Why I Hate NPR

June 2005


Life's disappointments come in all shapes and sizes. Some of the most disappointing are in the form of things we hoped would be better, but which remain sadly mediocre. In that category, I put National Public Radio (NPR).

Many people are surprised when I am critical of National Public Radio (NPR). It is, after all, a "liberal media" icon. People like Susan Stamberg, Daniel Zwerdling, Nina Totenberg, and others, are usually portrayed as being among the best of American journalists. I do not disagree, but I do sometimes wonder how journalists of their caliber can continue working at NPR.

A case in point. This morning, NPR was doing one of their quirky stories about old growth forests and how they might be important for national defense because of some mushrooms. Being in favor of conservation, I was glad to hear about even a far-fetched reason that might convince war hawks, and those not normally concerned with conservation, of its importance. Not that it would really work, but it was a cute angle. But then came the usual NPR punch line: while talking about smallpox as a biological weapon that might be used by terrorists, the expert interviewed said, “While smallpox was eradicated, decades ago, the Russians and others kept stockpiles of smallpox in their biological weapons programs.”

While this statement was true, it left out a really big and important detail. The number one maker and stockpiler of smallpox as a biological agent was (and is) the United States government. When the U.S. went through the Anthrax scare, it was a strain of anthrax, and a method of preparation for delivery, developed by our own military that was used. I do not wish to suggest that the U.S. was directly responsible for the incidents, but only to remind my reader that the technology was (and is) our baby.

"The Russians, and others" indeed! If I were writing a textbook on how to use the truth to lie, I could use this as one of my examples. NPR is full of this sort of backhanded lying and intentional distortion and it is, most surprisingly, almost always, to the benefit of conservatives. Just listen to their analysis reports. Almost without exception, they quote experts from the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, or any of a dozen other archconservative think tanks. Listen for a week and note down the number of times that they cite experts from any source that is as far to the left as the Hoover Institute is to the right.

So, I'm disappointed in NPR. Now I don't really care if the guy down the road from my house is a John Bircher or Christian Scientist. That's his business. But when a close friend or relative turns into a Mooney or a Ditto Head, I feel much more personally perturbed. I feel as if I have failed them in not preventing them from that level of idiocy. I feel that way about NPR, too.

There are plenty of folks on the radio I don’t care for who lie and distort the truth, but I don’t really mind when they do it. They have their right to speak freely. I do mind it when NPR does it because somehow I feel that they ought to refrain from that kind of thing. Some of my disgust arises from the fact that they're lying to me with my own money.

I'm mad at our national government for doing this, too. But the current administration didn't come into power with a promise to be impartial or fair. Nobody who was rational expected this from Bush, Cheney, or Rumsfeld.

The worst part is that, NPR used to be better -- that is to say, less politically aligned. It's like watching a good friend or your brother slowly become a drunk or a literalist Christian. You can argue, you can assault, you can comfort, but gradually he slips into a fog and he's lost to you... you still see some occasional flashes of who he used to be, but mostly he's gone.

Well, sometimes drunks or literal Christians reform and come back to rationality and real life, and I hope NPR undergoes such a change someday.

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