Does NPR Have A Liberal Bias?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Transcript

OTM takes up the question posed by Ira Glass last week on our show: Does NPR have a liberal bias? Brooke wrestles first with the (surprisingly hard to define) terms. What is liberal? What is bias? What is NPR? We then hear three different perspectives on NPR’s political leanings from political scientist Daniel Hallin, media researcher Tom Rosenstiel and recent conservative volunteer-listener Sam Negus.

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Comments [237]

Leah Michels from Michigan

I notice a distinct pro-Israel bias in reporting. Palestinians have it rough in their native land, and I am all for Israel feeling and being safe, but Israel is currently breaking many international laws and failing to abide by loads of agreements--Israelis continue to build settlements, is perhaps the most obvious, but the horrific conditions of the refugee camps is pretty bad too. Everyone (all news outlets) seem to offer a 'false- even-handedness' when dealing with the conflict. These are not two evenly matched opponents equally mistreating one another. Israel has no incentive to participate in the "peace process". I know it's career suicide to criticize Israel, but we need to speak truth to power.

Sep. 18 2012 05:53 PM

Continued:

On balance, does NPR do a better job either to attempt or to achieve the journalistic balancing rubric I've expressed below than do other comparable journalistic organizations?

Consider, by comparison: NPR, BBC, Pacifica Radio Networks, talk radio generally, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, nightly news broadcasts (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox), CSPAN, etc.

Does NPR compare favorably to them?

Endeavoring to achieve journalistic equanimity and eliminate the sources of political or cognitive bias is not and should not be a perfect system. It should entail neither a perfect system, a mathematical calculation, or necessarily giving "equal" time to all views on every topic whatsoever. (I too reject the Fairness Doctrine).

Some discretion is called for, both according to the illustration of Hallin's spheres and because NPR has only a limited amount of funds and airtime available to it.

Apr. 18 2012 12:25 PM

With all due respect, this discussion is too simplistic and reductive.

The relevant question should not be whether NPR (and/or its affiliates and their local programming) has a liberal or "left wing" bias, but whether NPR (and/or its affiliates) do everything that can be reasonably expected of a group of human beings to:

1) inoculate themselves against partisan or political bias or preference;

2) insulate themselves from partisan or political bias or preference;

3) seek to cover news stories and invite guests which present a meaningful cross-section of factual circumstances, topics, viewpoints, controversies, and a breadth of assumptions (Cf. the expansion and contraction of Hallin's spheres);

4) endeavor to fairly cover:

* a) divisive and controversial social and moral issues in ways which do not overtly or covertly favor one position over another (e.g., abortion; homosexual marriage equality aka "gay marriage," etc.);

* b) divisive economic, fiscal, financial, and political issues in ways which do not overtly or covertly favor one set of economic conclusions over another (e.g., health care reform and the individual mandate; the role of corporate personhood and campaign finance spending; the appropriate level of government spending on federal aid, support, or subsidies to low income people ["welfare and entitlements"] as opposed to corporate entities, industries, or trades; the proper balance to strike between federal and state powers related, etc.);

* c) divisive or controversial scientific, technical, or medical issues in ways which do not overtly or covertly favor one set of scientific conclusions over another (e.g., global warming and global climate change; medical ethics related to abortion; organ donation and harveting; bioethics and "mercy"-based euthanasia; DNA-splicing and gene-therapy or experimentation which present ethical issues, etc).

* d) divisive or controversial faith, religious, cultural, or creed-based issues in ways which do not overtly or covertly favor one group rather than another (e.g, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; whether Jesus did or did not rise from the grave; clashes between neoconservatives or evangelical Christians and "secular" atheists and agnostics about moral issues states in (b) above, etc.).

and lastly but most importantly,

5) suss out and eliminate unconscious and irrational cognitive biases which exist in all people and therefore in all NPR producers, hosts, reporters, correspondents, editors, and showrunners and which may contribute to the presence or perception of bias of NPR programming.

Apr. 18 2012 12:23 PM
Lee from Santa Cruz, CA

I can tell you that our local NPR station, KSCO, does have a liberal bias. It carries the program Democracy Now that is clearly biased to the liberal, Democratic party, side. No doubt about this. There is never a conservative counterpoint presented to any of the so called news presented on that segment. In addition to this program, others are similarly slanted to the less conservative listeners. It seems the conservative right's views are never aired or are made fun of and is a major reason that I will not support this station or NPR in general.

Mar. 13 2012 01:34 PM
Charles Fleeman

Bias means a person or organization cares more about one party/person in a story than another. NPR's bias is for the Democratic Party, and it consistently favors people from that party, and stories and positions advanced by that party. The opposite of bias is indifference, and it's awfully hard to find an NPR story or reporter who is indifferent.

Sep. 21 2011 11:31 AM
Nadine Cohen from Athens, GA

Good journalism means posing challenging questions to every expert or politician interviewed, regardless of their political persuasion. A better way to test for bias would be to look at a large number of interviews with liberals and conservatives and see if they are treated differently. Even that isn't as easy as it sounds, since many of the people they interview aren't easily categorized as left or right.

May. 25 2011 04:10 PM
John from St. Paul, MN

I'm dumbfounded. NPR can't win. The study that showed that NPR had a view of the Middle East that was"...biased toward Peace..." left me breathless! Of course, wasn't Jesus biased toward Peace, too? And speaking of Jesus, the fact that Terri Gross spent one whole segment in the 2,000 years of Christianity interviewing someone that believed that jesus did not rise from the dead, makes NPR biased, too. Doesn't the listner think that his view has been expressed? Everywhere? Many times?
Finally, when one of the few "complaints" he had was a rememberance from 2006 (!) that presenters seemed to be using "happy" voices when reporting on the results of the Democratic takeover of Congress, all I can say is, that's a needle in a haystack and, well, look what is happening to NPR now that the Republicans have taken over. No wonder they were "happy" then!

Mar. 30 2011 12:57 AM
Daniel

Heres what NPR critics need to concede: 1. NPR does quality journalism. 2. NPR's foreign coverage and much of it's basic non-political news coverage (A Tornado in Kansas, etc.) is not biased. Though with stories like Hurricane Katrina, the "Jena 6" case NPR is totally biased. 3. The main wellspring of bias at NPR is its consistenly, systemtically liberal selection bias (what stories it ignores, which it covers). Go on drudge and then listen to NPR and you'll see this immediately. 4. on issues like race, gender, immigration NPR-an organization which is overwhelmingly liberal in it's staff composition-is consitely biased in it's assumptions, coverage, point of view, etc. 5. then there's the issue of guests and NPR shows clear bias in who it has on. The emblamatic easy example is David Brooks. Brooks is NPR's token conservative when he is nearly a Democrat in most conservatives eyes-he's for amensty, for cap n' trade, anti-tea party, largely pro-Obama, pro-affirmative action, pro-Roe v. Wade, etc..

Mar. 27 2011 07:44 PM
Charles from Michigan

Dale, a simple question -- If, as you say, "NPR is trying to offer a little of everything..." what would you list as public radio's "offering" to conservative thought and opinion?

What might be the conservative counterpart to "Democracy Now!" for instance?

Mar. 25 2011 04:06 PM
Charles from Michigan

RC; your claim that Fresh Air is purely an "entertainment" program is unreal.

First, Fresh Air frequently invites the authors of poltical books to be interviewed. The discussion then turns to politics. Check on the number of times that, for instance, professional Bush-critic Ron Susskind has appeared. This is largely a weekly occurrence on the program.

Second, Terry Gross has political guests on the program. On overtly political topics. Far too many times to recall. (See below for "two kinds of interviews.")

Third, Terry Gross will even turn non-political subjects into political ones. A good example: her hectoring Lynne Cheney with political questions when Mrs. Cheney was on tour promoting her then-current (non-political) book.

Fourth, Terry Gross has two different modes of interviewing political guests. She is warm and welcoming for her friends on the Left (Al Franken is a good example), and confrontational with those on the Right (Bill O'Reilly is the prime example).

There is nothing wrong with Fresh Air, as a public radio "viewpoint" program of political, arts, literary and music interviews. No one would seriously argue that it is not a good program.

What is a serious argument, is that ALL of public radio's "viewpoint" interview programs are Left-leaning. Michael Eric Dyson. Tavis Smiley. Michel Martin. Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone. Kurt Andersen. John Hockenberry. Amy Goodman. And so on. Can anyone come up with an equivalent list of Right "viewpoint" program hosts on public radio?

Mar. 25 2011 04:02 PM
Dale from Nashville, TN

Some people on the right perceive NPR as "liberal" because they've never taken the time to consider seeing both sides. To me, a large part of what defines a "liberal" is the openness to looking at both sides.

Your guest said he's never heard anyone on NPR who says exactly what he wants to hear. Well duh! Neither have I. And I'm a liberal. I think that's because NPR is trying to offer a little of everything - not just what I want to hear.

Mar. 25 2011 02:48 PM
RC

It's been said before but I'll say it again. "Fresh Air" is NOT a news program. It's entertainment. Looking for balance in entertainment is misguided.

Even so, you'll get more actual facts from one hour of "Fresh Air" than you'll get from a month of Glenn Beck.

Mar. 25 2011 11:05 AM
paul cook

"To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical."
-Thomas Jefferson

Mar. 25 2011 09:21 AM
Ben Hauck from NYC

continued from above

That really is just an extreme opinion against journalistic bias. I don't think we want our news to be THAT unbiased. We want our news generally to reflect a bias toward humanity, a bias toward kindly pets, toward 119-year-old women, toward 95-year-old men who served our country despite finding out they're not U.S. citizens.

I can't say whether NPR (or are we talking just its news programming?) has a liberal-bias. I can say, though, it has a bias, but so does every humanity-loving news agency.

Mar. 25 2011 12:19 AM
Ben Hauck from NYC

In Reply #21, e5 said, "Bias is reporting falsehood, rationalized as truth using logical fallacy."

Personally, I disagree with that take. e5 sounds to have defined "propaganda."

For me, the word "bias" refers to "partiality," "the taking of a side," "a presumed conclusion before hearing a story," etc.

That means, when the news becomes impartial, takes a side, presumes a conclusion before hearing a story, etc., for me, it exhibits bias.

It seems the discussion we are wanting to have is mostly about /liberal bias/, not plain bias. Even more specifically, it seems to me the question is mostly about whether NPR exhibits a /governance bias/. That is, "Does NPR reflect a governance bias, a partiality toward one political persuasion, etc.?"

I might recommend a general semantics technique for the discussion: The use of a hyphen ("liberal-bias") as a continual reminder of the topic of discussion so the discussion doesn't get elementalistic. Empircally, we're talking about liberal-bias, /not/ plain bias ...

... Because if we want to talk just plain bias, surely any news media in the USA reflects a bias. I remember on 9/11 "the NYC bias"--that is, there was bias /for/ NYC when the WTC was hit. It also made me wonder, Would it be okay for a journalist to cry in reporting news? Then, I felt, "Yes," but in considering a need for impartiality, I after felt "No," but I also felt then, "And they should not be biased toward the humans running from the crumbling Towers, either."

continued below

Mar. 25 2011 12:18 AM
Charles Jameson from Chicago

The issue of bias can be in little word choices too. Consider these paraphrases ...

