A few years back when Milton Friedman died, I remember thinking to myself while listening to NPR's respectful and laudatory obituary of him, that were NPR actually as biased as its movement conservative critics accuse it of being, I'd have been instead hearing fiery denunciations of Friedman's economics. And conversely, I thought to myself, if it was a Howard Zinn or a Noam Chomsky who had died, there is about a zero percent chance you'd be hearing praising obits in AM radio world.
Well, that little thought experiment is now a reality, as leftist icon Howard Zinn died on Wednesday. FAIR noticed (h/t CMD) that NPR didn't have exactly the same standard for discussing the death of Zinn as it did for conservative icon William Buckley.
When progressive historian Howard Zinn died on January 27, NPR's All Things Considered (1/28/10) marked his passing with something you don't often see in an obituary: a rebuttal.
After quoting Noam Chomsky and Julian Bond, NPR's Allison Keyes turned to far-right activist David Horowitz to symbolically spit on Zinn's grave. "There is absolutely nothing in Howard Zinn's intellectual output that is worthy of any kind of respect," Horowitz declared. "Zinn represents a fringe mentality which has unfortunately seduced millions of people at this point in time. So he did certainly alter the consciousness of millions of younger people for the worse."
Horowitz's substance-free attack contributed nothing to an understanding of Zinn's life or work, other than conveying that he's disliked by cranky right-wingers. (Horowitz has been best known in recent years for his race-baiting and Muslim-bashing--Extra!, 5-6/02; FAIR report, 10/1/08.) He seems to have been included merely to demonstrate that NPR will not allow praise for a leftist to go unaccompanied by conservative contempt.
Needless to say, it is not the case that NPR has a consistent principle that all its obituaries be thus "balanced." Take its coverage of the death of William F. Buckley, a figure as admired by the right as much as Zinn was on the left. Upon his death in February 2008, NPR aired six segments commemorating him, none of which included a non-admiring guest.