Comments: How to Save NPR

I like NPR's American Roots and Science Friday. Their political coverage is bullshit.

Posted by Paul Avery at March 13, 2011 01:58 PM

I like the car talk guys.

Posted by Donald Johnson at March 13, 2011 02:44 PM

Strange position when coming from a technophilic capitalist, Aaron. I'd imagine their schtick to be right up your alley.

Posted by CF Oxtrot at March 13, 2011 02:55 PM

My favorite thing about NPR is the quiz show called "Wait Wait, don't tell me!" Liberals always know the answer--they just haven't remembered it yet!!!

Posted by seth at March 13, 2011 03:09 PM

I don't have any use for NPR either, but I don't think hiring a finger-wagging Democratic shill like Robert Parry would be much of an improvement (and Parry's journalism may be fearless but it certainly doesn't lack favor, since it's aimed squarely at safe Republican targets as well).

Posted by John Caruso at March 13, 2011 03:33 PM

Parry of "Vote Democrats or the World Will End in Republican Fire" fame?

Posted by Jack Crow at March 13, 2011 03:34 PM

I like the car talk guys too. I think if they did the political reporting it would improve.

Posted by N E at March 13, 2011 03:46 PM

I third John and Jack's sentiments.

Posted by pb at March 13, 2011 05:11 PM

The claim that Robert party is a "finger-wagging Democratic shill" is quite an insult to a man who surrendered more than a little professionally because he took the truth seriously enough to have to leave his job, and who has steadfastly refused to be a shill for anyone or anything, especially money. (There's a reason he always needs to ask for contributions.) Parry's strong criticism of Democrats is documented, especially but not only his criticism of the Clintons. People can disagree with his view that voting for Dems is sometimes necessary, but ignoring the problems with not doing so in order to characterize that position as "being a shill" for Democrats is intellectually dishonest. And it doesn't strike me as smart either.

Ironically, I'll argue that attacks like that on Parry effectively make one a shill for the GOP, because attacks on admirable people who have made sacrifices on principle and support the right goals because they dare to disagree with one's own assessment of the real political options creates that sort of factionalism so nicely mocked with the People's Front of Judea skit in Life of Brian. Divide and conquer doesn't just work in foreign countries.

People shouldn't unnecessarily insult those who support the same goals as they do just because they don't agree on what will succeed politically and what won't. Robert Parry can be wrong without being a shill for anyone.

Posted by N E at March 13, 2011 05:34 PM

NPR is just Nice Polite Republicans, that is all. when they get the balls to say the word "torture" i will think twice about how they got scammed by a Republican scammer.

otherwise, they have sown the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind.

i stopped listening to them when they soft pedaled the "Iraq War"

the gall of them/NPR to pretend they are "liberal", lol.

and i have wetlands in West Texas. lol

Posted by Bernard at March 13, 2011 07:24 PM

To offer a counterpoint, I would suggest that making the effort to stick to balanced reporting actually makes NPR one of the more radical news organizations these days. Spin is in. Making an effort to avoid it, and to avoid getting into a shouting match with one's guests, is something I appreciate. I'd rather hear balanced coverage and be left to make up my own mind.

Certainly, NPR's coverage (and apparently management) is far from perfect. Sometimes I would like to hear more depth in a story. Sometimes I would definitely like them to ask more probing questions; they could take a lesson from some of the BBC reporters in this regard. But at other times, NPR is the only place where I hear a certain angle presented.

Posted by Lisa at March 13, 2011 07:32 PM

Balanced reporting is not a very stupid idea. Adhering to it tepidly is. But just because we live in a world where polemic media organizations such as FOX News enjoy depressingly high ratings, it does not mean the rest of the press needs to conduct itself the same way.

Posted by Bill Coffin at March 13, 2011 07:55 PM

I like their jazz blog.

Posted by godoggo at March 13, 2011 09:51 PM

I like the music. I like "This American Life".

As far as I can tell, they are only good for entertainment.

They did bullshit reporting before the illegal invasion of Iraq, and bullshit reporting after that. Not giving them a dime.....

Posted by Susan at March 13, 2011 10:03 PM

"This American Life" is PRI, not NPR. Most good stuff on public radio is actually not NPR.

Posted by vanya at March 13, 2011 10:28 PM

I'm not crazy about NPR but I will say this for them; their on-air fundraisers are less tedious than the ones I've seen for PBS stations.

Posted by grimmy at March 14, 2011 12:29 AM

yeah, "This American Life" is made by PRI, but played on my NPR station.

It also shows up on my iPod.

Posted by Susan at March 14, 2011 01:19 AM

The NPR post seems to pop up about once a year around here, with the same moronic, wingeing comments each time. This time I will take the bait and comment, as I have precious little hair left to pull out anymore.

