Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bias at NPR

One of the most curious arguments that I ever hear in relation to "liberal bias" is that AM radio is just an answer to the "liberally biased" or "left-wing" NPR. It's one of the things that I find so outlandish that I'm not quite sure what to say to anyone who believes such. Listening to ten minutes of AM radio and then ten minutes of NPR ought to be enough to demonstrate that there is no such equivalency: NPR is a well rounded news source which provides diverse views and intelligent, open discussion, while AM radio is a cesspool of vitriolic, fire-breathing one-sided/close-minded partisan propaganda.

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.


Unknown said...

Hypocrite? "AM radio is a cesspool of vitriolic, fire-breathing one-sided/close-minded partisan propaganda"

It sounds as though you are guilty of what you are accusing others of. While I do not agree with the way most conservative shows blatantly patronize and disrespect their opposition, I do not agree with the way you do it either.

On the comparison of one radio show you listened to (and consequently grouped all other individuals who are aligned politically opposite of you) with an NPR obituary, I can only ask, "Where is your control?" You seem to have 2 variables. You have a station accused of being left aligned and a station accused of being aligned right. But there is no station that is not accused of being biased and how it responded. Also, you only seem to quote one radio show but state this is the opinion of everyone on AM radio. Amplitude Modulation is used in many countries, including our own, for purposes beyond conservative talk shows. I understand that you may be ignorant to this fact but you seem to make statements could mislead individuals into thinking that only conservative talk shows broadcast on AM stations. This is not true. While the majority of conservative radio talk is propagated through the use of AM, it is not near the majority use of the technology. If it was you would have stated numbers.

Unfortunately, your article fails to mention the necessary controls for your comparison to reach a valid conclusion. As well, you are utilizing convoluted logic to misconstrue the facts. And finally, just because it may not be the malevolent bias that, IN YOUR PERSONAL OPINION, the conservative shows displace, NPR is not by default unbiased. They are just aligned with your bias while the other side is not. If you do not understand something, that does not make it true. If a two is not a three, it still is not either a one (except for very large values of one, hahahahah) or a four (unless it is square... haha sorry can't help myself).

Anyhow, I personally do not think that any of the individual shows you mentioned concerning talk radio are good for our country. However, they do have a right to say it, no matter the intentions. But the same is to be held true for NPR. I think the station, as a majority relates to a whole, is also bad for the public. The majority of the station is biased and hides behind the claim of objective reporting in the manner that the Fox nightly news show does. They report on both sides but seem to leave out details that they feel would make you not agree with their side. The only difference is that the conservative shows admit they do this. NPR manipulates its audience into believing they are hearing the whole story under the guise of truly objective reporting (just like the Fox nightly news show).

I know you won't agree with this, but if you truly believe in unbiased reporting you should leave this comment up for other readers. I have not personally attacked you or your work. However, I do disagree with you.

Hume's Ghost said...

When I say AM radio world I'm fairly certain my audience - especially any regular readers - understands that I'm referring to the plethora of Rush Limbaugh type movement conservative radio hosts that dominate the medium.

That NPR is biased but doesn't admit it is an assertion that Geoffrey Nunberg addressed in Talking Right. I'm sorry I don't currently have the time to give more of a response.