The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The NPR kerfluffle

I'm about to turn in, but I thought this email from Chicago Public Radio that I just received noteworthy:

From: Torey Malatia, President and CEO of Chicago Public Media

Re: News from NPR

I’m writing this to you because you’re an investor in our work here at WBEZ, Chicago Public Media. We are entirely responsible to you, being a community-owned and governed public media institution.

I realize that National Public Radio has been in the news over the last two days.

NPR is a separate organization from us, of course. As a result, no one here has any more details about what has taken place than anyone else. We know what has been reported. But National Public Radio remains the nation’s premier producer of news programs that are sold to independent stations like us, so I wanted to pass on some reflections, and assurances to you about editorial standards.

This incident has resulted in considerable embarrassment for NPR—which is characterized by some as being biased against conservatives—and fueled the push for the defunding of Federal appropriation for the annual operating budgets of public radio and television stations.

This Federal appropriation supports stations, not producing companies like NPR and PRI. But, as I pointed out in a previous email to you, this hasn't stopped those who are advocating for the elimination of federal funding to misinform the debate by holding NPR’s perceived failings up as a reason for cutting support.

Here’s what I want to leave you with. We are aware that this story—along with Juan Williams’ firing, also by NPR some months ago—is being used as evidence by detractors that public broadcast stations are unworthy of federal support.

Do we think that a manager at NPR should have made a political stand publicly? Definitely not. Under no circumstances should a manager representing a product that is bought by public media stations offer his political point of view publicly.

The outcome may be that federal dollars no longer help support public stations.

But such distractions will not alter what is fact. As community institutions, public radio and television stations produce a great deal of the journalism practiced today that is worthy of the name.

Our staff here at WBEZ is rigorous in adhering to principles of fairness, thoroughness, and verification. Chicago Public Media is an institution devoted to fact-based journalism.

And I can tell you from the many times we have been fortunate enough to work directly with NPR journalists that those reporters and editors in Washington are also passionately devoted to well researched, detailed, fair reporting.

Public media journalism is not ordinary; it must be extraordinary. It doesn't see things in a common way, but in an uncommon, and potentially revealing way.

Journalism should function to expose and socialize issues, not to force agreement. Citizens can understand each other without agreeing with each other. They can find common ground without becoming of one mind.

Public media journalism rejects the notion of dualities. Human issues are complex. Thoughtful participation in a democracy requires us to at least understand multiple viewpoints of potentially equal validity. Some of these views we may never be able to embrace, but we should try to understand them as much as possible or we will never find common ground.

Our commitment to you is to produce our work—on the air, online, through our public events—in ways that advance journalism in our community as an extraordinary, uncommon public service.

Thank you,
Torey Malatia

My response:

I'm a Leadership Circle member because WBEZ provides the best local, national, and international news that a confirmed participant in the evidence-based community can hope for. NPR management screwed up the politics; crap. I wish they hadn't. But I have no desire to reduce my support for WBEZ nor for NPR.

The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan today blogged about the difference between bias and propaganda. Does NPR have a bias? Does WBEZ? Of course. But both organizations work hard to present a fair and balanced view of the world. Other media, in particular those whose mottoes suggest fairness and balance, work hard to present their owners' views of the world irrespective of evidence. WBEZ management should trust that those of us who consistently support the station can tell the difference.

I'm unhappy with the NPR's self-inflicted wounds over the past few months, but I also know all organizations suffer institutional stupidity sometimes. Vivian Schiller did the right thing falling on her sword, as much as I hate to say it. But not for a moment did I think--nor did any other WBEZ donor who paid attention--that this reflected on Chicago Public Radio.

Consider this: what motive could large commercial interests have in choking off support for journalism? Not just NPR, but other organizations (the AP, the New York Times, even Al Jazeera). What motive could these commercial interests have in dissuading people from looking closely at the intertwining of government and business, in the spreading fjord between the wealthy and everyone else, in the perpetual sustenance of the military-industrial complex, in the ongoing assault on teachers?

Does NPR have a leftish bias? You betcha. Do they promote a leftish agenda? No. Because if they turned their bias into advocacy, their entire membership would demand they return to their journalistic roots. If you think we members don't know the difference, you should ask Juan Williams, who played politics so well most people outside the evidence-based community don't seem to care how much he deserved to get fired.

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