Compare - "productivity increases will be limited next year because almost all gains have been squeezed out from the labor force"

with "productivity increases will be limited next year because almost all gains have been squeezed out with the labor force."

from or with? I heard "from" on NPR or my affiliate, but I think an economist might argue that both "tools" (or capital) and labor are inputs that can make contributions to productivity. Both might be squeezed and from each might come increases in productivity.

Mar. 24 2011 11:23 PM
Robert from New York City

Ah, 57, you're the one in the trap. You insist that people want NPR to lean "left" because Fox Noise, et al, lean right. That's not it at all.

We want NPR to lean honest and sober and rational because Fox Noise and its ilk are the opposite on all three counts ... DIShonest and erratic and devoid of reason. I'm not talking politics. You are.

If commercial broadcasters fall down on the job (and even the non-ideological ones are barely a shadow of what they used to be), then government SHOULD fund a refuge from their money-fueled race to the bottom. The Juan Williams insanity proved that NPR is not infallible. But it is the only place in domestic radio where issues are treated with the respect that intelligent listeners (and civil democratic discourse) deserve.

Mar. 24 2011 09:34 PM
Constance Wiggins from Berkeley

sfeer, Brooke, not spear.

Mar. 24 2011 08:45 PM
Phil from Chicago

I do listen to NPR regularly, however I also am forced to seek my information from many other sources, since it's very hard to be so trusting as to rely on one. I've found that gathering information from so many angles allows me to have a much broader perspective. It's also allowed me to catch various news sources in the act of creative journalism. One glaring example of this is when the Turkish flotilla was heading toward Gaza. Even after the 99% of the World that played into the blockade-breakers' hands and automatically condemned Israel fell silent after more videos of the true unfolding were aired, NPR still used slight of verbage by continuing to call the Israeli Navy operation a "raid", while soothingly lamenting the loss of life. View the videos, and you will see how unarmed commandos were lowered onto a deck in broad daylight to search a ship, then beaten and stabbed (thanks Reuters for cropping out the knife from the photos) nearly to death by well-prepared and extremely violent blockage breakers. NPR knew that this could hardly be called a "raid", but persisted to use the term over and over again -- puppets of a foreign press agenda and unable or unwilling to do a thorough analysis on it's own.

Mar. 24 2011 06:43 PM
Charles from Michigan

So far in this Comments thread, Ira Glass himself has gotten off easy.

"This American Life" is a program that, while not a news program, is unafraid of making social and political judgments, all under Ira's editorial control.

This American Life features ("acts," as Ira customarily calls them) have included immigration, homosexuality, banking and finance, the military and religion as topics of conversation. All approached with Ira's interesting, quirky, compelling, left-leaning sensibility.

Now, to be sure, This American Life is an entertaining and an award-winning program. NPR News executives (and Ira) would laugh off any notion that Ira was doing "news." I can just hear some worthy public radio executive (or Ira), saying, "It's a 'viewpoint' show! Like Terry Gross' interview program is a 'viewpoint' show! And 'Democracy Now!' and Tavis Smiley and Michael Eric Dyson; they are all 'viewpoint' shows!"

But ain't it funny, how virtually every 'viewpoint' show on public radio tilts left, and it is just about impossible to think of one that tilts right?

Mar. 24 2011 04:30 PM
Charles from Michigan

Robert in NYC:
I am the author of post #57 as you recited it.
I stand by it.
The reason that I insist, that it is an "indictment" of NPR, for anyone to claim that it is a necessary counterweight to Fox News and conservative talk radio, is that the entire concept is proof of NPR's editorial bias. If NPR leans left to counter Fox News' alleged tilt to the right, who could possibly claim with a straight face that NPR is unbiased?
Indeed, Robert, the rhetorical trap that you've fallen into is common thnking among NPR's self-selected listenership, but it is an argument that is never advanced by NPR elites, knowing that the argument is a poison pill for the network.
Because, you see, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh don't get federal money. You can't make tax-deductible pledges to them, and they don't broadcast through a network of radio stations licensed to state universities, school districts and public trusts.
NPR, operating as a self-proclaimed 'neutral' news source, accepting federal and state government benefits, has to operate under the strictest imaginable 'fairness doctrine.' A purely self-created fairness doctrine, that commercial broadcasters need not worry about.
If it all sounds like a dubious proposition, a kind of a double-standard, I might agree. What I wonder is why, in a world of multiple 24-hour cable news channels, the internet, and all manner of new media, do we need a government-funded radio news network?

Mar. 24 2011 04:15 PM
Mark

Alot of people have noted how Mr. Negus was upset over Terry Gross interviewing a guest not believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, my goodness he must have a near stroke when Terry interviewed Dan Savage and his partner regarding the "It get's better project." After listening to that interview, which was positive, uplifting and in general I think her best interview this year, I not sure I have the stomach to listen to On The Media throughout the month and Mr. Negus' certain demand that she was biased and should have allowed some "pray the gay away" anti-gay hate organization on to rebut Dan Savage.

Mar. 24 2011 04:01 PM
Bob Smith

OTM just did an interesting story about the use of the term "rebel" vs. "protester" to describe opponents in Libya. This simple word choice is fraught with meaning, as your story explains. Remember when the media referred to Somali leaders as "warlords"? How about the use of the word "torture" at NYTimes? All these word choices spin how a story is told. It's exactly what Newt Gingrich does when he spews right-wing slogans. (the word "spews" is biased!) NPR does the same unintentionally.

I'm a liberal NPR listener, but Ira Glass is simply wrong. All media is biased. When I listen to NPR, I make a game of spotting bias in word choices and story angles (yes, I am that boring). NPR News isn't so bad, but OTM and other shows have a strong liberal bias.

Mar. 24 2011 11:46 AM
ed kriner from reading pa.

another case of NPR wanting to prove it is balanced and "fair". It is just another mouthpiece for the dominant culture to propagandize the american people.

Mar. 24 2011 09:29 AM
ed kriner from reading pa.

Why not ask some critics on the left (the real Left; not NPR neo-liberal critics) keep a journal? Or do you honestly think there are no progressives/leftists with valid criticism of NPR? If NPR is "liberal" I'm wondering how that term is defined. Got some chapter and verse for you all but I know real progressives/leftists are not allowed to spoil the party - whether the tea party or the democan party.

Mar. 24 2011 09:22 AM
Art Land from Seattle

Bias is in the eye of the beholder.

If you look at someone or their work and see no bias, you are looking at a mirror; because the bias we are least able to detect is our own.

As a conservative who worked many years in the news media and now works in academia, I have often seen bias that my well educated and well intentioned colleagues could neither perceive or acknowledge.

Because I am a critical listener and thinker and admitted conservative, I am a long time listener and supporter of public broadcasting who eagerly listens to OTM every week. Chances are good I will hear a thought or perspective that does not mimic my own and I may actually learn something new from the experience.

But if you think OTM or This American Life or even All Things Considered is not biased, then that clearly indicates you do not possess the ideological imagination and/or surround yourself with a staff as philosophically diverse as your audience.

Thank you for turning an inquisitive and critical eye on your own show and practices, as the mass of media obsessively examines and critiques everyone but themselves.

Mar. 24 2011 01:38 AM
Mik

I think that comment #210 crystallizes the value of NPR exactly.

Mar. 23 2011 09:19 PM
Robert from New York City

The post by #57 demands a rebuttal. He says: "How many times have we heard things like, "We need NPR to be a counterweight to Rush Limbaugh and the rest of right-wing talk radio..." That's a stunning indictment of NPR when you think about it."

That is not an indictment of NPR. It is high praise.

NPR is needed as a counterweight to Limbaugh and the right wing talk radio crowd not because of their politics but because of their sheer dishonesty. On NPR we hear material that is factual to the best of the presenter's ability. You may not like the presenter's world view, #57, but the presenter is not trying to twist the truth. Limbaugh and his crowd dissemble constantly for the sheer shock value, not letting facts get in the way of a ratings-and-headlines-grabbing rant.

The counterweight is in the area of honesty, not politics, and is absolutely essential.

Mar. 23 2011 07:51 PM
Edward C. Greenberg from NYC, NY

There is much to said about the wisdom of the crowd. The 200 comments above when read all at once, reads like a terrific buffet of opinions, comments, observations and thoughts. All commentators are to be congratulated.

Imagine if this type discourse could be turned into a radio show? All views covered, insights revealed, no yelling or screaming and not a hint of bias in the overall product. No topic off limits. Almost no pundits.

Some have attempted to achieve just this. Try listening to Doug MacIntyre locally on WABC 1AM - 6AM. Pretty good effort and now syndicated nationally. Middle of the road by almost anyone's account.

Mar. 23 2011 03:08 PM
Louise from Boston, MA

Excellent show. I agree with other commenters that Sam Negus is a dubious choice for a plausible voice in this debate on bias. As as a libertarian and Evangelical Christian he represents point of view that is out of the mainstream even in an American context, and his worldview would be deemed off the donut in many other developed countries. NPR's bias is (and should be) toward reason over faith. I wish it would not, for instance, give a voice to climate-change doubters.

Mar. 23 2011 01:48 PM
Bill from Milan, MI

I will concede that NPR news shows are not biased. However, I listen to The Diane Rehm Show, Fresh Air and On The Media. These shows are all left wing biased and the only listeners that don't agree are those who agree with the bias. Certainly all these shows have the right to express their beliefs--whatever they are. But I as a taxpayer should not have to pay for them. Diane Rehm interviewed Mike Farrell and Kevin Spacy. The interviews were fine until they started spewing their left wing rhetoric. My tax dollars should not support this. Often times Diane Rehm includes in one of her roundtables a writer From "Mother Jones" magazine. The last time one of these left wing characters was on, he just reported over and over that all of our current economic problems are George W Bush's fault. No one on the panel--including Diane--bothered to ask him how what he said solves the economic problems. My taxes should not pay for this obvious left wing bias. It is Diane's show and she can run it the way she wants, but let her left wing supporters pay for the show--not my tax dollars. Diane is happy to have Anne Rice and a former Roman Catholic priest on show to villify The Church--how about if she finds some Muslims who have left "the Nation of Islam" and converted to Roman Catholisiam and let them villify Islam? Maybe she is afraid that a Fatwa will be put out on her, or maybe she is just biased against the Roman Catholic Church. By the way I don't watch Fox News programs or MSNBC programs. I get my news from CNN, newspapers, and news magzines. I realize that eliminating tax support of NPR won't lower my taxes and won't have a graet impact on the budget. I just don't think that my tax dollars shoud pay for the left wing biased shows on NPR.

Mar. 23 2011 01:36 PM
J M M from Helena, Mt

(quotes added for clarity)
Charles wrote:

"And really, how can anyone justify the status quo on public radio, wherein virtually all of the program hosts, producers and news analysts are varying shades of Blue? Isn't it natural to ask why there are virtually no conservatives of any prominence, in any regular position of executive influence or reporting authority at NPR or the most visible public radio programs?"

Are we going to assay every professional service associated with governmental funding for a politically equitable spectrum of biases? It is an absurd and unachievable standard. Should we demand that the police departments, military, and fire services include equal amounts of conservatives and liberals? If so, based on what apportionment? The tax payers, the service area, the country at large?

