If the resignations at National Public Radio continue at last week's pace, there may be no need for Congress to defund the aging dinosaur, because there will be no one left there to turn the lights on.
The latest is Betsy Liley, NPR's director of institutional giving. Conservative activist James O'Keefe secretly recorded phone conversations between Liley and a man masquerading as a potential donor from a fictitious group called the Muslim Education Action Center, which the man said had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The fake donor said his group was worried about a government audit. Liley told him that a $5 million contribution might not have to be reported to the IRS. Liley has been placed on administrative leave.
This incident followed the resignation of Vivian Schiller, NPR's president and CEO, and Ronald Schiller (no relation), another NPR fundraiser, who was caught on video calling tea party members "seriously racist." Ronald Schiller also said, "Speaking of Zionist influence at NPR: I don't actually find it at NPR. ... No. I mean it's there in those who own newspapers, obviously; but no one owns NPR."
All of this is damning enough, but it begs the larger question of whether in a multimedia age the federal government should subsidize a network that could stand on its own if it wanted to. The same people who are quick to allege bias when it comes to Fox News and talk radio are just as quick to defend NPR from liberal bias, claiming NPR is, to borrow a phrase, "fair and balanced."
The problem for NPR and other media is not only bias, but also blindness. Large numbers of Americans believe NPR and the broadcast networks are hostile to their beliefs. Rather than address that justified perception, the media deny what to their conservative critics is obvious.
NPR's interim CEO, Joyce Slocum, told the Associated Press, "I think if anyone believes that NPR's coverage is biased in one direction or another, all they need to do to correct that misperception is turn on their radio or log onto their computer and listen or read for an hour or two. What they will find is balanced journalism that brings all relevant points of view to an issue and covers it in depth so that people understand the subtlety and the nuance."
Space keeps me from listing all the examples of NPR's left-wing bias. Here are a few, courtesy of the Media Research Center (www.mrc.org). Rebutting the Republican rebuttal to the State of the Union address, "NPR's John Ydstie tried to claim both conservative and liberal economists disagreed with Paul Ryan on the notion there was a 'failed stimulus.'" That's called picking only those economists who reinforce your point of view and not naming them. It's like reporting, "some people say..."
Also according to the MRC, "The NPR weekend game show, 'Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me!' did a mock interview using George W. Bush soundbites from his book tour to present him as a drunk in the White House." And, "NPR's Neda Ulaby set out to criticize conservative critics of the National Portrait Gallery's "Hide/Seek" exhibit of LGBT art, and included zero conservatives in her piece."
In 1993, I wrote a column about comments made by Washington Post reporter Michael Weisskopf, who claimed that evangelicals were "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command." When some of them flooded the newspaper with their educational and professional bona fides, Weisskopf said he meant to say that "most" evangelicals were "poor, uneducated and easy to command." That triggered more protests. The Post ombudsman at the time, Joann Byrd, tried to defend Weisskopf, saying that readers needed to understand most journalists don't know any of "these people."
And the big media wonder why they are losing audience, money and credibility.
Contact Thomas, a syndicated columnist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.