Sunday, March 12, 2006

From NPR news in Washington, this is ...Rush Limbaugh?

I love NPR. On weekdays, I get about 3 to 4 hours of it per day. On Saturday- about 8 to 12 hours, no joke. I think I know the names of all the hosts, commentators, reporters, editors, and can recognize all their voices. The thing is, I used to listen to right wing AM radio as of about 2 years ago. Why did I make the switch? I still consider myself to be a pretty conservative republican, so no change in politics can account for it. What did it for me is the format. After listening to NPR for about a year, I tried to go back to regular commercial radio and it drove me nuts. I like how the NPR programs operate. They talk in normal voices (I used to call them NPR voices). There's no arguing with the guests or callers (for the most part- like one time Ira Flato had John Grisham on and was pretty rude to him, but that's a rare exception). They find stories to report on that you don't find anywhere else. They interview pretty high profile guests. There are no commercials. The list goes on.

There is however one thing I don't like about it, and yes, you guessed it. There IS a liberal bias. A friend who also listens to NPR once asked me if I had ever noticed a bias- because he hadn't. I said yes, but since then I've really tried to pay attention to see if I can distinguish actual bias from my knee jerk reaction to any story that reports unfavorably on conservatives. During that time I've come to the conclusion that, yes, there is.

Now here's my take on it: that's not necessarily bad. You can't avoid bias. We're human. I don't think you can ever look at something truly objectively. That's ok, I don't mind that- as I've said I'm still a dedicated listener in spite of it. But is it good for a publicly funded media outlet like NPR to consistently lean one way? Why not in addition to a commentary three times a week by Daniel Schorr we also have one by George Will or Rich Lowry or Bill Buckley. As far as I know there is no conservative editorial on All Things Considered or Morning Edition at all. Its mostly done by Shorr. How about on Dianne Rehm's weekly news roundup we have 2 conservatives and 1 liberal instead of the opposite- which actually makes 3 liberals beating up on 1 conservative who usually gets cut off by Rehm in the middle of his argument anyway. How about just getting rid of Brooke Gladstone altogether and replacing her with Ann Coulter- both have sarcasm as palpable as feta cheese, and logic just as crumbly.

I've mentioned the moral reason (and possibly legal reason) for introducing a little more balance in NPR personnel (ie: public funding should = a more accurate representation of the public's political and social ideology), but there is a more pragmatic reason. It seems to me that the mission of NPR is to educate the audience, to better them, to get them to think and create intellectually honest and openminded listeners. Introducing conservative commentators would advance this goal in two ways. First, it would introduce the vastly (no numbers here, just my hunch) liberal audience to well thought out and reasoned conservative thought as opposed to the conservative babble on talk radio and Fox News shout fests that they see as the only voice of conservatism. That just might induce liberal listeners to finally think critically about conservative ideas as opposed to outright dismissing them as backward, only espoused by mindless evangelicals or toothless country hicks. Second (and possibly more importantly from NPR's financial perspective), it just might lure conservatives away from the popular ear plug inducing talk radio programs. It would broaden the listener base considerably. It would introduce those conservatives to well thought out liberal ideas as opposed to the mindless mush that moveon.org throws onto TV commercials denouncing Sam Alito. It would make better conservatives. It would make better liberals.

From NPR news in Washington, I'm Nick Webb

5 comments:

Jenny said...

I am so glad that we are listening to 8-12 hours of NPR on Saturdays rather than 8-12 hours of Rush and Co. It soothes my nerves ...

But as for the political bias--I don't know. I think part of my problem is that, even being married to Mr. Politics himself, I just can't seem to get that interested or excited about the whole mess, left or right. I know that I should be involved, but honestly it's just one of those things I have a hard time caring about. That sounds awful. I should clarify, but I won't do that here. Anyway, since politics are not at the top of my list, I don't pay much attention to the possibility of political bias on NPR. I enjoy the fact that they don't shout, and I generally find the content interesting. And Lucy really likes listening to The World.

I'll never think about feta cheese the same way ...

Jenny said...

Nick, I've been listening to NPR today trying to discern instances of genuine bias. I still don't know what to listen for. Can you listen today and give me some recent examples?

Nick said...

The only thing I got to listen to so far was the Diane Rehm show. The first hour was non-political. It was about how americans use different rooms in their homes and how that has evolved. That is one thing I really like about her show is that half the time its about non-political subjects that are just fun and interesting to listen to. The second hour though, she committed the classic "Rehm"- She had on three guests, one of whom was General Wesley Clark, another was (what appeared to me) a left leaning columnist Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the washington post, and a right leaning guy from the American Enterprise Institute (I think it was Thomas Donnelly).
When she has a panel of guests, invariably it will ALWAYS have two left leaning and one right leaning people. With her as a left leaning moderator, that basically makes three against one in terms of political ideology. Now, today wasn't so bad, they had a very frank and realistic discussion about Iraq. But how she conducts the discussion is indicative as to her political leanings. Rajiv Posited that there IS a civil war in Iraq. Clark semi-agreed. Donnelly acknowledged that some people think that, but said he didn't want to get drawn into that debate. The idea that there is an active civil war raging in Iraq is a consistent talking point of the liberal democratic left. A neutral moderator would have called Rajiv on it and ask him to defend his claim. That did not happen. Rehm is very consistent with this- never calling her liberal guests on their claims of fact, but just going along with it while constantly interrupting her right leaning guests and consistently questioning anything they say. As I said, it was not as bad today, but just wait until the news roundup this friday.

I dare her to actually bring on 2 conservatives and one fellow liberal for a talk panel. She wouldn't dare. To date I've never seen her do it. Why? Because people like being in control, in the majority. If she was truly an inpartial host you would see more right leaning guests, and both liberals and conservatives would be questioned more critically.

morgan said...

I don't really know about all that liberal/conservative stuff (okay, maybe I know some). All I know is that I LOVE Car Talk on NPR. It's pretty much the funniest thing on any form of media during the week. Alison likes it also.

Jared said...

I agree with Nick that NPR is a little left-leaning, although it certainly isn't as bad as a lot of other media when it comes to that (anybody remember Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher?).

But you know, sometimes I like reading/listening to liberal media because it helps me think outside my personal box. I tend to lean conservatively, and I tend to interpret my news likewise. Sometimes I like hearing a liberal take on things--this helps me to either rationalize my point of view and solidify it in logic or it helps me to understand why I may be wrong (I do recognize that I don't have all the answers). NPR is a good resource for helping me do this because it leans just slightly to the left, and often they do provide counter-balancing views to those of the anchors.