Although no one seems to get it here, the issue has nothing to do with the left/right paradigm, per se.

Rather, the issues are four-fold.

The primary issue is that, as our "National" radio, the station is structurally incapable of being critical of the government and its standing bi-partisan policies, except in the most limited "mistakes were made" or "in retrospect, we should have employed a different policy" way. In this respect, NPR functions very much like any National media does, as Pravda did in the USSR. It is the voice of the government, but, as indicated by the comments above, far better crafted to appeal to our trust and sensibilities than the "Evil Empire" was ever able to pull off. All the denizens of the old Soviet Union that I knew were bright enough to instinctively distrust their national media.

Second, as Robert McChesney points out, among the ramifications of "impartial professional" reporting as first constructed, taught and sanctioned by Journalism Schools beginning about 100 years ago, was its newfound reliance on official sources for authority. This is far more important than "balanced" reporting, because if elite consensus is "x" say, about an issue, than the only option you will here about is "x." NPR will tell you what both the Democrats and the Republicans think about an issue, and as with "single-payer" health care, they may even inform you that a majority of the public favors this option; then the "appeal to authority" kicks in, and NPR informs us through those same authorities that this option simply is not "realistic."

Third, this elite consensus is corporate consensus. When the Fortune 400 have a greater net wealth than the bottom 60% of the whole country, and their money is invested in corporate ownership, funding the think-tank experts who you hear on NPR, and funding NPR directly through their philanthropies (cf. Michael Barker's work at Swans) and corporations, then that is what you will get: corporate agendas with NPR window dressing. Only those in the deepest stage of self-denial could have trouble with so obvious a point.

Finally, the wealthy who control NPR as outlined above are concerned with expanding their wealth and influence. Therefore, you get a very empire-friendly slant at NPR. Not only will you not hear the views of lefties like Chomsky or Parenti, but you won't hear much from the ur-right, like Chalmers Johnson or Paul Craig Roberts, for instance, who are (were) equally against the military projection of power, and support of corporate power aggrandizement. As Thomas Friedman famously said, "There can be no McDonalds without McDonnell Douglas."

In these four ways, NPR skillfully normalizes the elite controlled corporate view of reality far better than commercial media ever could. Its reality becomes our reality. Intentionally mendacious economic statistics are cheerfully warbled as the bottom falls out for a majority of the country, foreign interventions are justified by a complete disregard for history and context, and Science stands upon the precipice of solving all of our problems -- after all, cancer is caused by genes, as we are told, not industrial pollutants and radiation, silly! It would take the efforts of a small staff to even begin to combat their mendaciousness; Simply put, they lie faster then we can confute them.

Even their cultural programming hews to the above conditions. Are the "car guys" (who I happen to know) ever critical of automobiles and our structural dependence upon them? Of course not! Can "This American Life" ever draw light upon the painful, soul-corroding connection between being American and being complicit with what Martin Luther King called "the greatest purveyor of violence" the world has ever known? -- of course not -- instead it romanticizes being American through dramatizing the inner emotional pathos of individual life, generally as exemplified by the most bizarre of cases. Can any program on NPR seriously treat the tragic fact that humankind is slowly but steadily poisoning the earth one country at a time? Instead we get a soap opera for the sleepwalking, a morality play for the mindless.

As for the quiz show "Wait Wait, don't tell me!" -- well, that's literally what it is: a quiz to see if you got the major propaganda talking points of American Empire for that week properly set into your cranium to parrot back to your co-workers around the watercooler. Don't expect to find anything from Project Censored here. I hate to be cruel, but only the most limited, unquestioning sort of sheep-like moron could find this exercise in structured regurgitation entertaining; it offers nothing more to challenge the soul, heart or mind than Bingo! or "Simon Says" for "grown-ups." In a world with so much information to process, so many important books to read, so many excellent radio programs on Pacifica or Radio4all, is this the best that NPR could come up with? - a '50's era game show, that even more than Seinfeld, is about nothing.

Two additional points to consider about NPR:

They are the single greatest factor responsible for the dearth of intelligent, thoughtful alternative programming on the airwaves, as over the past two decades they have been the primary buyers of college radio station licenses, -- well over 200 and counting -- often using their corporate power to strong-arm college bigwigs behind the scenes. In the Northeast, where I live, it is common to find three separate NPR stations within range, and no alternative voices.

Second, the amount of money they have is extraordinary. It is not unheard of for them to send a crew of three off around the world, at 70k/annum each, spending over five thousand dollars or more for three minutes of "actuality" a week. Nice work if you can get it! It is beyond the scope of this post to deconstruct how the format employed in their programming is emotionally manipulative, and short-circuits any critical thought, so that one often hears every one of their co-workers literally reciting the points they heard on their commute to work as if it were their own considered thoughtful opinion. I'll leave that to the reader to ponder.

