Anyone who reads this blog with any level of consistency knows where I stand on the hot-button topics of race, religion, politics and anything else that can be devoured in the context of cultural criticism. Most people know, I self-identify as a Democratic socialist at the heart of my political being–meaning I support the idea of a government run by the citizenry, but I also support the notion that it is the responsibility of said government to take of the least of these. Most know that I skew rather far left on my theological and religious views, and at times I have at least one foot firmly planted outside of the realm of orthodox Christendom.
That being said, I’ve slowly turned into an avid listener of NPR.
I grew up with my parents listening to them and when I was a kid it was quite a bore and I didn’t like it. I got a bit older and I remember hearing Tavis Smiley’s hour long program and I remember when Juan Williams used to have his show on there as well. Then somehow, my family used to listen to Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keilor and then slowly Click and Clack and “Car Talk” along with “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” became staples of Saturday rituals.
When I finally started having to commute to work every morning, I really did try and listen to Steve Harvey or Tom Joyner in the mornings, but it just wasn’t doing it for me. One day I found myself programming the local NPR station in as the #1 preset and every morning I catch some tidbit of news that I usually don’t find covered in the rest of the news of the morning. NPR, indeed, has produced more “driveway moments” than any other radio station I’ve ever listened to; those moments where you choose to sit in your car to hear the end of the story. Without fail, NPR has produced more moments where I try and remember a name or a topic or something I just heard so that I can rush inside or grab my phone (against Oprah’s wishes) and Google something just to learn more about it.
And for this, NPR has been considered liberal.
Today’s show on “On The Media” brought up the direct question of “Does NPR have a liberal bias?” which my kneejerk reaction was yes. I never really said much about the assaults from last year by GOP members of Congress who were trying to yank federal funding from NPR because for the most part I agreed with the idea that NPR was, well, liberal.
So, I listened to the program today and I heard the fastidious Ira Glass take umbrage with this claim. And as I heard them parse this concept for a whole hour with only one major news break at the 30 minute mark, I realized why they have been considered liberal–more on that reason why later.
First however, we need address the fact that the right-wing political faction has finally made their argument stick. After all of this time, they finally have found traction with this argument that the media is mostly liberal. One only need turn to Fox News to see what latest tripe they’re peddling as legitimate journalism. Today, NPR played a clip of Bill O’Reilly referring to NPR as the “totalitarian outfit of the government.” Really? There needs to be another word stronger than hyperbole to describe a statement such as that.
With federal taxpayers dollars funding only about 2% for all of NPR’s national budget, the fact that this discussion blows up so large in the face of military spending and pork barrel and earmark spending is laughable. But here’s what this argument does that actually is pretty genius: it creates a cyclical argument that constantly supports the right-wing agenda. It’s akin to evangelical religious zealots saying “The Bible is right!” and then using a random scripture to support the argument while talking to someone who doesn’t even believe in the authority of biblical scriptures. If you can create a journalistic atmosphere where you can say “the liberal mainstream media” is everyone but yourself, then you’ve secured a viewing audience that listens to no one else but you.
What the hour long program discovered was that primarily, there is no real test or study that can say for a certifiable fact that NPR is a liberal media outlet. What Ira Glass, and I’m sure other journalists from NPR took exception was that while they may personally identify as a liberal, that such personal beliefs bled over into the esteemed profession of objective journalism. They even interviewed an avid listener who obviously had some conservative leanings who believed that NPR had a liberal bias. The listener specifically recalled an interview with Michele Norris where an executive was calling for a 5 year tax break incentive for his company to be located in the U.S. rather than overseas and Norris asked “Can the country afford it?” and this was seen as a liberal question.
