Short Take: Repeal NPR

National Public Radio, or “npr” as it currently styles itself, was created by an act of Congress in 1967. Its purpose was to provide a channel through which higher culture could be provided the public that might never see daylight otherwise, for it wouldn’t enjoy the popularity of a sitcom or a Big Mac. Its purpose was to “constitute an expression of diversity and excellence” for “all the citizens of the Nation,” to take “creative risks” and “addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences, particularly children and minorities.”

NPR appears to have taken this mission to heart.

NPR rolled out a substantial update to its ethics policy earlier this month, expressly stating that journalists may participate in activities that advocate for “the freedom and dignity of human beings” on both social media and in real life.

The new policy eliminates the blanket prohibition from participating in “marches, rallies and public events,” as well as vague language that directed NPR journalists to avoid personally advocating for “controversial” or “polarizing” issues.

No reasonable person would argue that it’s wrong to advocate for the freedom and dignity of human beings. Many reasonable people will disagree about what that means.

The new NPR policy reads, “NPR editorial staff may express support for democratic, civic values that are core to NPR’s work, such as, but not limited to: the freedom and dignity of human beings, the rights of a free and independent press, the right to thrive in society without facing discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, disability, or religion.”

This was a policy created by committee, as should be apparent by its combination of lofty rhetoric and internal conflicts. Does the “dignity of human beings” include the views of those who believe that life begins at conception, that a fetus is entitled to dignity? Does a “free and independent press” mean that they should support the promiscuous use of the “N-word” as protected by the First Amendment? And how will they simultaneously condemn discrimination on the basis of sexual identity and religion when they have the inevitable head-on crash?

This pressure on news companies to allow their journalists a wider berth to participate in civic activities has been building over the years, particularly as social media has made direct engagement with audiences — sometimes rich, sometimes messy — part of the day-to-day workflow. As social justice causes took to the platforms, journalists were often caught in a new gray area between longtime professional practices and mores around personal communication. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, a younger generation of journalists pushed NPR to modify its traditional prohibitions.

“Our goal was to make NPR a place that employees felt they could be themselves at work, and they wouldn’t have to be one version of themselves outside of work and another version at work,” said Alex Goldmark, senior supervising producer for Planet Money and co-chair of the 22-member committee that handled the revision.

If this all sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because NPR is facing the same demands as private media, the rationalizations for “moral clarity” rather than the “false god” of objectivity. On the journalistic side, the contention is that there is no such thing as true or perfect objectivity, so any claim to objectivity is a lie. On the personal side, journalists believe themselves entitled to be “authentic,” meaning that they need only report the news as it aligns with “their truth.”

The question isn’t whether this is right or wrong, good or bad. My view has long been that even if perfect objectivity can’t be achieved (which I’m not entirely sure is correct), that doesn’t mean journalists should quit trying, cry “fuck it” and take a deep dive into their personal bias.

The question is, if NPR, established by an act of Congress and funded to some extent with public monies, can no longer see its way to providing objective journalism, untainted by the emotions of the moment, then it no longer has a reason to exist, at least as far as journalism is concerned.

Show operas. This Old House. Some cooking shows and Downton Abbey. But if your reporters demand their right to be publicly biased, and when your ethical perspective allows tainted reporting to infiltrate your content, then NPR has no justification to continue in the news business. There’s no reason to publicly fund National Partisan Radio. There’s no shortage of that already.

29 thoughts on “Short Take: Repeal NPR

  1. John Barleycorn

    Or better yet, incorporate opera and the “news”…

    It was destiny from the start!

    Simple operatic truth…

    P.S. Howl, I know you got some Peter Grimes cuts in ya… ~The more vicious the society, the more vicious the individual~

  2. Rxc

    They have become “The Relative Truth”.

    And they are one of those evil “corporations” that they constantly deplore.

  3. F. Lee Billy

    There you go again, dumping on one of the greatest news organizations the 🌎 has ever known, second only to the N.Y. Times. You cannot be serious. Am never coming here again. You are a terrible human being.