By the way, I always used to enjoy Sunday nights in the Boston area where I could hear Elie Weisel pontificating and moralizing on my way home from the in-laws. I'd get out a paper bag and make sure that my system was purged for the coming week.

Rant over. Carry on with the partisan wingeing.

Posted by Malooga at March 14, 2011 05:07 AM

The day I heard them interviewing John Yoo respectfully about his theories that, because it's WAR, the President has the right to rape and eat babies, was the day I resolved to never give them another dime.

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at March 14, 2011 07:36 AM

Malooga, three points--

First, probably like most people here I've read Chomsky and McChesney. None of the substantive points you made were new to me and again, I doubt it came as a surprise to anyone else here either. I've described NPR myself as a radio station meant to give comfort to upper middle class liberals. The tone of voice is calm, soothing, looking down at the world from Mt. Olympus with amused detachment.

Second, the fact that you lump everyone here into the category of "deluded moron" suggests that you have issues, but I won't try to guess what they might be.

Three--I still like the car talk guys. I don't know what their political views are and might be disappointed to learn them, but Iike a lot of people in my real life without necessarily liking their politics.

And actually a fourth point. That was a pretty good summary of what is wrong with NPR, better than I could have written, not because any of it was new to me but because I couldn't have put it together so well (aside from the preening self-righteousness--I'm pretty decent at that.)

Posted by Donald Johnson at March 14, 2011 07:45 AM

John, Jack, and pb - Actually I meant the Robert Parry who routinely writes about the October Surprise case, the Contra-cocaine connection, BCCI, Kissinger's sabotage of the Paris Peace Talks, and about a hundred other important and neglected (or unknown) topics. I guess the Robert Parry you mean must be his cousin or something.

Posted by Aaron Datesman at March 14, 2011 01:33 PM

National Puppet Radio. Federally funded indeed. Don't worry, they won't go hungry. (or go away)

Posted by Mike Meyer at March 14, 2011 02:23 PM

National Puppet Radio. Federally funded indeed. Don't worry, they won't go hungry. (or go away)

Posted by Mike Meyer at March 14, 2011 02:24 PM

Aaron, you might want to read the Parry article I pointed to previously--one of the more fetid bits of left-blaming thanksralphery I've seen recently, in which Parry says the left may have "doomed the future of a livable planet" (in addition to killing millions of people in Iraq and Afghanistan) by voting for someone other than Gore. So at the least you shouldn't be criticizing Jack, since his comment is a very close paraphrase of what Parry wrote. And that kind of left-bashing has become a recurring theme of Parry's these days:

Similarly, some on the Left seemed content to sit in the stands and jeer the politicians on the field, rather than mix it up in a practical fashion to, say, fight for meaningful action on the existential threat from global warming. Some progressives even seem more interested in maintaining their political purity than making the compromises that might help save the planet.

Where have we heard that before? Oh, right:
OBAMA: Now, if that's the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let’s face it, we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are and how tough we are... .

On Parry's journalism, I'd agree he's done good reporting on the topics you mention--and just as I said, those are all primarily Republican misdeeds. For more examples you can follow my link to the list of Parry's books, with titles like "Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush" and "Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq". I can't help but notice a theme there. Or scan through Consortium News' Age of Obama archive for the Parry-bylined items; you'll see plenty of articles attacking and criticizing Republicans, but when Parry's writing about Obama he's either soft-pedaling what he does, blaming Republicans (in whole or in part) rather than Obama, or--at most--offering narrow criticisms that come nowhere near his full-throated attacks on Republicans. Just look at his framing of Obama's choice of Robert Gates: "The rumored appointments of Hillary Clinton at State and Robert Gates at Defense suggest Barack Obama is making the same missteps that tripped up Bill Clinton in his first year, writes Robert Parry". Got that? Clinton was "tripped up"; Obama is making "missteps". And on Afghanistan: "Washington's neocons gloat at their success in goading President Obama into an Afghan War escalation, reports Robert Parry." Again, Obama was "goaded". You'll search long and hard to find a Parry article talking about Bush being tripped up, making missteps, or being goaded into his policy decisions.

So yes, Parry does good journalism, but he's also a committed partisan whose strong Democratic affinity distorts his judgment and therefore seriously undercuts the value of his work, in my view. There are plenty of people out there explaining how and why Republicans Are Bad, but what's sorely lacking are people with the willingness to apply the same standards to both parties.

