You are hereTruthout: Just a Couple More Things About NPR
Truthout: Just a Couple More Things About NPR
March 25, 2011- Like Jake LaMotta and his brother Joey in the bloody boxing classic "Raging Bull," we are gluttons for punishment. So, here we are again, third week in a row, defending NPR against the bare-knuckled assault of its critics.
Our earlier pieces on the funding threat to NPR have generated plenty of punches, both pro and con. And although most of the comments were welcome, and encouraged further thinking about the value of public media in a democratic society, a few reminded us of the words of the poet and scholar James Merrick: "So high at last the contest rose/From words they almost came to blows!"
Nonetheless, reading those comments and criticisms made us realize there are a couple of points that these two wizened veterans of public broadcasting - with the multiple tote bags and coffee mugs to prove it - would like to clarify.
For one, when we described the right-wing media machine as NPR's "long-time nemesis," it was not to suggest that somehow public radio is its left-wing opposite. When it comes to covering and analyzing the news, the reverse of right isn't left; it's independent reporting that toes neither party nor ideological line. We've heard no NPR reporter - not a one - advocating on the air for more government spending (or less), for the right of abortion (or against it), for or against gay marriage, or for or against either political party, especially compared to what we hear from Fox News and talk radio on all of these issues and more.
Take, for example, talk jocks John and Ken on KFI-AM Radio in Los Angeles. They beat on California's state legislature like a cheap piñata. According to the Los Angeles Times, "Within a matter of moments, they refer to various lawmakers as 'traitorous pigs,' 'con artist' and 'Republican dirt bag.' They use gruesome sound effects to suggest the mounting of one legislator's head on a stake - his entry into the duo's hall of shame."
The personalities, "whose frequent targets are taxes, labor unions and illegal immigrants, not only reach more listeners than any other non-syndicated talk show in California but also have the ear - and fear - of Sacramento's minority party."
"'There is nary a conversation about the budget that does not involve the names John and Ken,' said Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), the state Senate leader." And that's true whether what they say is grounded in fact or simply made up wholesale out of flimsy, opinionated cloth.
So, what do conservatives really mean when they accuse NPR of being "liberal?" They mean it's not accountable to their worldview as conservatives and partisans. They mean it reflects too great a regard for evidence and is too open to reporting different points of views of the same event or idea or issue, reporting that, by its very fact-driven nature, often fails to confirm their ideological underpinnings, their way of seeing things (which is why some liberals and Democrats also become irate with NPR).
That's why our favorite new word is "agnotology." According to the web site WordSpy, it means "the study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt," a concept developed in recent years by two historians of science at Stanford University, Robert Proctor and his wife, Londa Schiebinger.
Believing that global climate change is a myth is one example of the kind of ignorance agnotologists investigate. Or the insistence by the tobacco industry that the harm caused by smoking is still in dispute. Or the conviction that Barack Obama is a closet Muslim, and a radical one at that, who may not even be from America.