Again, the best argument and standard for news is to just ask for professionalism and accuracy. BTW, professionalism would be a good (although unlikely achievable) standard for even the Fox Noise service as well.

Mar. 23 2011 10:45 AM
J M M from Helena, Mt

Charles wrote:
And really, how can anyone justify the status quo on public radio, wherein virtually all of the program hosts, producers and news analysts are varying shades of Blue? Isn't it natural to ask why there are virtually no conservatives of any prominence, in any regular position of executive influence or reporting authority at NPR or the most visible public radio programs?

Are we going to assay every professional service associated with governmental funding for a politically equitable spectrum of biases? It is an absurd and unachievable standard. Should we demand that the police departments, military, and fire services include equal amounts of conservatives and liberals? If so, based on what apportionment? The tax payers, the service area, the country at large?

Again, the best argument and standard for news is to just ask for professionalism and accuracy. BTW, professionalism would be a good (although unlikely achievable) standard for even the Fox Noise service as well.

Mar. 23 2011 09:24 AM
john ledbetter from Knoxville, tn

I think Mr. Nagus confuses presentation of multiple perspectives with systematic bias. I can just as easily present instances in which NPR presented conservative perspectives without balancing comment. During the Wqall Street crisis, I repeated heard guests and even news readers recite the line ""Firms must pay multi-million dollar bonuses in order to retain top talent." Must? Multi-million dollar? In order to retain? Top? Talent? To my memory, none of these embedded assumptions were questioned. Or consider last Saturday's coverage of the start of the bombing of Libya. Do we need an hour of "special coverage?" The fact of this coverage as well as its tone vibrated with the excitement of a new military campaign, the eternal, careless adrenaline rush of entry to war, while informational and analytic content was low-- that a French plane bombed a vehicle was repeated as if it were of primary importance. This coverage is thoroughly conservative in that it faithfully reflects US values--excitement at an unexamined campaign to right an impulsively conceived wrong.

Mar. 23 2011 08:53 AM
Lou from Boston

I really got a a kick out of Ira's response when asked about poss results of a study to determine if there is Liberal bias.

"There won't be one!"....he says confidently.

Knowing the answer before a study is even done!

There's bias right there!

Mar. 22 2011 11:57 PM
John from NC

If there are no conservative voices at NPR, that's a problem. Why is it swept aside as unimportant or irrelevant. Mr. Hallins' theoretical spheres of journalism seem to be the long way home. Also, Mr. Sam Negus deserves hazard pay.

Mar. 22 2011 10:49 PM
Jake-42 from Charlotte

I have a simple and objective way to measure bias in NPR news stories. Count the number of Democrats interviewed vs the number of Republicans interviewed. Sometimes NPR appears to be the network that talks _with_ Democrats but talks _about_ Republicans. People describe themselves more favorably than they describe their opponents. If both sides are not given equal access to express their views first person, the coverage is biased.

This bias measurement may not always be accurate. If one political party declines to be interviewed for a given story, they won't be counted. My technique doesn't attempt measure equal air-time, hostile questions, biased edits, etc. On the other hand, if NPR covers a major multi-day political story interviewing mostly Democrats while mostly talking about Republicans, that would be a pretty clear indication of bias, assuming members of both parties are available for interviews.

Mar. 22 2011 09:28 PM
Carol from Austin, TX

Amen and amen, Evan!

On a slightly different subject, I found it interesting that apparently about 20 yrs. ago liberals decided that the term liberal was pejorative so they adopted the term "progressive". As a moderate I don't see liberals as any more "progressive" than conservatives are! Semantics, semantics. To me the use of the word "progressive" when meaning "liberal" is a sign of someone who leans left.

Mar. 22 2011 08:10 PM
Evan from Brooklyn, NY

This guy struck me as incredibly narcissistic. Imagine, none of NPR's programming on religious themes made him feel like they were speaking directly to his heart! The purpose of this kind of reporting is to challenge people's beliefs, not to soothe and massage them.

NPR's commentators have incorrect Christology, and this offends him to the core of his being. Maybe you should check with him about whether the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father or from the Father and the Son and set your programming accordingly (filio or filioque).

I think you guys showed incredible patience with this guy.

Mar. 22 2011 07:34 PM
ed becker from Pittsburgh

One of the guests on this segment pretty much lost me when he said that it's a proven that all scientists believe that climate change is fact. He made this point to show the difference between something that is perfectly true, and something that is debatable.
Helllooo, McFly! All (as in every single bloomin' scientist) agrees that climate change is fact? Really? Actually there are hundreds of scientists who DON'T agree with that conclusion.
Did you mean to say, "All scientists with a certain ideological bent believe that climate change is real".
Anyway, thanks for helping to confirm that certain assumptions are gospel at NPR.

In any case.. I did enjoy the program and listen to NPR quite frequently. That said, I wouldn't give a flippin' farthing to the organization.

Mar. 22 2011 06:44 PM
Sam from US

Just listened to the podcast and heard Sam Negus...fantastic! I also am a conservative who listens faithfully to NPR, and Sam's views and opinions are very close to mine. I have to wince repeatedly when I listen to my favorite shows, but I still listen because I enjoy the opportunity to get a mainstream and liberal perspective. OTM is always liberal all the time but that doesn't mean that it doesn't have value. But it does call to question why it receives govt funding.
Despite my ideological differences I don't want to see NPR go away, and if I see a shift away from the current liberal bias I would certainly consider doing my part to help support it.
BTW, you asked why, if you're so liberal, you get so many listener comments accusing you of conservative bias. That's easy...it because most of your listeners are hard-core liberals...and any attempt at fairness is viewed by them as a conservative bent. E.g. read the comments to the story about the Chernobyl Project from 3/16...whew!

Mar. 22 2011 06:18 PM
Phil

I believe the NPR coverage of the so called Bush tax cuts offers an example of bias. Some of the bias takes the form of a sort of passivity that supports conventional liberal framing of the topic. I had hoped NPR would challenge conventional assumptions as part of objective coverage.

During 2010 I heard perhaps 10 NPR broadcast segments focused on the question of the expiring Bush tax cuts for “the rich”. Unfortunately, in every case the topic was framed by the rhetoric in congress, namely the question of whether higher taxes on “wealthy Americans” injure the economy or not. The question of how we should tax our citizens should not be restricted to a discussion of efficacy with respect to GNP. Is it appropriate for one group of citizens to pay far more tax than the rest? Is it OK to raise taxes on some while 49% of the population pays no federal income tax? What do various brackets of citizens actually pay in taxes now? What about taxation of wealth vs. income? How does this topic tie in with tyranny of the majority? I did not hear any of this addressed.

Consider if the congress were voting on a plan to increase the tax rates on, say, white-collar workers only. This seems almost reasonable. Some in congress could argue that we want a tax policy that encourages real productivity that comes from working with one’s hands and this would ultimately help the economy. Now consider if NPR restricted the news coverage of this debate to a discussion of the effects of this plan on the economy. I don’t think that would fly! So, last year I believe NPR betrayed its bias in favor of progressive taxation in simply assuming, well, we all know that increasing the tax on “the rich” is OK as long as it helps the rest of us pay our bills.

These alternative aspects of the topic were being discussed on conservative talk radio. At NPR bias precludes their consideration.

Mar. 22 2011 05:26 PM
Michael Metzger

Bias is also what is left out of the news or events which NPR and other news agencies decide are not news worthy. For example...yesterday on the Bill Maher show, he called Sarah Palin a "stupid tw-t" (vulgar form of the female anatomy)....nobody said boo to him. Now if someone on Fox said that of Secretary of State Clinton or the First Lady, all hell would have broken loose.

Mar. 22 2011 05:02 PM
Beth Peterson

Great show. The interview with libertarian evangelical Sam Negus really exposed some of the serious problems with public discourse in this country and undermined all of these baseless accusations of liberal bias. His primary complaint appeared to be that NPR sometimes has people on whose ideas are not the same as his. I think this is one of the greatest strengths of NPR. I listen to NPR for insightful, critical, well-reasoned news and analysis, not so I can hear exactly what I want to hear. If I were to adhere to Negus' criterion for donation decisions--hearing something he disagrees with--I would never donate again because Barbara Bradley Hagerty often interviews people who believe in supernatural forces, which I do not. However, I actually find her reporting, and most of the religion reporting on NPR, to be thoughtful and engaging, even though I do not share the beliefs of the interviewees. It exposes me to ideas that other people hold and presents a world view that does not necessarily match my own.

Being exposed to ideas different than the ones I already hold is one of the things I cherish most about NPR. If I want to hear liberal or progressive news, I turn to Democracy Now and Rachel Maddow (although sometimes I disagree with them, too!), and I often disagree with analysis on NPR, thinking it is too conservative. It is dangerous for democracy if the only voices we hear are echoes. That precludes the possibility of changing our minds and seriously limits our capacity for critical thinking.

Thank you, OTM, for pursuing this story and for having Ira Glass on twice in a row!

Mar. 22 2011 04:50 PM
Jeff Sheppard from Ireland

I found it interesting that Sam Negus felt that much of the programing on NPR was very good and listened to it daily... but since it didn't totally support his viewpoint he couldn't support NPR. If this means he doesn't support his local public radio station by becoming a member, then this is absolutely deplorable. Anyone who tunes in on a daily basis needs to be paying their dues. If his excuse is because he can't hear something that supports his viewpoint 100% of the time... better to buy a microphone connected to earphones and listen to him speak to himself. Obviously he is so righteous in his viewpoint and moral clarity that there is no need to listen to anybody other than himself.

Mar. 22 2011 04:43 PM
WallyC from Texas

I'm wondering if the "elephant in the room" that Bob and Brooke describe as "perception of liberal bias" is perhaps (at least in some critics' minds) a horse of a different color.
I'm a little nervous about suggesting this, but I have known people who have used "liberal" as a euphemism for Jewish. I'm wondering if some people dislike NPR on the basis of the old stereotype of the control of the media by Jewish people. But it sounds more honorable to say that it's "too liberal". Don't get me wrong; I'm not trying to say that NPR critics are all or only anti-Semitic. But I would believe that there's some element of this in the criticism that some people level at NPR, but under the guise of "it's too liberal".

Mar. 22 2011 04:29 PM
Edward C. Greenberg from NYC, NY

B Selzer nailed it.

Nat: the wording of the test is excerpted for a comments section with space limitations. "Betcha" irks you. It is commonly used outside of NYC. Two reasons Ms. Palin uses it: people identify with the word because they use it everyday and journalists hate it, so using it gets their attention. It is an innocuous word,why does it irk the lame stream media?

Rush has 600+ outlets and sells his time at full ad rates. You (and I) may find him very repetitive. Neveretheless the SUBJECTS he addresses hold the interests of sufficient numbers of people in diverse markets nationwide to make him the number 1 (or 2) syndicated show in America. Were the topics you heard repeatedly on Rush, Hannity or even John Gambling on heard on NPR? Want unbiased commercial reportage, with knowledgeable experts and no screaming? Try John Bachelor on WABC radio.

I listen to stations out of Phila, Boston, Chicago, and Scranton Pa. Listening to those then switching to NPR causes almost immediate culture shock. One would think there were two Americas. Incidentally there still are local talk show hosts, not everything is syndicated.

