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NPR freaks out its own listeners

I occasionally get email asking me if I don't wonder about the mental faculties of people who watch reality TV shows. The answer: not nearly as much as I do about those of the people who listen to NPR. Npr Public-radio listeners apparently exist inside hermetically sealed ideological compartments that cripple not only their powers of observation but their ability to reason.

Example 97,332: NPR is under siege from listeners complaining that it's running underwriting messages -- public-radiospeak for ads -- for the Department of Homeland Security's E-verify Program, a sort of electronic work permit that the federal government is employing against illegal immigrants. In fact, it's not just listeners. NPR ombudsmen Alicia C. Shepard reports that she's even getting grief from public-radio managers.

The complaints seem to fall into two interrelated categories. One is people who hate the E-Verify Program and don't want to hear anything about it except denunciations. "This program is error-filled, and is yet one more racist intrusion of the Bush administration into the business world and the private lives of all job-seekers,'' Shepard quotes one listener.

The second is critics who think that taking money from the Department of Homeland Security compromises NPR's ability to cover the news. Listeners who hear the E-Verify ads will have to wonder if NPR "can be depended on for independent critical coverage of this and other government agencies," an executive at a San Francisco public-radio station wrote Shepard.

Now, I'm second to none in my skepticism about the E-Verify Program. It requires companies to check with Homeland Security before hiring new employees, to make sure they're here legally. It's bound to create a bureaucratic hell not just for immigrants but for everybody: Just imagine the same government that does such a good job delivering your mail having to rule on the work eligibility of every single one of the 65 million or so Americans who apply for jobs every year, and you'll get my drift.

But the fact that I agree with the NPR critics about E-Verify does not make their reasoning any less cockamamie. Start with their belief that E-Verify is a Bush administration invention, a subset of the widespread conviction among NPR listeners that anything they don't like is by definition Republican.

In fact, the E-Verify program's roots go back to the early days of the Bill Clinton White House. And you can bet that the program is going to expand -- broadly and quickly -- under Barack Obama's government. His nominee for Homeland Security chief, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, has long been a loud voice for an aggressive federal crackdown on immigration. She signed a bill from her state legislature last year that contained some of the harshest penalties in the country for employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Nor is she the only Democratic Party hawk on immigration; one of the earliest and strongest advocates of fortifying and militarizing the U.S. border against Mexican immigrants was Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who's probably the most left-wing member of the U.S. Senate. President Bush, by contrast, was fairly moderate on immigration until he came under intense pressure from hawks of both parties. The immigration issue simply does not break down along party -- or even conventional liberal/conservative -- lines.

As wild as the misperceptions about immigration policy are among NPR critics, their conceptions of what public radio is or should be are even stranger. Should NPR only accept advertising (because that's what we're talking about, no matter what genteel euphemisms we clothe it in) from clients with a certain set of sociopolitical objectives? The lefty Ford Foundation si, the righty Scaife Foundation no? The Department of Health and Welfare but not the Defense Department? (Except when Obama starts pulling the troops out, Defense will be okay again?) The United Way is all right as long as it talks about Planned Parenthood-funded abortion clinics, but not the homophobic Boy Scouts?

Even more peculiar is the fear that accepting government advertising will compromise NPR's news coverage. Bulletin: NPR has taken hundreds of millions of dollars from the Bush administration over the past eight years. The money gets laundered all kinds of ways -- through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which depends heavily on congressional support; through fees to member stations, which in turn get the money from federal handouts; from outright federal grants. But in the end, a huge chunk of NPR's budget comes from taxpayer dollars, with the federal government's hand on the spigot. Has that money subverted NPR's news judgment?

For that matter, what about some of the other institutions that advertise on NPR? Does taking money from the ACLU mean NPR can't objectively cover criminal trials or the controversy over the federal lockup at Guantanamo Bay? Archer Daniels Midland, another frequent underwriter, lobbies ceaselessly for federal welfare for agribusiness. Does anybody worry about the impact on NPR stories on agriculture? Or affairs of the elderly -- AARP is another NPR advertiser. Then there's Allstate. Just ask Florida insurance customers if Allstate has a political agenda.

Reasonable people can no doubt argue both sides of these questions -- if they were ever even raised, which they aren't, because NPR listeners more closely resemble a cult than an audience. I doubt if E-Verify will ever work very well against illegal immigration, but as a deprogrammer, it seems to have some success.

Comments

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Mike

I both listen to and support NPR through my local affiliate KPCC in Pasadena, CA. I worry about the underwriting by the Gates Foundation more than what the feds and their E-Verify. Because you are precisely right, Glenn, about the alleged efficiency of the government to use the program successfully.
Of course, NPR listeners already know about the series on Morning Edition this week about the problems of contracting out government services these last eight or so years not being cost or anything else effective. So, I'm not worried about the federales.