Posted by John Caruso at March 14, 2011 08:57 PM

It's true that Parry hasn't criticized Dems as harshly as as he has critized GOP figures like either Bush, their many cohorts, or the criminals around them in both administrations, but Parry definitely has criticized Dems, and he has done so by applying consistent standards. He's not a hypocrite; he just doesn't reach the same conclusion about all political issues as his critics here.

Parry is a principled thinker, honest, and brave, especially for a journalist. It's not his fault that the Bush crime family and the rest of the GOP junta has been involved in so many spectacular crimes during his carrer, or that the only political party with any chance of success against them has been craven and corrupt. (If only he had supported Nader!) Parry has amply documented the weakness of many Dems, and if he has held himself back in attacking Obama perhaps it is because he has thought that little good would come of attacking him, since that could play into the hands of the Greaterevildoers. Personally, I tend to think that those who think something good will come of weakening Obama are kidding themselves, but maybe I'm wrong, and at some point it is morally hard to suggest that's not the right course. The thing is, people just shouldn't think the result will be pretty: As Byron wrote, there will be blood. This tragedy does not promise to end well.

Frankly, if those of the left spend their time criticizing admirable people like Robert Parry, pretty soon the best comedians won't even bother to make fun of them any more. And that would be unbearable.

Posted by N E at March 15, 2011 12:10 AM

It seems as if the appropriate question isn't who Parry has attacked and who he hasn't, but whether he's capable of attacking more fundamental questions about the structure of the government, its relationship to industry and capitalists, about the need to change fundamental parts of our style of living, our economics and our social and gender relations; these are the failures of NPR, as highlighted above in many comments, and the question ought to be whether Parry is in any part an answer to them.

Posted by saurabh at March 15, 2011 04:36 AM


I think you have quite smartly hit on the real issue, though I personally wouldn't ask whether Parry is "capable" of that analysis. I don't think he is weak or cowardly, and most of what he has written is excellent and valuable, but I do think he believes our political/economic system can be reformed and that radical changes aren't possible and/or would be disastrous.

My own current view is that real reform must not be possible right now, because it has never really worked well and for the last fifty years has been a bad joke, but I tend to think it's true that radical changes just aren't going to happen anytime soon unless all hell breaks lose because of a world-shattering cactaclysm. Then again, that might not be as far off as we'd like.

As for NPR, I tend to think that their reporting even on a world-shattering cataclysm would try to avoid political controversy.

Posted by N E at March 15, 2011 06:53 AM

...and the question ought to be whether Parry is in any part an answer to them.

That's actually what I'm getting at; as I said in my first comment, I don't think NPR's problems would be remedied in any meaningful way (for myself, anyway) by the addition of Parry. The point about him focusing obsessively on Republicans isn't that there needs to be more Democrat-bashing out there, but that having that filter in place undercuts his ability to analyze what's going on in the world. His blame-the-left article wasn't just offensively facile but fundamentally misguided in multiple ways: the predictable misrepresentation of the 2000 election, of course, but much more so the starry-eyed notions of the wonderful things Gore would have done (which ignored the eight years of concrete evidence we already had about that), particularly on global warming (where Gore's actual record should have been well-known to him), and--especially--the fact that he talked about the "hundreds of thousands" Bush had killed and maimed in Iraq ("including many children") with no awareness or recognition that the Clinton administration had just presided over the death-by-siege-warfare of hundreds of thousands in Iraq, including many children.

Those massive blind spots in his world view are all a result of his political affinity, and they seriously reduce the value of his work for me.

Posted by John Caruso at March 15, 2011 01:28 PM

Yeah, well, massive blind spots certainly do undercut one's ability to analyze what's going on in the world, but calling people facile and starry-eyed and misguided isn't analysis. Gore wouldn't have been great, but it's hard for me to believe that he would have taken us to where we are now even with the horrific Lieberman in tow.

Posted by N E at March 15, 2011 02:37 PM

It's hard to believe that one of the boosters and architects of the child murdering Iraqi no-fly zone wouldn't have followed his Clinton era policies to their logical conclusion?

Posted by Jack Crow at March 15, 2011 05:15 PM

Jack Crow

Good point. Starving children isn't better than bombing them, but it was easier and less daring. Maybe Gore could have been maneuvered into aggression the way LBJ was, but I don't think he'd have gotten to the logical conclusion so eagerly, if at all. In fact, the logical conclusion still lies ahead, so we're probably going to need mistah charley's blessing.

Posted by N E at March 15, 2011 09:28 PM

NE: Killing kids is just policy, OUR policy. Its what U&I PAY for. WE got 2 in Afghanistan just yesterday and 9 a couple of days ago. Ya git whut ya PAY 4.

Posted by Mike Meyer at March 15, 2011 10:44 PM