NPR and Media Bias
Tibor R. Machan
Over the years there’s been this on-going debate about whether the American news media is biased toward the Left or the Right. For example, most recently John Stossel’s selection as Barbara Walters’ co-host of ABC-TV’s “20/20” has been attacked by the Left leaning media watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. It has urged viewers on the Internet to “[t]ell ABC to provide John Stossel with some of the competition that he professes to admire so much. If he is allowed to openly and consistently advocate for his laissez-faire point of view, ABC should also provide comparable airtime to a critic of laissez-faire policies--preferably one who does not have Stossel's extensive record of inaccuracies.”
I do not wish to jump into this dispute, although one wonders whether having Peter Jennings as a constant head shaking, finger wagging body-language commentator, with unmistakably Left leaning views, did not suffice to show ABC-TV’s belief in competition? And other than one inaccuracy Stossel apologized for on air, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting is simply whistling in the dark. Furthermore, competition is supposed to occur between networks, not necessarily on them!
What I am more interested in is the fact that in all the debate about whether American media is biased toward the Left or the Right few ever mention the undeniably biased and all so ubiquitous National Public Radio. NPR is a huge network of radio programs, involving news, analyses, interviews, and, of course, classical music and jazz programming, located on nearly every university and college campus across the USA. As the NPR Web Site tells it, “NPR serves a growing audience of more than 15 million Americans each week via 620 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.”
As far as its tone is concerned, NPR is very polished, as if all of its personnel graduated from Swarthmore or Vassar. They all sound exactly alike, without anyone on the air who doesn’t have just the right phlegmatic New England accent, often coupled with a curious sounding name like Corey Flintoff, Cokie Roberts, Ketzel Levine and so forth. But never mind these minor quirks.
What is more important is that NPR is partly funded from money extorted from citizens who are forced to pay taxes just to be able to keep a job or to sell goods or services. Sure, NPR stations also receive voluntary support from some of their listeners but from what I have been told the bulk of them could not survive without the subsidy provided by the government, either directly or via the educational stations that carry NPR programming on a non-profit basis. And certainly the fact that they receive tax funds would obligate them to be scrupulously unbiased.
However, NPR is beamed to millions of college radio station listeners and it is clearly biased toward the Left. For example, nearly anyone who is supportive of more government funding for environmentalist projects (especially ones involving extensive private property confiscation) is welcome on Fresh Air and similar interview programs. Then, also, so called public affairs programming would include quite a few hard hitting interviews but in the case of NPR nearly all of these are of the “throwing the Christians to the Christians” variety.
Because I am committed to hearing out the views of people whose overall viewpoint I regard basically mistaken, I often tune in NPR and on nearly every occasion I am amazed at how brazenly biased is its programming. Even the news coverage shows this, as when reports from the war against Iraq relentlessly focused on whatever negative story they could find, and reported virtually all the criticisms of USA policy (something with which, by the way, I also found serious fault). On NPR the refrain is nearly always that of what we might call the Soft Left--as if Ralph Nader, with his politics of economic democracy--meaning that economic decisions are all to be made by politicians--were the network’s ideological czar.
As far as I can tell, NPR’s government-supported near-monopoly of college and university radio broadcasting is far more significant than, say, the popularity and ubiquity of Rush Limbaugh’s radio talk show. Hammering away with their Soft-Left bias at nearly all the college students of the nation and pretending to deal with topics fairly and professionally, amounts to a very significant bias in American media, one that no Rush Limbaugh could possible balance. Yet oddly this is rarely if ever discussed when the topic of media bias is touched upon.