No one in the media leaves their biases behind. I have been interviewed about 100 times. I use examples of how stories were conjured by the press by comparing trial transcripts to actual reportage, tapes of whole interviews with the edited version and stories made up by reporters from major publication who readily admit to such transgressions when confronted. Recently I was interviewed for 32 minutes by a commercial network affiliate. My actual air time was about 30 seconds and as a result editing my "answers" were to questions never asked. Not one complete sentence uttered by me went out over the air. Happens every day in the commercial and non-profit media.

I will be lecturing today at SVA about the press stealing photographs and Photoshopping them for their own purposes. Good news - I have no examples of NPR doing either.

Mar. 22 2011 03:15 PM
james from New Hampshire

My father and I listen to NPR. Being that we both are Christians and obviously have what are deemed conservative views, we listened and perceived what we would consider a left-leaning bias. Not that there is anything wrong with that. To try to make NPR completely bias-free is, in my opinion, impossible. I'm of the persuasion that biases are going to come across whether we like it or not. I think it's best to reveal any underlying bias and leave it at that. All media is biased, all people are biased, and it's time we learn to diagree with civility.

Mar. 22 2011 01:24 PM
Ned Kennington from Durham, NC

Hamlin's spheres conflate two types of disagreements that should be distinguished. People can disagree over values and they can disagree over facts.

Whether the earth is 5,000 years old or 5,000,000,000 years old is a question of fact. Global warming either is or is not substantially caused by human activity. Considerable bodies of evidence based on rational methods of argument have resolved these issues and while some people may disagree with those resolutions, those attacks are so thin, contradictory and irrational that no open-minded person can argue that the attacks on those resolutions have merit. NPR has no responsibility to respect the attacks on the resolved positions, and NPR is only showing bias if it _does_ give weight to a position that deviates from resolved fact. (Resolved fact can change, and NPR should change its position when that happens.)

People disagree over values when they disagree about the relative importance to _them_ of different facts. When people value things differently, NPR can exhibit bias by ignoring or denigrating the positions held by a substantial portion of the population. Thus, NPR should respectfully acknowledge that a substantial portion of the population values a one-day-old embryo as much as a 10 year-old child. If a large number of people care more about how comfortable their lives are than they care about how comfortable the next 200 generations will be, NPR should treat that position with respect. If a substantial portion of the population prefers to believe things that are not true, NPR should treat those people with respect while pointing out that what they believe is untrue. For example, NPR should treat with respect people who want to believe that the laws of nature were suspended so that Jesus of Nazareth could rise from the dead, while at the same time NPR should point out that the Jesus Seminar and other scholars have marshaled a large body of unrefuted evidence that this is not true.

Mar. 22 2011 12:46 PM
KadeKo from suburban New England

---“Journalism, in general, reporters tend to be Democrats and tend to be more liberal than the public as a whole, sure. But that doesn’t change what is going out over the air."---

---How it is possible for liberal beliefs *not* to be represented more faithfully than others?---

Because reporters don't rule, no more than corporations, armies and football teams are "democracies". There are managing editors, assignment editors, people who decide what gets page one treatment, what gets ignored on page B24, and how many paragraphs down something gets hidden.

When it's done without narrative aforethought, like at NPR, it gets a bit hodge-podgy, saved by their reflexive fairness almost all the time. When it's done to sound like a propaganda system full of talking points repeated endlessly, it sounds like Fox News.

NPR's reflexive "on the one hand on the other" has its uses, but they fail to get out from the Beltway enough, resulting in reasonable-sounding claptrap about unreasonable media obsessions such as James O'Keefe or Joe the Plumber('s Little Helper). Their self-unawareness and naivete is alarming.

Fox News? I got no advice for them. They made their choice and they're beyond help.

Mar. 22 2011 07:52 AM
Adam

I would like to point out that as a somewhat liberal person I think that NPR seems a hair to the right of center. For ex. look at most of the guest that Morning edition, or All things considered has on. I think this comes about as a response to allegations of left leaning and by changes that Republican Patricia Harrison and Bruce M. Ramer put in place as head of Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

Mar. 22 2011 05:58 AM
Adam

Well I noticed at least one bias with this segment. They only had conservatives keeping the journals. What about liberals keeping journals? If you have one side looking for bias is in not a good assumption that they will find some. So in order to balance it out would it not make since then to have people of the other slant look so that their bias is taken into account?

Mar. 22 2011 05:47 AM
Jason Walker from Portland, Oregon

Evidence of NPR's 'liberal bias:'

On Fresh Air: April 12th, 2005, Terry Gross tries to get Bob Dole to denounce actions by Republican senators. Bob Dole resists, claiming he came on the show to discuss his book.

On this show, about 2007-2008: Bob Garfield's unannounced editorial on Republican congressional tactics. As I recall, it provoked a reader letter.

The counter-argument is that these shows are only *distributed* by NPR, and that NPR has no editorial control over them. This is a distinction for people at NPR, not those who level the charges of liberal bias. For most people, if they tune in to an "NPR member station," *they are listening to NPR*, whether the show is distributed by NPR, PRI, BBC America or whatever.

I say these things not because I dislike NPR, but because I love NPR, listen to it every chance I get. And I must occasionally defend it against people who say it has a liberal bias, and I want to make sue I win that argument. Dammit.

Mar. 22 2011 01:35 AM
B Seltzer

Bias seems impossible to measure. But there is an established standard for bias in the employment world. Your workforce must reflex your community, more or less. If not, discrimination is assumed. This is true for private schools as well. So a root question in examining bias would be whether the staff of greater pbulic radio, and especially the management and editorial staff, comes close to reflecting the greater society they serve. According to Gallop 40% of Americans consider themselves convervative, 35% moderate, 21% liberal. My guess is the numbers for the workers in public radio is significantly different. There are of course other metrics such as how many have served in the military, how may have a significant friendship with a devoutly religious person, how many studies math or science, how many lived in a rural area, etc. I believe most in public radio are good, sincere, and ethical, but I also believe the structure of the staff insures a liberal bias compared to the country as a whole.

Mar. 22 2011 01:34 AM
Nat from Brooklyn, NY

(continuation)
5. Again, not a question, not a call to thought. Also, again with the "Betcha." Your presumption here is that the "typical radio listener" would be more interested in NPR if it was less left leaning? If you look at audience by ratings your "typical radio listener" listens to commercial music radio. Of the top 10 stations in the NYC market[1] (the only one I could quickly find ratings breakdowns for), seven of them are music. Four of the top five are music, with 1010 WINS as a statistical out lier. WNYC is tied for 22nd of 39, so the listeners could be described as atypical.

6. Today alone I heard from a wide range of experts, including Congress members, Military Brass, the first Latino mayor of Providence, a school teacher in Oakland, etc. None of these seem like ivory tower types to me. Furthermore, anti-intellectualism aside, NPR calling on people who publish in their field to respond to issues in their field could actually be construed as responsible journalism. It would only be a bad thing if you choose to ignore the number of guests who don't fit into your forgone conclusion that they're all academics.

7. Not a question, just a name with no hint at what you want me to think about or clarify.

8. News talk outside of New York is almost entirely syndicated, with the exception of a few local shows on a few local stations. Statistically news/talk that isn't outwardly right wing (your Limbaughs, Hannitys and Becks) and most of that stuff is also nationally syndicated. There isn't exactly a preponderance of local radio news stations, and music stations tend to only do enough news to fulfill their FCC obligations.

I can't believe you would actually use such a test with students. Its linguistically sloppy, and filled with unqualified assumptions and manufactured statistics. All of which is surprising from a self proclaimed lawyer and teacher.

[1] http://www.nyradioguide.com/ratings.htm

Mar. 22 2011 01:32 AM
Nat from Brooklyn, NY

(continuation)
As for your test.

1. All over this thread it has been mentioned by people on the left that NPR has omitted a huge deal of issues important to the left. Two examples, the lack of coverage of the protests and the anti-war viewpoints during the run up to Iraq, and the Cochabamba environmental accords. I agree you find bias in what isn't covered, but NPR's endeavor towards objectivity means that we could play sin of omission games all day.

2. In my earlier comments, I went to great length to explain that escaping subjectivity is a losing proposition. Once you start correcting for a perceived bias, you end up ignoring the bias that no one has pointed out yet. What's naive here is you insinuation that the bias can't be mitigated through a better process and because it exists at all the enterprise is ruined.

3. This is not a question, or even a call to thought. The use of the word "Betcha" is a tip off that you are making this up to prove a point. One that is hard to follow at that. Are you saying that it is inherently bias creating to hire people who are trained by an accredited university to work in their selected field? Or is it that your perception of journalism school is inherently leftist?

4. In the New York market, I can and have, listened to Democracy Now!, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and 1010 WINS. WINS is almost half advertising, and just basically just reads short headline style pieces. Glann and Rush nitpick ad nauseum about whatever is in their craw, which I don't find terribly informative. Democracy Now! while more in depth, tends to be a little too much on a crusade to hold my attention. I've heard the competition, it is either too shallow or too self righteous or both.

(continued)

Mar. 22 2011 01:29 AM
Nat from Brooklyn, NY

Edward C. Greenberg,

In speaking of people who pay for spots, you give a litany of examples, "The Gates Foundation, George Soros, books, plays and movies clearly aimed at liberal audiences." I am assuming that you, as I, listen to WNYC, the home station of OTM. I hope that you realize the difference between NPR and WNYC (actually New York Public Broadcasting). Of course you hear a lot of underwriting from books, plays and movies, they are underwriting spots on WNYC, perfectly appropriate to the audience in New York. NYC is the center of publishing and stage drama, it also has a sizable and growing film industry. It is not unreasonable to assume that people in those industries listen to WNYC, nor is it unreasonable to assume that given NYC's access to authors on tour, Broadway etc, that there would be a receptive audience. None of this is evidence of bias, its evidence of geography and well thought out marketing..

Of course the Gates and Soros foundations contribute to NPR. Read their mission statements, they have to give certain amounts of money to things like NPR, the trouble is, there aren't many things like NPR to give money to, perhaps Pro Publica, but I bet they get Soros and Gates money too; though I have no evidence to support that claim.

(continued)

Mar. 22 2011 01:28 AM
R J Johnson from Spokane, WA

It is a mistake to interview a Republican and a Democrat and think you are getting "both" sides of an issue. This ignores the third, forth, and fifth sides of an issue. NPR should drop its "both sides" mindset and broaden it search for truth.

On NPR we often hear the views of insiders. They are often congressmen and very often pundits paid for by political interests. To my ear, NPR has an inside-the-beltway bias, which is, in effect, a money and power bias. Not very unbiased, is it?

Regarding On the Media's monitoring project, if you're going to ask somebody from the far right to monitor NPR programming for bias, how about asking some of us on the far left to also monitor? Please include progressives in your evaluations of NPR bias! We are so often ignored!

On the Media, thanks for doing such a great job! Love the show!

Mar. 22 2011 01:01 AM
Tom Moertel from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

In the broadcast on March 11, 2011, Ira Glass said, “Journalism, in general, reporters tend to be Democrats and tend to be more liberal than the public as a whole, sure. But that doesn’t change what is going out over the air....” [1]

How can it not? How can I represent your beliefs as faithfully as mine?

