anyone who does not hold the extreme far right views they are apparently paid to promulgate, including calling groups or individuals or the president racist.

Faux News megalo-personalities can even host political rallies and promote them on the air. Can you imagine the uproar if an NPR personality promoted their personal political “grass roots” rally on air? Just to be safe, NPR people couldn’t even attend John Stewart’s rally, much less cover it, less they appear the least bit liberal or otherwise tainted (though I don’t believe NPR or any other media enforced any such stricture against Glenn Beck’s ego party).

The real crime is that O’Keefe is given media attention while being allowed to continue committing serial crimes with hidden cameras and fraudulent scenarios…

richard barr: One might think that NPR, in its response, instead of being totally defensive, might have considered aggressively pointing out that the “prankster” who tricked them is someone who’s been discredited previously, was involved in a break-in at a congresswoman’s office, should probably be in jail by now instead of continuing to run amok — and that all that is more significant than the fact that their fundraiser was unwise in his remarks. And one might think that the media, in covering this story, might also have focused more on the disreputable prankster and less on the NPR dupe. (And by the way, was that NPR dupe so off the mark in attributing racism to al least some members of the Tea Party?)

Steve S: In retrospect FAIR should have emphasized that O’Keefe is completely duplicitous and unreliable. Thanks to Glenn Beck, we know the relevance of that to this case as well as all the others: It says loads about the ‘liberal bias’ of NPR that it was Glenn Beck, not NPR, that broke the news that NPR had been punked. Today the NY Times comically claimed that the 430 million NPR receives (about, oh… 1/70th of one percent of the federal budget?) is important to those trying to trim the deficit:

And much more, all worth the read.


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  1. […] Original post: National Public Relations « Keeping the Public in Public Radio […]

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