But there is a Miami-based, occasional contributor to NPR's On The Media, who should be watched very carefully and made to take his happy pills on a regular basis.

Jeff

That's not the only scary thing about radio these days. The local progressive station is airing ads for the Central Intelligence Agency's Office of Clandestine Service. (Does that mean it handles those notorious covert operations? Ooooh!)

Jeff

That's not the only scary thing about radio these days. The local progressive station is airing ads for the Central Intelligence Agency's Office of Clandestine Service. (Does that mean it handles those notorious covert operations? Ooooh!)

julimac

They really pay you to make these absurd overgeneralizations and conjure up every irrational argument you can think of? I thought McClatchy was dumping its deadwood.

Dan

There's plenty to criticize about NPR, but rarely does anyone on the network get away with sweeping statements like "NPR listeners more closely resemble a cult than an audience," based on the people who complain about underwriters. Those people don't come anywhere close to being representative of the audience as a whole.

Because unlike many newspapers these days, NPR holds its journalists to a certain minimum standard, and this kind of nonsense would never fly there. I know, because I worked there.

I don't know this columnist from Adam, but I've seen enough to know that he's worth being ignored. He's either in some way stunted, or he's breathtakingly disingenuous.


Arrigo Beyle

Mr. Garvin:

Everybody has the right to be stupid on occasion but you abuse it.

Arrigo Beyle

Mr. Garvin:

Everybody has the right to be stupid on occasion but you abuse it.

Arrigo Beyle

Mr. Garvin:

Everybody has the right to be stupid on occasion but you abuse it.

Arrigo Beyle

Mr. Garvin:

Everybody has the right to be stupid on occasion but you abuse it.

P. Twistleton

If the NPR audience were a cult they would not question what was put before them by the network. Instead they're questioning the network. Even if some of the questioners are overwrought, is that so terrible and cultlike? Sounds like the writer simply had trouble coming up with a lede so wrote something dismissive. More lazy lib'rul bashing. Yawn.

J. Lynem

Perhaps they are a little overzealous, but I'll take that over the total obliviousness to journalistic integrity (or the lack thereof) that many audiences of other outlets display. People actually interested in the depth and accuracy of the news they consume? In my opinion that's something to be nurtured, not mocked.

Goober McGowan

NPR listeners a cult? How dare you. Everyone knows they are actually a collective with a hive mind.

SLS

I think this is correlative, not causative. As I mentioned on Fark, there is "NPR" and then there is "my Local NPR Affiliate". NPR is awesome, my "local NPR affiliate" is full of a bunch of batshit crazy weirdos who, outside of Morning Edition, seem to like nothing but Jazz, Classical, and anecdotal musings every Thursday about the supernatural. Oh, and there's the radio show with the anarchists whose reasoning abilities rival those of Korey Rowe and Dylan Avery.

So yeah, I don't think this is necessarily an "NPR" thing so much as tangential to NPR.

Cynical Observer

It's always been a cult, listeners and staff, who are totally out of synch with my politics. That in itself wouldn't bother me, because I can just choose not to listen anymore (as I don't) except that I'm forced to subsidize it with my taxes.

Ben

Are you joking?

anon

You are right - good column. Most devoted NPR listeners I know do NOT want to hear anything but the liberal side of the story.

kiwikit

NO, the title is correct. Only maniacal GOP-haters ever listen to NPR. I was a daily listener up until about 1980 when they went bananas at about the same time as I had enough time to read other sources and realized how very awful was NPR's bias.
BBC, CNN, CSPAN, network tv newsviews, are equally unwatchable. Someone should really check all such venues and see exactly how many non-Democrat listeners they have. . . I suspect very few.

Tom Traubert

CSPAN?

NPR unquestionably has a liberal bias, and I can see why maniacal right wingers hate the non-ideological news of BBC and CNN and network news has a corporate point of view, but CSPAN? They just show the thing as it happens without commentary. Reality as it happens is "unwatchable" because of a left-wing bias?

Chucky in Jersey

Why would NPR have liberal bias? NPR maintains a blacklist -- Noam Chomsky and Mumia Abu-Jamal are on it. In fact, NPR commissioned a spoken-word piece (about Abu-Jamal) and then killed it for political reasons.

By running ads from a Cabinet department NPR becomes an organ of the government. It's no different from CNN employing US Army PsyOps to prepare war news.

Zack Carswell

Sorry, but those ads just sound creepily Orwellian.

"And now, citizen, a message from the Committee on State Security ..."

alice

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smith

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