When I make a mistake representing my own beliefs, I can correct myself because I’ll notice that something rings false. But when I make a mistake representing your beliefs, how will I know? I don’t share your beliefs, so I already expect that any faithful representation of them will ring false to me. How, then, will I hear when I have represented your beliefs unfaithfully?

To return to Ira’s claim, if the people making the news at NPR are “more liberal than the public as a whole” to whom they broadcast, how it is possible for liberal beliefs *not* to be represented more faithfully than others?

[1] http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/2011/03/11/04

Mar. 21 2011 11:25 PM
Carol from Austin, TX

Jack D.! My soul mate!! Did you read my comments - #s 98 and 134? Clearly you're a man of great wisdom ;)

Mar. 21 2011 11:18 PM
Edward C. Greenberg from NYC, NY

Another crucial part of the test I use to determine bias is to simply see who/what advertises/sponsors programs. Now that NPR accepts sponsorship and ads - albeit short ones, who gives money and sponsors shows?

Listen for the names and make a list. Advertisers know their audiences better than anyone. The NPR sponsor list clinches the debate. The Gates Foundation, George Soros, books, plays and movies clearly aimed at liberal audiences and scores of foundations and companies targeting their traditional liberal donors or customers. They know how to reach their audience and where they will be.

I have yet to hear an ad or sponsorship by a right of center foundation, political candidate or company of any kind whose customer base is composed of say gun owners, fishermen, truck owners, RV owners, makers of prescription meds like Lipitor and others which serve the over 60 crowd. Older listeners have more time and listen to radio more than 30 year olds for many obvious reasons. They are also politically to the right of their children.

They are ignored by sponsors of NPR. Why would that be? Simple, they don't listen to NPR and its reportage which leans left and which they consider to be "out of touch". They do listen to commercial talk radio in large numbers and for long periods of time.

Final point, the idea that bias should be determined by college professors is like having frat boys administer breathalizer tests to their frat brothers. I hate to quote Mr. MacEnroe but, "Is NPR biased? You can't be serious".

Mar. 21 2011 11:00 PM
Edward C. Greenberg from NYC, NY


NYC, NY
I am an attorney,Reagan Republican who represents photographers, journalists and others who work in the media. I listen to NPR every day. I also write, teach and lecture on media issues.

Does NPR have a liberal bias? Try this test which I have used with students:

1. Examine the stories and people that NPR does NOT cover. Most bias in the media is revealed by looking at what is not covered. Which issues of concern to the political middle or right are ignored by NPR?

2. How many of the NPR staff are registered Republicans or Conservatives? How many have ever voted for a Republican? Betcha 85%+ of your own people classify themselves as liberal. Assuming that they leave that bias home when they report, opine or choose what to cover (or not), would be naive'.

3. What percentage of NPR reporters have owned a business, made a payroll, served in the military or done anything other than journalism? Betcha most have advanced journalism degrees from traditionally liberal institutions - hardly the training ground for tolerance or critical thinking.

4. Listen to NPR one day. Then switch to any popular talk radio station in the same market and listen to it for a day. Switch on and off with other competition - a different station each time.

5. Do a brief demographic on each of your callers/listeners. Betcha the demographic is utterly dissimilar and distinctly more liberal than the "typical radio listener" according to any/all of the radio rating services.

6. Who does NPR use as experts? Many are professors who are disproportionately liberal. Out of the private sector, they receive regular pay checks and are insulated by academia. Why not use people who are actually engaged in the activities, business sectors or policies in question?

7. Juan Williams.

8. Listen to news talk stations out of cities other than NYC and compare them to NPR.

Of course NPR has a liberal bias. Just take the test.

Edward C. Greenberg

Mar. 21 2011 10:30 PM
S Davis from Illinois

Share facebook group If NPR is bias, prove it.

Challenge so far the claimed bias hasn't been documented.

Share it see if there is more than self deception on those who attack NPR

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_196636283703797

Mar. 21 2011 10:22 PM
Mik

"Mik, I can't do all your work for you." Can't, or won't because you don't expect the result to be in your favor? I don't know if it's your attention span or what, but you seem not to be able to grasp that the balance or otherwise of NPR is in the choice of guests and topics - which is an editorial choice - not the private views of individual NPR employees. I cannot discern, nor do I care, what are the private politics of any host on Morning Edition or All Things Considered, who are the NPR employees that spend more time on the air than any others.

I can assure you that listening to NPR alone would have no chance of turning you into a liberal. I have to seek out liberal sites as much or more than you do conservative sites, and the reason is that NPR tries scrupulously to achieve "balance" between opposite viewpoints even if one side is without merit. For that timidity, you can thank the long campaign from the right against the so-called "liberal media", which is a fiction - William Kristol admitted as much back in the '90s when he referred to the campaign as "working the refs".

Mar. 21 2011 10:21 PM
Eric Hamell from Philadelphia

The fundamental flaw in this discussion is the unexamined assumption expressed by the phrase, "journalism that tries to stick to the center and tell both sides." This assumes 1) that there are only two sides to an issue, and 2) that somehow the "center," whatever that means, is more likely to be right than any other position.

One sees how ridiculous these assumptions are if we do a historical thought experiment. At one time, the "center" was undecided on whether slavery was right or wrong. Does that mean a journalist who acted on the usual assumptions of today would have been biased in doing totally antislavery reporting, but unbiased by giving the proslavery position equal time? How can what was biased then be unbiased now, and vice versa? Plainly such an approach is not unbiased at all, but is instead biased against change. The study you discussed, which found the Inquirer's "pro-peace" bias on Palestine/Israel to effectively favor locking in the status quo, is just one example of this.

Often what we would now view as the right position would have been considered totally fringe at one time. The "doughnut" approach is fundamentally at odds with freedom of thought because it rules out positions which may in fact be correct, simply because they are presently unpopular. To be truly objective (to the extent humanly possible), journalists must stop worrying about what is or is not the "center" and simply try to report all the relevant facts that come to light. As in science, the corrective to individual biases will be found not in a cult of "objectivity" that really masks a centrist bias but, rather, in the interplay of the different perspectives of multiple journalists, each helping to check and correct the bias of others.

Mar. 21 2011 09:59 PM
Jer T from Maine, USA

response to Charles, MI

Sure I agree that Democracy Now is further left than just about any other widespread news program and that's part of why I support it. Keep in mind around 40% of this country votes, those who don't are variously poor, ambivalent and/or politically disaffected. My political views are not extreme they just don't fit with the Democrats.

There was obviously a tacit disapproval of Bush II's heavy handed policies on NPR early in the presidency and a continuing respectful but critical view of his presidency. Contrasting that with the elation on NPR (I was happy too) upon Obama's election. NPR is very cautious not to overly criticize Obama as he continues to look ineffectual and not to be overly critical of broken promises. This looks very much like an cautious allegiance and it is why I do praise Democracy Now for their unwavering criticism and holding standards and expectations the government whether it be red or blue.

Also, I think this discussion needs to keep in mind that NPR is not public broadcasting as it exists across the country and so NPR deserves no accolades that a minority of its stations do broadcast Democracy Now.

Mar. 21 2011 08:58 PM
Charles from Michigan

Mik, I can't do all your work for you.

You have to check on those links to see about Wisconsin coverage. Personally, I learned very little from NPR about the death-threats made to Republican state senators. I also learned nothing from NPR about the legality of severing the revenue portions of the Budget Repair Bill, allowing its final passage. Nor did I see any reporting on NPR, that compared the coverage of the Tea Party protests at the time of the Health Care Bill debate on Capital Hill, to the Dmeocrat/Union protests in Madison.

I learned more about all of those things by reading the Wall Street Journal, the National Review Online and the Weekly Standard. It is not as though I expect NPR to function the same, editorially, as those news outlets. But if got my news from NPR alone, I'd be a badly-informed, deluded, liberal. I'd expect NPR to have some conservative voices.

You still have not named for us one single conservative voice in NPR News, nor a single notable program host or producer on public radio. That fact ought to be shocking to the average listener.

Mar. 21 2011 08:16 PM
Charles from Michigan

What a quote:

"I support Democracy Now because they bash both Republicans and Democrats..."

It is true. Amy Goodman and the staff of "Democracy Now!" attack Republicans from the Left. And they attack Democrats from the extreme-fringe-left.

I really don't mind, if a national radio network carries "Democracy Now!" Indeed, the really funny thing is that "Democracy Now!", produced by Pacifica (not NPR) was a program that was syndicated on public radio stations, as well as Air America newtork-affiliate stations.

If ever there was a perfect example of the near-interchangeability of the now-defunct Air America and NPR, "Democracy Now!" is that example. Too bad Air America went bankrupt before Amy Goodman was arrested while protesting at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. She might have used the arrest to boost ratings of the struggling network.

Mar. 21 2011 08:07 PM
Mik

Charles, NPR's output is mostly defined by what goes over the air, not on line, and that's the premise under which this discussion is being carried out. The R in NPR stands for "radio", remember?

So the Wisconsin story got "no fewer" than 732 hits, as if that proves anything. But, as long as you are counting hits, be kind enough also to tell readers how many hits tea parties got.

Regardless of what you consider the politics of NPR's few in-house commentators, the fact that remains that in the big issues of our time, such as the Iraq invasion, health care and the Bush tax cuts, truly left viewpoints (and even reports of their existence) on NPR were noticeable by their extreme rarity. Perhaps you might object to that characterization if you view President Obama as a socialist - but if that's the case, I have a bridge to sell you.

Mar. 21 2011 08:00 PM
Jer T from Maine, USA

There was some good discussion here yet it was also far too personal and tale-telling like most of NPR's reporting. FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, regularly has these discussions yet they are apparently too liberal to be included in NPR's discussions. Much the same is exhibited in NPR's avoidance of the most important political analyst alive today, Noam Chomsky and yet hypocritically honoring Zinn's death, the same will happen with Chomsky. Ira seems to be asking the question of 'On the Media' what do you guys actually do? This is the problem with NPR as a whole - when you stand in the middle you stand for nothing. I support Democracy Now because they bash both Republicans and Democrats while NPR's news programs tie their hands behind their backs. Asking someone to keep a journal? A news program should have not be heart-warming and soft, NPR is the pinnacle of Chris Hedges The Decline of the Liberal Left. Sad and decadent.

Mar. 21 2011 07:42 PM
Charles from Michigan

John what Slate.com did, and what I think that they still do, is that shortly before every Presidential election, they do a long story, with a short paragraph devoted to all of their writers and editorial staff members; they say who they voted (or are voting) for, and why.

It is just about the only news organization I can think of that does such a thing.

What Dvorkin meant (presumably; you could always ask him yourself, he is gracious about answering questions on his current blog) was that professional journalists ought to be adhering to their own standards of objectivity, and that to expose their own actual voting preferences was needless showmanship. You can search online for Michael Kinsley's own explanation as to how and why he began that tradition at Slate.

As for whether any of this personal stuff matters -- we agree very much; it is only part of the larger story.

But when it is impossible to think of a single prominent conservative voice at NPR, as either a reporter, a News Analyst, a program host, a producer, an executive, ANYTHING; well then that fact is rather revealing.

Honestly; can anybody name just one? I think that maybe Tucker Carlson once had a program for a short local run on some public radio station in New England. But I'm not even so certain about that.

