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In Defense of NPR

Consider an America without public media. Consider a society where the distortions and dissembling would go unchallenged, where fact-based reporting is eliminated.

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If you would like to see how this integrity is upheld, go to the NPR web site and pull up any of its reporting since 2009 on the Tea Party movement. Read the transcripts or listen to its coverage - you will find it impartial and professional, a full representation of various points of view, pro and con. Further, examine how, over the past few days, NPR has covered the O'Keefe/Schiller contretemps and made no attempt to cover up or ignore its own failings and responsibilities.

Then reverse the situation and contemplate how, say, Fox News would handle a similar incident if it were the target of a sting. Would its coverage be as "fair and balanced" as NPR's? Would Fox apologize or punish an outspoken employee if he or she demeaned liberals? Don't kid yourself. A raise and promotion would be more likely. Think of the fortune Glenn Beck has made on Fox spewing bile and lies about progressives and their "conspiracies."

And oh yes, something else: remember what Fox News chief Roger Ailes said about NPR executives after they fired Fox contributor Juan Williams? "They are, of course, Nazis," Ailes told an interviewer. "They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don't want any other point of view." When the Anti-Defamation League objected to the characterization, Ailes apologized but then described NPR as "nasty, inflexible" bigots.

Double standard? You bet. A fundraiser for NPR is axed for his own personal bias and unprofessionalism, but Ailes gets away scot-free, still running a news division that is constantly pumping arsenic into democracy's drinking water while he slanders public radio as equal to the monsters and murderers of the Third Reich.

Sure, public broadcasting has made its share of mistakes, and there have been times when we who practice our craft under its aegis have been less than stalwart in taking a stand and speaking truth to power. We haven't always served well our original mandate to be "a forum for debate and controversy," or to provide "a voice for groups in the community that may be otherwise unheard," or helped our viewers and listeners "see America whole, in all its diversity." But for all its flaws, consider an America without public media. Consider a society where the distortions and dissembling would go unchallenged, where fact-based reporting is eliminated, and where the field is abandoned to the likes of O'Keefe, whose "journalism" relies on lying and deceit.

We agree with Joel Meares, who, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, expressed the wish that NPR had stood up for itself and released a statement close to the following: "Ron Schiller was a fundraiser who no longer works for us. He had nothing to do with our editorial decision making process. And, frankly, our editorial integrity speaks for itself. We've got reporters stationed all over the world, we've won all sorts of prizes, we've got an ombudsman who is committed to examining our editorial operations. If you think our reporting is tainted, or unreliable, that's your opinion, and you're free to express it. And to look for the evidence. But we will not be intimidated by the elaborate undercover hackwork of vindictive political point-scorers who are determined to see NPR fail."

That's our cue. Come on, people: Speak up!

Bill Moyers is the host of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS .

 
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