      1. Elpey P.

        No fair I put that up for about 5 seconds to explain why I deleted the first comment. You’re amazingly quick. And ha ha.

        At first glance I thought they were chasing the trend and dumping sex from the list of categories of discrimination they claim to care about now that gender is paramount. But they do (sort of) include it. However it’s the only one they qualify with the word “identity” to allow for subjective interpretation, and they’ve dumped any specific reference to sexual orientation because that just messes everything up now.

  4. Jackson

    Would repealing the law change anything? The bill was for its recreation, repealing it doesn’t unmake what is now a non-profit organization.

  5. Hunting Guy

    Damn. First you support the landlords, then stick swords into the sacred cow that’s NPR and castigate mush head wanna be lawyers.

    Winston S. Churchill supposedly once observed that “Anyone who was not a liberal at 20 years of age had no heart, while anyone who was still a liberal at 40 had no head. “

    I guess you have really gone over to the “dark side.”

    Welcome. We have maple bacon donuts in the break area.

    When will you start selling MAGA merchandise on your blog?

  6. L. Phillips

    Or, in the alternative, make them a for profit with no governmental support or affiliation and turn them loose in the wild. That would be instructive.

      1. L. Phillips

        Don’t really care as long as their hand isn’t in my pocket.

        (Go ahead, run with that one. I’m feeling generous so it’s a freebie.)

  7. Paleo

    No. Defund NPR.

    And replace them with a more community based form of broadcasting that includes social workers and someone trained to broadcast specifically to children and the mentally unbalanced.

    After all, the most effective way to fix bad radio listening habits is to attack them at their source.

  8. Steve

    You know government money doesn’t constitute a significant part of NPR’s funding right? In 2017, it was 4% including federal, state, and local government.

    1. Rengit

      Maybe the executors for the estate of Joan Kroc, who left nearly a quarter billion to NPR over 15 years ago because she considered public radio to be a vital public good and serve an important public purpose, should try to get back that money. Because the current hei-, excuse me, employees, are behaving like trust fund kids who think their job should “be a place where they can be themselves” and write about whatever they want in whatever manner they choose, blowing through the money as if it will never run out.

  9. Jorge Reyes

    Matt Taibbi recently recently wrote a scathing piece on NPR, and this from an anti-Trump, lefty minority member journalist.

    NPR has not run a piece critical of Democrats since Christ was a boy. Moreover, much like the New York Times editorial page (but somehow worse), the public news leader’s monomaniacal focus on “race and sexuality issues” has become an industry in-joke. For at least a year especially, listening to NPR has been like being pinned in wrestling beyond the three-count. Everything is about race or gender, and you can’t make it stop. – Matt Taibbi

    1. SHG Post author

      Your tenacious defense of your tribe, no matter what nonsense it compels you to utter, is admirable in an odd way.

      1. Sgt. Schultz

        I, too, admire Jake’s tenacity, but only because of his ability to attempt to be snarky while never being remotely coherent.

  10. Hal

    Scott,

    I understand that links are verboten, but am including this for your own amusement/ edification;

    https://www.npr.org/2021/01/24/960060957/understanding-multiracial-whiteness-and-trump-supporters

    For the readership at large, I’ll just suggest that googling “NPR” and “multi-racial whiteness” and read Lourdes Garcia-Navarro interview Catherine Beltran about the concept; “that whiteness is actually better understood as a political project that has emerged historically”. And here I thought it described a color.

    La Beltran also describes “the difficulty sometimes in trying to kind of explain what whiteness is as an ideology”. A sentiment with which I can empathize as I’ve had a similar difficulty in trying to explain dampness as an economic policy.

    The whole thing reads like satire, but I’m fairly sure this is unintentional.

    If you choose not to post any of this and wish to mine this vein (it’s a rich one one, though to mix metaphors probably “low hanging fruit” which you might disdain to go after) for some future slow morning I will not only understand, but look forward to reading.

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