Mar. 21 2011 07:19 PM
John from NC

Charles, I think we agree that knowing the political "leanings" of the folks at NPR is fair. It's not the whole picture but part of it. I was just wondering if other numbers were available. What did Dvorkin mean by an act of exhibitionism? I don't understand.

Mar. 21 2011 07:05 PM
JC Harris from Seattle

I listened to Sam Negus and thought I was listening to myself. Where he says he has NEVER heard a guy who reflected -his- religious veiwpoint -ever-, I knew just what he was talking about. I could not add one thing to his statements. He nailed the problem. And the thing he always brought out... in sharp relief... is that Ira and those of his ilk, who I admire GREATLY have such a blind spot to people of differing points of view that they don't even -realise- they have a blind spot. Sam RECOGNISES his bias and therefore is more trustworthy than Ira because he is self-aware. That's the key problem I have with many on the left... and Seattle is a great example of this problem... the lack of EMPATHY or even AWARENESS that there is another side of the story; a general bemused puzzlement as to why 'those other people' could possibly feel as they do. I think that is what enrages thoughtful people on the right.

Mar. 21 2011 06:55 PM
Charles from Michigan

Mik, a search of the NPR website for the words "Wisconsin union" turns up no fewer than 732 links.

As for liberals at NPR, let's just start with the small group of official NPR opinion-leaders. The NPR "News Analysts." It was a title that I beleive was created specifically for liberal Daniel Schorr, one of the most determined Republican critics in the history of modern mainstream media. It is hard to find a single commentary by Dan Schorr in which he did not find some way to criticize Republicans.

The other Senior News Analysts are Cokie Roberts, Juan Williams (now departed) and Ted Koppel (since resigned).

There are the "viewpoint" talk programs -- Democracy Now!, Fresh Air, Tavis Smiley, Michael Eric Dyson, Tell Me More (Michel Martin), Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen, The Takeaway with John Hockenberry. Every one of those individuals more or less unahsamedly approach stories from a liberal point of view.

Now you name me one conservative News Analyst, reporter, or public radio program host.

Mar. 21 2011 06:49 PM
Mik

Charles, you go first, since you believe you have so many more to choose from. Besides, any bias that may be heard over the air does not reside in the private opinions of the staff but the choice of guests and subject matter. One test of liberal or conservative bias is the relative coverage of relatively small tea party gatherings vs. the large Wisconsin demonstrations, which despite going on for day after day after day didn't attract too much attention on NPR.

Mar. 21 2011 06:25 PM
Jack D from Tucson, AZ

I find it interesting that Mr. Nagus finds scholarly inquiry into the life and times of Jesus an affront to his religious views. His assumption that scholarship—really serious, objective intellectual work—is somehow tainted with liberal bias is something I find in common with many Conservatives (not all, thank goodness), and especially with the voice of conservative media. From what I gather of Jesus’ life, his message was one of consistently asking extremely hard questions about cultural mores, social justice and especially--religious dogma. Mr. Negus’ position is almost amusingly paradoxical. So unquestioning is he of his “Christianity” he fails to see the very strong possibility he is among the blind leading the blind: apparently he hasn’t considered Jesus might have been talking about blind faith. Science and scholarship—two words to make a Conservative to cry “Liberal!” Now we can add two more: journalistic integrity. NPR has no reason to defend its record against those who cannot think critically about issues, much less about their own positions. Thank you Mr. Negus, you’ve prompted me to increase my pledge.

Mar. 21 2011 06:08 PM
Charles from Michigan

Mik, are there any identifiable conservatives at NPR? Can you name them?
I'll make you a bet; for every identifiable conserviatvie you name at NPR, I'll name you nine identifiable liberals.

Mar. 21 2011 06:07 PM
Charles from Michigan

John, I tried to make it very clear what I was talking about, including the fact that Slate is not NPR, but that the two organiztions had voluntarily combined their journalistic efforts, and that Slate writers are often on-air NPR contributors. I suggested that it would be an interesting exercise.

I am confident that NPR has never polled the Presidential voting preferences of the NPR News staff. Former NPR Ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin called the quadrennial Slate Presidential-preference polling an act of "exhibitionism" in a private email to me.

Again; I am not necessarily talking about the NPR audience being 90% or more liberal. Although it would be very, very interesting to see comprehensive and accurate data on the NPR audience. No; what I am talking about was the nature of the NPR News staff.

As for political campaign contributions, I think that very few NPR News staff members make them at all.

There are many NPR staff affiliations, particularly among NPR staff spouses. Michelle Norris' husband is a former Obama campaign advisor. Linda Wertheimer's husband Fred was once part of the Common Cause leadership. Brooke Gladstone's husband Fred is a defense/intelligence reporter for... Slate.com
Fred Kaplan has been searingly critical of the Bush Administration throughout his writing. And on and on...

Mar. 21 2011 06:05 PM
Mik

To Charles March 21 01:22PM

The private leanings of NPR staff are quite irrelevant. What matters is what goes out over the air, which is far from 80 or 90% progressive/liberal and, if anything, leans right of center. The fact that you had to "presume" by extrapolating from Slate exposes the bogus nature of your claim.

Mar. 21 2011 05:54 PM
John from NC

Charles suggested using the SLATE polling info to determine the NPR demographics. It seems a far reach to me and might leave out political party contributions, etc. Maybe NPR did an in house survey at one time and those results are available.

Mar. 21 2011 05:08 PM
Dana Franchitto from S. Wellfleet, MA.

For anyone who claims that NPR has a liberal bias ,(regardless of how they feel about it)let me ask you; When was the last time, you hear any voice critical of the "free market" on Morn. Ed or "All Things Considierd"
or either of the weekend morning shows? When was the last time, on those same shows ,you heard the voice of Naom Chomsky or Chalmers Johnson criticizing and questioning the official rationales for invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan? Whenwas the last time, you heard any counterpoint to all the praise lavished upon Ronald Reagan, especially by Liane Haaaaaaaansen ,the weekend Reagan died.Was it Ms Haaaaaansen's liberal bias that caused her to suspend any critical inquiry into his legacy to gush for two hours about what a "nice man" and "great communictaor" he was?. I could go on but nobody here,I'm sure, wants to read an essay. What I want is specific examples of NPR's "left wing bias".

Mar. 21 2011 04:18 PM
Wendy from CT

I was struck by Mr. Negus' actions- listening to NPR every day but refusing to support it. Isn't that the kind of welfare-like sponging that libertarians like him are supposed to abhor?

Mar. 21 2011 01:38 PM
Charles from Michigan

There is one good metric that might be considered here.

The online publication Slate.com does its own polling of its staff every four years. The question: Who are you voting for, and why? The polling was started years ago by Slate's first Editor in Chief, Michael Kinsley.

Slate, as regular NPR listeners should know, has been a "sister" publication to, I believe, NPR's Talk of the Nation program. Slate writers are regular commenters on NPR. They are not usually programmed as advocates, but rather as unopposed journalists.

And, what we know with some metric precision, is that Slate.com is overwhelimingly populated with liberal/progressive/Democrat voters. We know that, by virtue of Slate's every-four-years publication of their voting views.

It is not a stretch, to consider the Slate staff and the NPR staff as being mostly demographically identical. Going by an extrapolation of Slate's numbers, it would be sensible to presume that 80 or 90% of NPR's reporters and editors are progressive/liberal Democrats. And that among the remaining 10 or 20%, roughly equal numbers are further-left Greens, as are conservative Republlicans.

Mar. 21 2011 01:22 PM
Mark Cybulski from Rochester, MI

Me: I consider myself center-right (recognizing that each of us makes the self-assessment claim from a subjective base).

Contributions: I used to contribute to NPR for many years, each time with pen and check in hand pausing to consider the number of wince and shrug moments from the preceding year.

Leaning Left: Sorry that I lack the documentation of a diary, but a few years ago, consulting the wince and shrug ledger in memory, I put the pen down. NPR, speaking broadly, leans to the left. I view protestations to the contrary as having similar sincerity to being "shocked, shocked" at the end of Casablanca.

Funding: I suspect no media enterprise is capable of pure objectivity; who would define it? Unfortunately, that is a prerequisite for public funding, so I disagree with public funding for any such outlet.

Mar. 21 2011 01:15 PM
John from NC

Does NPR have a liberal bias? Is it reasonable that an overwhelmingly progressively, liberal, Democratic news organization is biased? Does a woodchuck chuck wood?
Even though Nina and Ira only want to judge the " product ", maybe NPR isn't " a bunch of leftests". Nina says that there is a perception problem and maybe it's true. Wouldn't that be an easy assignment? Wouldn't that be something? It would be hilarious to find out that half of the staff of NPR and affiliates were conservative Republicans and maybe went to college. For the sake of NPR and journalistic integrity, survey the entire staff and see if there is bias or a balance of bias. No cheating and double check your sources.

Mar. 21 2011 12:51 PM
Brian McLaughlin from Southern California

It's absurd for NPR, and especially Ira Glass, to investigate themselves. Thanks for a good laugh this morning. Don't take yourself too seriously!

Mar. 21 2011 12:49 PM
Dana Franchitto from S. Wellfleet, MA.

Spot on Karen Twyman(#101) I hope the staff at OTM read your post. THank you.

Mar. 21 2011 12:36 PM
Dana Franchitto from S. Wellfleet, MA.

My concern is that NPR misrepresents itself as "independent" when its sources for stories are largely confined to Wall St. and The Pentagon.

Mar. 21 2011 12:34 PM
Emma Kaye from Seattle

This story might benefit from expansion. As an unchurched, left-coaster (yes, a liberal), I also roll my eyes at some of the stories, including the emphasis of them. For my part, I sometimes find too much right-bias. How about finding a liberal who doesn't contribute and asking them the same question.

The bottom line is listening without opening your wallet - whatever your politics may be - is being cheap. I remember Ira's rants during pledge times. They are right on - you listen, you provide a few greenbacks.

Mar. 21 2011 12:19 PM
KadeKo from suburban Northeast

D. Douglas, right back atcha.

By the way, I've been told by friends who fly much more than I do that CNN International much more resembles journalism to the point that it's embarrassing to CNN. Is that true?

Mar. 21 2011 12:18 PM
Charles from Michigan

J M M writes: "I am not concerned that NPR may have more hosts with of a liberal persuasion. I expect that they demonstrate professionalism. It is similar to a visit to a doctor-- I do not care what the physician's political opinion may be; I want a professional service. NPR reliably provides a professional service with accurate reporting."

This is an oft-cited defense of journalism. Ted Koppel uses it with regularity. It a false comparison. Here's why.

We might not care, if the surgeon who treats us is a Democrat or a Reublican. There are many professionals whose political views don't matter; their political views are, or should be, subsumed by their professionalism and adherence to their own technical standards.

But of course, professionals do have opinions about their own respective subject matters. A psychiatrist might prefer one type of drug therapy over another. A surgeon might prefer a more or less aggessive surgical technique. One accountant's views about tax planning might differ from another accountant. Those personal views are relevant to their professional work.

And so it is with journalists, covering politics. If all of a netowrk's reporters are liberals, it matters. They have personal views that bear on their professional subject matters.

