Media watcher Howard Kurtz is generally a keen observer of how the media works, but his piece in Newsweek about National Public Radio’s troubles shows that for all of his smarts, the longtime Washington Post/CNN figure is still too far inside the Beltway to understand why the network is viewed as a government-funded jobs program for liberal journalists.
According to Kurtz, NPR’s problems can be put down to bad, inarticulate management that has wrongly allowed it to be put on the defensive. All the talk about the liberal bias of the network is just so much hooey, says Kurtz who approvingly quotes a number of hardworking NPR journalists claiming that they are accused of being too conservative as often as they are called liberals. That may be true but it just shows that a lot of those who listen to the left-leaning NPR would probably be comfortable with the even more radical Radio Pacifica and other far left outlets that do, in fact, make NPR look fairly moderate. The fact that a liberal stalwart like Congressman Henry Waxman thinks NPR is “objective” illustrates how off-kilter the network’s political compass really is.
Kurtz approvingly cites figures such as Ira Glass, the host of the network’s insufferable show “This American Life,” as saying that NPR’s leaders should speak up about how “superpopular” it is. Their point is that the quality of NPR’s programming is so high that it needs no defense. It is true that some of the news reports one might encounter on an NPR station are examples of good journalism. But, like the quality news reporting that is broadcast on FOX News when it is not airing the opinions of conservative talkers like O’Reilly and Hannity, this is beside the point. The embarrassing incidents involving Juan Williams and the sting interview of the network’s chief fundraiser are, contrary to the belief of Kurtz and the NPR stalwarts he quotes, not the real problem. They are merely the symbols of the widely perceived bias of the organization.
Whether NPR’s news product is great or terrible isn’t the issue. Like many newspapers and other broadcast outlets, NPR appeals to a certain group of listeners, many of whom are entirely comfortable with the prejudiced frame of reference that often characterizes its coverage. It may not be what everybody likes, but so what? The point is, why should this particular brand of journalism, whether it is good or bad, blessed with a large audience or a small one, be subsidized by the government? If it is as good and as popular as its fans claim, then it will survive in the marketplace the same as any other station, either via sponsorships or the donations of people like George Soros who already gave it $1.8 million.
Until NPR fans like Kurtz can come up with a coherent rationale for government-funded liberal broadcasting instead of merely parroting the network’s praise for itself, the momentum behind the drive to defund it will continue to grow. The fact that he and his friends at the network are so baffled by taxpayer resentment at the public subsidies for what is nothing more than a publicly funded liberal sinecure, speaks volumes about the sense of elitist entitlement that is so deep-seated in Washington insiders.