Sunday :: Jun 13, 2004

Whither Goes NPR?

by Mary

The other day larre had an interesting post in one of the comment threads that had some questions about what Bob Edwards’ ouster means for NPR. I must admit that although I had been somewhat surprised by the announcement that Bob Edwards was leaving Morning Edition, the story I was hearing from NRP (in their newsletters) was pretty innocuous. I was sad to see him go, but didn’t spend too much time thinking about it.

I’ve been a big fan of NPR for years and became a passionate supporter during the Gulf War I period when it seemed like they were a voice of reason in the midst of all the happy war talk and the right wing radio was calling for nuking Iraq off the map. Yet, now, during the lead up and execution of Gulf War II, I’ve been considerably less happy with some of their coverage. (Anne Garrels is a distinct exception and she deserves kudos for her reporting during the first part of the Iraq war. She is a truly professional journalist and in my mind never sounded like a mouthpiece of CentCom or Saddam.) One person that I was less than impressed with has been Steve Inskeep who I found was overly solicitous of the Bush administration’s arguments.

Needless to say, I wasn’t pleased to see that Inskeep was replacing the venerable Bob Edwards. Now after going through larre’s post, I’m wondering if we might be seeing the gradual decline of NPR into another variant of the corrupt and sycophantic media that we have more than enough of already.

Here’s larre’s post. Read it and let us know what you think.

By larre

It's been more than a month since pencil heads Kevin Klose and Ken Stern, who escaped to National Public Radio from their propagadist jobs at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty pushed popular and award-winning Morning Edition host Bob Edwards out the studio door and hung a sign around his neck reading 'senior correspondent'.

Edwards, as most know, is the author of several books including the most recently published title, Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism. He is the 1999 recipient of the Peabody Award for excellence in journalism and multiple others including the Edward R. Murrow Award and the Douglas Edwards Award.

Tens of thousands of loyal NPR listeners were outraged when Edwards was demoted or fired. They didn't hesitate to tell NPR administrators how dumb this move was.... Petitions ... message boards ... entire web sites ... and blogs to which I myself have contributed have been springing up everywhere.

One radio veteran reacted in a letter to outraged listeners this way:

'It was postured as a move to help NPR respond to the changing needs of public radio listeners,' Jim King, director of radio at WVXU in Cincinnati, wrote to his listeners. 'Since 'Morning Edition's' audience has more than doubled in the last decade and I've heard not one member complain about Bob's on-air sound, I stand in utter amazement that this was the initial reason given. . . . In my mind, it makes absolutely no sense to take the man, the voice, the identity of NPR's most popular program and usher him out of the anchor's chair.'

When Edwards was cashiered there were many who suspected it was because of a candid and thoughtful anti-war commencement address he had given at the University of Kentucky some time earlier. I have no opinion about this speculation, but after learning of it I went searching for the full text of the speech and discovered that extant copies on the 'Net were mysteriously disappearing even as I returned to look at them. So I archived the last available copy I could find at Daily Kos.

Ironically, what is clear is that the change was made possible by a historic bequest of Joan Kroc, the McDonald's heiress. Not that Joan Kroc would have enjoyed seeing Edwards fired -- one suspects quite the contrary. But a number of newspaper reports, including this one in the Philadelphia Inquirer (free subscription required) are suggestive that her gift nevertheless has been seized upon as the catalyst:

'When [NPR executives] talk of NPR's future, they talk of increasing news coverage, providing more context at a time when broadcasters are cutting back on world affairs. NPR, with a $200 million gift from the late Joan B. Kroc, has the ability to fill the void.'

Except, as it turns out, listeners are noticing that Morning Edition actually has been lightening up on its hard news the last month or so and filling the air with more weightless 'human interest' features and faster-talking conservative 'commentators' who do double-duty at Fox TV, like Mara Liasson and Juan Williams.

When NPR first announced Edwards' dismissal, it was claimed 'Beginning in May 2004, NPR's Steve Inskeep will co-host the program from Washington, DC, and NPR's Renee Montagne will share hosting duties from the NPR West studios in Culver City.' Renee Montagne has been little heard from of late, however. In any event, no one has yet to explain why an early morning news and feature program that depends on multiple far-flug correspondents and interviewees is improved rather than needlessly complicated by a dual-coast hosting arrangement. (It puts me in mind of the Chicago Cubs' disastrous experiment with the College of Coaches and likely will come to the same ugly ending.)

As Emerson put it, sometimes 'money costs too much'.

The story NPR is sure never to cover now looks to be getting bigger and more interesting. FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) has just released an updated study of NPR. The findings are disturbingly suggestive:

FAIR’s study recorded every on-air source quoted in June 2003 on four National Public Radio news shows: All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition Saturday and Week-end Edition Sunday. Each source was classified by occupation, gender, nationality and partisan affiliation. Altogether, the study counted 2,334 quoted sources, featured in 804 stories.

* * *

Elite sources dominated NPR’s guest-list. These sources—including government officials, professional experts and corporate representatives—accounted for 64 percent of all sources

* * *

Sources identified as workers on NPR programming in June accounted for 2.3 percent of overall sources and 1.8 percent of U.S. sources. But spokespersons for organized labor were almost invisible, numbering just six sources, or 0.3 percent of the total.

* * *

Women were dramatically underrepresented on NPR in 1993 (19 percent of all sources), and they remain so today (21 percent).

* * *

Looking at partisan sources—including government officials, party officials, campaign workers and consultants—Republicans outnumbered Democrats by more than 3 to 2 (61 percent to 38 percent). A majority of Republican sources when the GOP controls the White House and Congress may not be surprising, but Republicans held a similar though slightly smaller edge (57 percent to 42 percent) in 1993, when Clinton was president and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. And a lively race for the Democratic presidential nomination was beginning to heat up at the time of the 2003 study.

Tellingly, NPR's own ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, admits, 'The FAIR study seems about right to me with a couple of exceptions.'

So it would appear from Morning Edition changes that NPR, already overly weighted with Republican white males and conservative think tankers, is only going to get worse.

As for Bob Edwards, he's currently on a new book tour. Understandably, he's considering leaving NPR, as he told the Seattle Times. The interview, however, includes this intriguing -- and, for one who cares about NPR, alarming -- excerpt:

Q. Have you considered other jobs outside of NPR?
A. I'm listening. I think I owe it to myself and my family to listen.
Q. [More awkward silence.] Ah, well, I guess you're in kind of a sensitive spot.
A. I'm in an extremely sensitive spot. And someday I can tell you how sensitive, but I can't tell you now.

Now, who or what in Washington do you suppose might cause Mr. Edwards to feel he's been put in an "extremely sensitive spot"?

[Ed: Thanks, larre. This was a brilliant and timely post.]

Mary :: 6:58 PM :: Comments (11) :: Digg It!