And really, how can anyone justify the status quo on public radio, wherein virtually all of the program hosts, producers and news analysts are varying shades of Blue? Isn't it natural to ask why there are virtually no conservatives of any prominence, in any regular position of executive influence or reporting authority at NPR or the most visible public radio programs?

Mar. 21 2011 12:13 PM
Madeleine Crouch from Dallas, TX

I listened this past Sunday with great interest. Volunteer conservative listener and diary keeper Sam Negus admitted that he listens to news on NPR because the coverage is excellent, but that he supports defunding because he occasionally hears opinions with which he does not agree. I hear people on NPR all the time that drive me nuts, for example, an hour-long interview with Grover Norquist on Fresh Air. Would that stop me from supporting, both in spirit and financially, the best delivery vehicle for fact-based news coverage, thought-provoking interviews and high quality entertainment in the country today? Absolutely not! It was incredibly valuable for me to listen to that hour with Grover Norquist. We should constantly be examining and re-examining our personal beliefs so we can coherently defend them. Listening to challenges are part of the rational thought process. I am reminded of that line in the play, "Inherit the Wind," when the defense attorney asks a witness "Do you ever think of the things you DO think about?" In the end, are all the attacks on NPR being driven by people who simply cannot bear to hear any opinions but their own being expressed?

Mar. 21 2011 11:18 AM
Bob Ray Sanders from Fort Worth, Texas

This was an incredible piece -- a great interview with tough questions. Most remarkable, however, was the demonstration you gave on bias editing (using the interviewee's on words to make him look foolish). It is too bad that he will never learn that valuable lesson.

Mar. 21 2011 10:44 AM
Robert from Wisconsin

The problem as I see it is NPR gets put in the same box as the state public radio, which in Wisconsin is quite liberal.

Mar. 21 2011 10:01 AM
Carol from Austin, TX

And live your life by the opinions of others and you'll be as meely-mouthed, wishy-washy, and unTruthful as the next guy...

Mar. 21 2011 09:02 AM
Drew from Austin, Texas

Create a bias-monitoring app.

At the end of the article, you asked one person to record their impressions of bias. I suggest creating an app that allows any listener to record their impressions. For each show each day, they could record their determination of bias on a sliding scale along with comments. It need not be complicated.

The output could be used to answer your questions on an on-going basis. As you know, making a determination today does not guarantee not having bias in the future. Such an app would help continue to monitor any such bias. Though not a true statistical sample, it would provide valuable data for a future version of this discussion. To the extent there is perceived bias, the respective show can evaluate whether or not they wish to change based on the feedback.

Mar. 21 2011 08:53 AM
Carol from Austin, TX

Right on, D. Douglas, Allen Matsumoto, Amy M., and Nat!! As Nat points out, "The problem is that the 'both sides' model [creates] an ever increasing number of people whose views are excluded because they are not within a perceived main stream." There are NOT just two views of things: Liberal and Conservative. And there is not just one Christian view of things but a multiplicity.

Allen, I, too, heard Negus to say that he, "never hears discussions of Christianity that are "exactly what he wanted to hear." As y'all point out, the very GOAL of OtM is defining the purpose of journalism. Allen is correct when he says, "If what you want from your news editorial content is material that confirms or reinforces your beliefs, that's one way of viewing the purpose of news. Personally, I appreciate NPR precisely because it challenges beliefs, including mine."

But Fundamentalists like Negus will never agree with you. Their world view is that everything should affirm THEIR agenda or it is WRONG. And not only wrong, it is evil! This, in my humble opinion, is the exact OPPOSITE of the Good News which Jesus came to bring us. As my dear pastor says regularly, if you really HEAR what Jesus said it should shake your self-worshiping agenda to the core. And that's why non-fundamentalist churches aren't growing like fundamentalist. The message isn't so comfort-giving.

Keep on rockin' us, NPR. If you're offending the extremists you must be doing something right.

Mar. 21 2011 08:01 AM
deb

If nothing else, can NPR with all it's ivy league educated elite define all these labels? Just the other day, one of my children asked for some help with an online profile she was filling out. She thought "far left liberal" was her political bent. I said "really"? She said "I don't even know what that means, so I will leave it blank."
Now that's wisdom!!!

"Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt."

Mar. 21 2011 06:52 AM
John S from Sacramento, CA

Overall I think NPR has a bias. Coverage of recent labor disputes have been somewhat one-sided, and failed to provide examples of excessive employee costs.

I have lived and worked in the UK and Australia, and whilst the BBC and the ABC have their issues - they are far more balanced that NPR.

Now all of that said - I still listen to NPR and enjoy the programming, and kinda shrug when NPR takes takes a less objective line.

Mar. 21 2011 02:46 AM
Nat from Brooklyn, NY

(continuation)

This leads to the criticism at the heart of many comments on this thread. People who identify at places outside this "mainstream" blame NPR for leaning both right and left (depending on where they identify). The political dialog has narrowed the spectrum so effectively that it placed huge numbers of Americans outside of the "norm." Perhaps this is a basis for NPR's difficulties, exemplified by Brooke and Ira, in understanding why it's attempts at presenting balance with both sides of every issue can still come off as biased. The problem is that the "both sides" model has created an ever increasing number of people whose views are excluded because they are not within a perceived main stream.

Indeed, we are all naturally inclined towards bias[1]. There is no getting around subjectivity even in objective journalism. We speak of objectivity as though it is a process with a terminus. Given our biased tendencies, it is obvious that this could never be the case. That leaves objectivity as an ongoing process; in journalism as in science, a professional code of conduct, not a goal to be achieved. In this sense objectivity is more like the the "clean" in "clean living" than the "clean" of "house cleaning." You don't get a clean life from practicing clean living, just like you don't get true objectivity from striving for it as a journalist.

Is NPR biased? Absolutely. However NPR has a journalistic culture that strives towards objectivity. What makes NPR special and worthy of both my member and tax dollars is that no other place in US broadcasting strives as hard, and so no one else gets as close to objectivity. Sure I can find examples of left leaning bias and of right leaning bias, but in the totality of programming hours NPR has the best track record.

[1] http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/11/how_facts_backfire/ (thanks to Don Vandiver in #48)

Mar. 21 2011 02:00 AM
Nat from Brooklyn, NY

There is a question at the bottom of this discussion, one that many people have already pointed out; is bias avoidable? I do not think it is. We are deeply biased by our life experiences and cultural connections. So deeply that we are unaware of any number of biases that we hold. Frankly the outermost ring of Daniel Hallin's dough nut contains a universe of things that we didn't realize have been relegated to the areas beyond polite conversation. Not to mention the things that we have shoved into the center of the dough nut as agreed upon, or settled, when they certainly are not. We have standardized on a completely limited set of topics on which intelligent people may disagree.

One example is the reductionism inherent in the idea that there are two sides to every question, a supposition stated repeatedly in this segment. There are not just "both" views, often there is a multiplicity. However, this widespread fallacy forces journalists (on NPR as elsewhere) to spend time trying to fit the opinions of subjects into an accepted political spectrum, which at the end of the day does little more than support the status quo of current politics. If the entirety of mainstream opinion, including left and right extremes are embodied by the opinions of Congress members, you are automatically narrowing your political spectrum to ideas that win elections. That is far too narrow a space for real meta level thinking about policy.

(continued)

Mar. 21 2011 01:59 AM
burro from Santa Rosa, CA

Mr. Negus has an issue with Terry Gross interviewing someone from the "Jesus Seminar" without an opposinig viewpoint, but Fresh Air also has evangelicals and other religiously oriented folks on for interviews without a non religious perspective in the same hour. That's what Fresh Air is for the most part, an in depth discussion with a single interview subject.

As long as everybody is getting involved with diaries and stats and whatnot, give Fresh Air and other interview programs a call and see what info they can provide on "balance".

And the "Jesus Seminar" sounds interesting. I missed that interview. I think I'll check it out.

Thanks OTM for expanding on this topic. No matter what the final conclusion that is reached, conservatives are genetically programmed to hate on NPR, so don't be disappointed when they don't care what that conclusion is.

Mar. 21 2011 01:06 AM
Amy Martin from Montana

Mr. Negus was offended by a bias revealed in a Fresh Air segment, because it jangled with his own bias. He passionately asserts that almost all Christians believe that Jesus literally died and came back to life before ascending to heaven. He threw out something like, "ninety-nine percent of Christians of all time" believe this.

However, throughout the last 2,000+ years, Christians have had many nuanced, complex beliefs about the resurrection story. I grew up going to a church in which the idea of Jesus' death and rebirth as spiritual metaphor did not disqualify anyone from being a member of that community or thinking of him or herself as a Christian. And this was not in some urban, liberal enclave. This was small-town Iowa. Mr. Negus' belief is just one of many possible responses, and yet he's so convinced of it, he assumes his view is the norm; not just here and now, but for all time.

Mr. Negus is an individual, not a news organization, and he's entitled to his biases. But since the heart of his argument is that NPR makes assumptions that transmit bias, it seems relevant to point out that he's doing the very thing he's accusing them of.

My point? It's impossible not to transmit bias, even when we're trying very hard to be fair. The best we can hope for is a clear, conscious intention to examine ourselves, allow new information in, and look at our positions in new ways. I believe NPR has that intention, and demonstrates it repeatedly.

Like Mr. Negus, I notice biases that don't match mine all the time on NPR: I just don't (usually) get too upset about it, because I trust their overall intention to be as fair as possible, and because I know that my own particular lens is, well, just my own. If you believe that you are in possession of an inarguable, universal, permanent truth, then you're going to get offended a lot, and no news organization which presents a diversity of viewpoints is ever going to feel like home to you.

Mar. 21 2011 12:28 AM
Carol from Austin, TX

JMM is so correct in stating that Negus has not a clue that there are LOTS of Christians who believe his views to arise from pure ignorance of the original languages in which the Bible was written and Church history. Contrary to stereotype I personally know many Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and even Catholics who do not share Mr. Negus' ideas.

There's a movement in the "emerging church" called "Faith and Reason". Having had a tradition for at leas the past 60 yrs., if not longer, of respect for science and scholarship my own Baptist church hosted such a seminar 3 years ago. Attesting to an apparent hunger for such an approach more than 1200 people attended. From a WIDE range of traditions -- Christian and non -- many identified themselves as members of "The Church Alumni Association". The major reason? Graceless folks like Mr. Negus! So, stay the course, OtM and NPR, and don't let the narrow-minded ignoramuses determine your mission.

Mar. 20 2011 11:58 PM
Dana Franchitto from S>Wellfleet, MA.

