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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

NPR admits a liberal bias

by Brent Bozell at Townhall.com
Last week, NPR's own official ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, admitted a liberal bias in NPR's talk programming. The daily program "Fresh Air with Terry Gross" -- a 60-minute talk show about the arts, literature and also politics -- airs on 378 public-radio stations across the fruited plain. Gross recently became a hot topic on journalism Web sites for first having a friendly, giggly interview with "satirist" Al Franken, promoting his obnoxious screed against conservatives on Sept. 3, and then on Oct. 8, unloading an accusatory, hostile interview on Bill O'Reilly's show. She pressed the Fox host to respond to the obnoxious attacks of Franken and other critics. Dvorkin ruled: "Unfortunately, the (O'Reilly) interview only served to confirm the belief, held by some, in NPR's liberal media bias ... by coming across as a pro-Franken partisan rather than a neutral and curious journalist, Gross did almost nothing that might have allowed the interview to develop."

On the Oct. 17 "Morning Edition," host Bob Edwards launched into a long "news" report on the flaws of the Bush foreign policy, observing: "Overall, the policies of the United States are still very unpopular around the world. The Bush Doctrine, a preference for unilateral military action and a disdain for multinational diplomacy, is under scrutiny more than ever." Reporter Mike Shuster was intent on driving home the theme that the Bush foreign policy may (read: we hope) one day be analyzed as an utter failure. His three primary, supposedly nonpartisan "experts" were Ivo Daalder, a member of Clinton's National Security Council; Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign policy adviser to the 1992 Clinton campaign; and John Mearshimer, a regular critic of Bush foreign policy . . .

Perhaps the biggest public-relations problems for NPR come when its liberal reporters hit the weekend talk-show circuit and let their opinions fly wildly. On Oct. 18, NPR legal reporter Nina Totenberg pronounced from her regular panelist perch on the TV show "Inside Washington" that General Jerry Boykin, who sermonized in Christian churches with the shocking, less-than-Unitarian message that Christianity is true and other creeds are false, should be fired.

Well, that's not the way it came out. First, Totenberg said Boykin's remarks were "seriously bad stuff," and then she said, "I hope he's not long for this world." Host Gordon Peterson joked, "What is this, The Sopranos?" Withdrawing to damage-control mode, Totenberg said she didn't mean she hoped he would die, just that he shouldn't last long "in his job."

No one is arguing that these people aren't entitled to express their opinions. Free speech. Fine. The glitch is that NPR is publicly funded and thereby accountable to the public at large, not just its narrow audience.
In 1967, Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act, authorizing the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The Act called on CPB to encourage "the growth and development of noncommercial radio" and to develop "programming that will be responsive to the interests of the people." NPR was created as a private, non-profit organization to provide leadership in national newsgathering and production and to provide the first permanent nationwide interconnection of non-commercial stations.

NPR was founded on February 24, 1970, with 90 public radio stations as charter members. Today, NPR serves a growing audience of 21 million Americans each week via more than 730 public radio stations and the Internet and in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa via NPR Worldwide, to military installations overseas via American Forces Network, and throughout Japan via cable.
NPR's Ombudsman's Reports
"As part of its mandate, the NPR ombudsman's office prepares a report four times a year. These reports are presented to the NPR board of directors at the public sessions. The reports quantify the issues of concern to the listeners over the previous three months. The ombudsman also tracks trends in the program coverage, along with the listeners' responses to NPR's news coverage, its programs and any other issues that are of concern to the listeners."

Here are "Highlights" from the latest Ombudsman's Report: July 2003:
17,185 e-mails received since March 2003 related to public radio and NPR issues.

Criticism of NPR's Middle East coverage continues to decline but remains constant among many listeners.

NPR's coverage of the war in Iraq was the dominant issue.

Anti-war listener complaints outnumbered pro-war listener complaints at a ratio of more than 3:1.

Comments about NPR's political coverage increased 600 percent from the previous report in March 2003, from 31 to 192.

Complaints about NPR's political bias have increased 100 percent, from 482 to 847. Most of these accuse NPR of a liberal bias.

Dramatic increase in comments about the programs and the hosts. These are not necessarily complaints.

Decline in concerns and complaints about underwriting/funding and pledge drives.

A local underwriting issue (see below "Rutherford") evoked a strong write-in campaign.
The bad news is that NPR liberal bias, which includes a bias against Israel, is a (highly influential) nightmare.
The good news is that they count emails.

The Mission of NPR according to the Ombudsman
1. ***NPR is committed to the presentation of fair, accurate and comprehensive information*** and selected cultural expressions for the benefit of, and at the service of our democracy. ***NPR is pledged to abide scrupulously by the highest artistic, editorial, and journalistic standards*** and practices of broadcast programming.

2. ***NPR is committed to providing diverse and balanced viewpoints*** through the entirety of its programming. NPR recognizes that its credibility in the minds of the general population is its most precious asset and must be protected.

3. Even a rigorously managed programming organization may inadvertently depart from its own standards and practices, and abuse its freedom and power to inform and entertain. NPR is dedicated to identifying such transgressions if they occur, correcting them, and acting to prevent repetition.
A Google search for {NPR + bias} yields 37,800 hits. Compare this to {FoxNews + bias} at 9,910.

"NPR is a lifestyle . . .
NPR becomes a relationship. A feeling of affinity.
An emotional connection. A bond of loyalty and trust."

- NPR Annual Report, 2002

For more, see CAMERA on NPR and NPRsucks.com