Then I recalled the devolutionary moment just the night previous when I decided to watch Sean Hannity’s show because I must be a glutton for punishment. I actually laughed through much of the show especially when he trotted Sarah Palin out with that awful backdrop of some imaginary Alaskan scenery. But, he had some hack on discussing how the “liberal media” had ambushed Mitt Romney in a press conference following the comments Romney had made behind the killing of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Oddly enough, they were really criticizing the type of questions that Romney was asked and were suggesting if those types of questions were asked of Obama or better yet, what type of questions they should be asking. Here’s an example of the foolatry:
The guy who NPR chose to interview, his name is Sam Negus, actually said on two instances that his issue had to do with the tone of the questions being asked. When pressed about factual accuracy of what was reported or such, of course, he had to say he had no aught. Which led the NPR journalists included on this to come to their own conclusion–this had more to do with the pre-conceived perception than any empirical evidence. As the conclusion was that it was near impossible to answer whether or not a liberal bias could be pinned down. However, a Tom Rosenstiel, a media researcher with the PEW Foundation unearthed a study done on bias from the Philadelphia Inquirer concerning criticism they were receiving from pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli communities. The research discovered that they did have a bias: a pro-peace bias; they were interested in whichever side was best promoting a cease-fire agenda.
This got me to thinking.
What I discovered in my own personal progression in being an armchair cultural critic, the more and more I write, the more and more I read, the more and more I experience, it has taught me the art of understanding nuances and paying much more attention to detail. For me, I choose not to be the two year old with a hammer in their hand and thus the entire world becomes a nail worthy of being banged and hammered upon. Rather, I have made the conscious decision to, for lack of a better metaphor, dive into the deep end of the pool and experience the great depths that can be offered rather than stay in the safety of the shallow end.
Then I realized, NPR is considered a “totalitarian outfit of the government” because they have made the journalistic decision to go address nuances of the stories they decide to cover. When I listen to NPR, it’s usually a story about something I’ve never heard of before, and they cover a wider breadth of international topics. To compare them even to what pop-culture considers a liberal bastion of media with the opinion and personality journalism, let’s take MSNBC for instance, I still hear and learn more from NPR than even MSNBC. Usually the evening line-up from Rev. Al Sharpton, Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell rehashes the same general topics with their own personal spin. One would have to turn to the two-hour Saturday morning shows with Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris-Perry to get a differentiated topic of news. Still, those are opinion shows where we know where they stand on the issues. For NPR, these are journalists that are interested in getting the best story told and their personal opinions take a back seat.
Is mainstream media biased?
As I’ve said before, this is media, we’ve long since crossed the bridge where we had the integrity of journalism. The only bastions of journalism in its best form are local news stations, and of course that notion can be challenged as well since they are corporately owned as well. Certainly, the cable networks that dominate are interested in covering the sensationalized news stories and don’t give a good damn about discussing nuances. So yes, mainstream media is biased: they’re pro-sensationalism irrespective of political point of view.
Let’s be honest, from Chris Matthews having tingles go up and down his leg after an Obama speech in 2008 to having countless hacks paraded on Fox News (Sarah Palin included) amounts to biased reporting in my own opinion. What bothers me is the flat out lies. Biased reporting takes the facts, twists them to fit their worldview or omits some context that might shade some questions on the topic at hand. That’s not the absolute end of the world and I think given today’s society most of us who watch the news just take it as par for the course.
But instead what we get on Fox News are polls only from Rasmussen, and flat out lies such as Obama inviting members of the Muslim Brotherhood to the White House–in fact, reports are that Obama extended an invitation to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi who assumed power after the deposed Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office in the Egyptian revolution last year. The blatant lies is what’s promoting the bias; the ad hominem attacks are doing irreparable damage.
I close with this quote from CNN contributor John Avlon:
On the flip side were conservative populist luminaries like Sarah Palin, who took to Facebook, her only dependable perch these days, to write this: “We already know that President Obama likes to ‘speak softly’ to our enemies. If he doesn’t have a ‘big stick’ to carry, maybe it’s time for him to grow one.” Once again, Palin proved that she doesn’t have the temperament or the intellect to be within a thousand feet of the Oval Office.
This is the second time Palin has attacked Obama by taking a decisively making a remark about Obama’s manhood and specifically his private parts. Yet there are those who say NPR is biased, yet she’s a regular and outspoken contributor on the network.
Give me a break.