Liberal Bias? PLease! Just because the hosts at NPR are not shouting in your face like Limbaugh or Savage ,NPR has a liberal Bias? I would remind Mr. Negus that The major news shows on NPR are always pushing some kind of Chrisitanity in the form of Gospel music, or commentary by Father James Martin, a conservative Jesuit priest ,and foe awhile Joe laConte of the Heritage foundation pushing a conservative Catholic theology.
Furthermore as a libertarian ,he must be grateful that the Wall St. Journal 's David WEssel appears regularly on Morn. Ed.with no counterpoint from any socialists or citizern advocates. So my question is why is OTM going to interview more conservative critics of "public'r adio? Why isn't OTM airing criticism from the Left ? For example, NPR's war -fevered coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan ,predicated on the "legitimacy" of the invasions? THat's just one example. NPR="Natioanl Pentagon Radio

Mar. 20 2011 11:56 PM
J M M from Helena, Mt

Nicely done segment. I am not concerned that NPR may have more hosts with of a liberal persuasion. I expect that they demonstrate professionalism. It is similar to a visit to a doctor-- I do not care what the physician's political opinion may be; I want a professional service. NPR reliably provides a professional service with accurate reporting. There isn't much more to ask of a news organization than that. It is simply unreasonable to expect that NPR commentary will unrelentingly be able to play to the inherent biases of all the listeners. Sam Negus' assertion that 99.9% of Christian's will agree with his personal view of Resurrection is reflective of HIS bias, not the bias of NPR. NPR will never be able to be "objective" to those listeners who have such an unreasonable expectation. Has Negus never heard of Unitarians or Later Day Saints? Has Mr. Negus considered that the "words of Jesus" were actually translated into English centuries after they were initially recorded decades after Christ's death so that the actual words will never be known?

Mar. 20 2011 11:30 PM
Jim Murphy from Montana

In response to Mike (comment #124):

I'm not sure whether you find my comment, immediately preceding yours, to be an example of the "trend" you've discovered, i.e., the "refusal to see Mr. Negus as a reasonable critic, because he is religious," but if so, I would invite your attention to the root word in "reasonable," which is of course "reason." Had Mr. Negus constructed a "reasoned" argument and supported his conclusions with objective fact, rather than subjective perceptions that he thinks should be "obvious" to everyone, he would be entitled to be seen as a "reasonable critic". While he continues to make claims he doesn't bother to prove, he won't be.

Your assertion that Negus' arguments are dismissed solely because he is religious is likewise as subjective and unproven as his own entirely subjective and unproven premises. Not sure which comments you think support your case, but mine certainly doesn't.

Mar. 20 2011 11:21 PM
Tom Moertel from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

NPR has the best news coverage going, but it’s offered from a left-leaning perspective.

It’s not that NPR promotes liberal views. Rather, the people at NPR, despite their best efforts, can’t help but have their beliefs come through in what they broadcast. As long as those beliefs are more liberal than the nation’s as a whole, it’s going to come through that way.

I don’t mind this kind of bias because it’s usually small – NPR’s efforts to self-correct are pretty good – and because it’s unavoidable with humans doing the reporting.

So, yes, NPR is biased. But who cares? Every source of news that involves humans is biased.

The question, then, is this: Since any source of news will have some degree of bias, should there be any public funding of news at all? (I’d answer yes, mainly because the commercial media do such a poor job of reporting, lacking anything like NPR’s breadth of coverage and depth of analysis, that we need an alternative.)

Mar. 20 2011 10:26 PM
Chris Knox from Phoenix, Arizona

Dear OTM:

I know one area where NPR is biased. I spend a significant amount of my time thinking and writing about the positive aspects of guns. I have quite a bit of knowledge in this very narrow field (enough that I've been interviewed on 'All Things Considered'), and the bias at NPR is palpable.

My bet is that Brooke, Bob, and Ira have not shot a firearm in the past year, if ever. I'll risk stereotyping to speculate that their views, as well as the views of their friends and colleagues are probably better represented by organizations like the Violence Policy Center or the Brady Center than the National Rifle Association or some other pro-gun group.

I commend to you the work of Jonathan Haidt (http://people.virginia.edu/~jdh6n/postpartisan.html). The issue of guns is a "tribal-moral" issue in the sense that Dr. Haidt uses it. According to that view, Brooke, Bob, and Ira are of the Northeastern Media tribe, while I am of the Southwestern Gun-Owning tribe. The Northeastern Media sometimes refers to my tribal group as "gun-toting" -- any hint of bias in that language?

Not only do I hear stories that portray guns and gun owners in a negative light, I don't hear stories that mention the positive aspects. I can't recall any mention on NPR of successful civilian defensive uses of guns. It happens, but I'd never know it if I only listened to NPR.

I can't recall ever hearing an NPR report on competitive shooting except maybe for a rare Olympic story. The National Matches held every summer at Camp Perry, Ohio typically draw thousands of participants, yet I've never heard coverage. I suspect you might cover a golf tournament of that scale.

In the narrow field of firearms, I have enough independent knowledge to know that the NPR bias exists. On other topics where I have less knowledge, I can only assume that the same bias is present.

Chris Knox
Phoenix, Arizona

Mar. 20 2011 10:12 PM
Allen Matsumoto from Bellingham, WA

The guest who stated that he thought NPR's news coverage was largely accurate, but would not support NPR due to liberal bias, made a comment and an interesting observation that I thought Ira Glass should not have missed.

In reflecting on a self-described Christian movement that considers the resurrection of Christ to be a metaphor, the guest first said that 99.9+ % of self-described Christians would find this position offensive and not consider it to be Christian at all. I suspect that there is a significant confirmation bias at play in that estimate, and that the actual percentage would be at least somewhat less.

But more interestingly, he was upset that the entire hour focused on this movement, with no position that reflects his voice, and he saw this as bias.

The position that resurrection is literal is not news. It can be heard at hundreds of thousands of churches every day, and is reflected on and discussed by, according to the guest, 99.9+% of self-described Christians. So a movement that professes a divergent interpretation of scripture, being an opinion of dissent from the overwhelming majority, becomes of interest for an in-depth news article.

He then concluded by stating that he never hears discussions of Christianity that are "exactly what he wanted to hear." (I believe that's at least a close quote.)

At the risk of enlarging a casual comment beyond its actual significance, this feels like a defining difference in views about the purpose of journalism. If what you want from your news editorial content is material that confirms or reinforces your beliefs, that's one way of viewing the purpose of news. Personally, I appreciate NPR precisely because it challenges beliefs, including mine.

I hope that in his week's logging of NPR coverage, and your later discussion and analysis of it, this question is raised.

Mar. 20 2011 10:07 PM
Jeff Schuh

I'm probably not adding anything new here, but I too was a bit dumbstruck when Mr. Negus cited Fresh Air as an example of obvious NPR liberal bias, but even more so that there was no retort that Fresh Air is an interview program.

Seriously, given any topic, would someone with average views, career, lifestyle, or otherwise pedestrian knowledge be something you would expect to hear on an interview program?

For all the time Mr. Negus apparently listens to NPR, you would think he would have figured out FA by now.

Mar. 20 2011 10:03 PM
D. Douglas

To address the Wisconsin issue.

Yes, Negus is right. Democrats are now in the minority in the Wisconsin legislature and elections do have consequences.

But is his conclusion, that voters wanted the unions busted, correct? I don't know.

Did the Governor and the Republicans campaign on busting the unions? If they did, he is correct. If they simply campaigned on "balancing the budget", Negus' conclusion doesn't follow. And the voters of Wisconsin were cheated out of a fair election.

Now, that is something I would like somebody on NPR to report on.

(Wherever one stands on health care, both Obama and the Democrats who ran in 2008 were clear about their support for reform. Voters may not like the results but they were not completely lied to.)

Mar. 20 2011 09:49 PM
Maggie White from Tacoma, WA

Since Mr Negus finds it OK to use NPR without paying for the service, I wonder how long I would last in his congregation without adding my contribution to the plate? He doesn't like bias; I don't like hypocrisy.

Maggie

Mar. 20 2011 09:38 PM
Mike from United States

One trend in the comments here is simply amazing - the refusal to see Mr. Negus as a reasonable critic, because he is religious. The vast majority of America is religious and you label them pointy-headed at your own peril.

From my non-Christian point of view, Negus' religious take is a "fairy tale". But he never asked you to believe as he does - and he doesn't advocate using your tax dollars to build a soapbox. Nor did he ever derogate people who disagree with his religious take.

---

Perhaps NPR should glory in its left bias and give up on the self-examination. The voices on this comment space are overwhelmingly left. But I think all of us, including NPR, would be poorer for it.

Leave aside the public subsidy issue. I think this move would make for lousy business (witness MSNBC and Air America's poor showing). I suspect that the self-examination represented by this OTM episode keeps NPR from alienating its core, centrist audience.

Mar. 20 2011 09:16 PM
Jim Murphy from Montana

I think that you've made an editorial choice here that ironically plays into the hand of your critics on this issue. Couldn't you find someone who might state a more intelligent case than this Aussie? Letting him prattle on about his purely subjective judgment of how obvious it was that the on-air talent was "happy" with the 2006 midterm results, rather than pressing him to point out some objective facts supporting his argument, makes one wonder just how committed you were to answering Mr. Glass' challenge. It's pretty much a cheap shot to let people embarrass themselves like that rather than intelligently address an issue and then act as if you've given "the other side" equal time. I'm not sure that there is, in fact, anyone who could prove this guy's thesis (I don't believe it myself), but you might have looked a little harder. Lots of educated conservatives out there who can distinguish objective fact from subjective opinion.

On another subject: EXCELLENT takedown of O'Keefe.

Mar. 20 2011 09:02 PM
Mark Bergseid from San Diego


What Liberal Bias? NPR spends too much time worrying about liberal bias. From my point of view, no time whatsoever should have been given to Sam Negus, a man who believes in Spiritual (i.e. Evangelical Christianity) and Political (i.e. Libertarian) fairy tales!

What Conservatives hate about NPR and MSNBC is that, for the most part, they present reality. The whole idea that the press is liberal began when the Nixon Administration didn't like the press coverage of Agnew's corruption and the bankruptcy of the Nixon foreign policy.

Mar. 20 2011 08:53 PM
R Bauer from Northern Michigan

You can't win. If NPR presents a report that I don't agree with, your reporting is biased. I'm not biased, but your reporting is.

Keep up the good work.

Mar. 20 2011 08:53 PM
Baritone from Iowa City, Iowa

Very good point Fred! I have been very frustrated by Right deciding where the middle is. America hasn't had a functioning Left since the New Deal and that was really center-left.

Mar. 20 2011 08:39 PM
Tom Sherer from American Desert

NPR is another CONS-ervative mouthpiece.

It does use big words and explores much more of the World than any other broadcast media outlet, which probably makes many critics think NPR is "liberal", but that is only because of a lack in them.

NPR does reflect a "liberal arts" background. That should NOT be confused by the political term.

STOP CONTEMPLATING YOUR NAVEL!

Mar. 20 2011 08:37 PM
Fred West from West Chester, PA

OTM is one of my favorite programs on NPR. However, you are about to shoot yourself in the foot with this particular subject. Your whole idea is that you may or may not consider yourself an unbiased organization handing out the facts of any situation that may arise. To that end, you very correctly went and found a conservative who does believe that you are biased and asked him to keep a journal for one week. You then announced that next week we would hear from more conservatives. Where are the liberals who believe that you are biased to the right? Without them, this whole thing is flawed as you cannot be the liberals or you have proved them correct. Fred

Mar. 20 2011 08:26 PM
Baritone from Iowa City, Iowa

I find this topic very interesting especially the quest for a definition of Liberal, Conservative and balanced. One of the programs I enjoy is Left Right and Center, when I recommended it to a conservative friend he refused to listen to it because NPR couldn’t have a “real” conservative representative. Beauty is not the only thing in the eye of the beholder. I would suggest Mr. Negus tune in to Being. Last Sunday the guests were to Jesuit Priests.

In general I find the attitude of conservatives toward the national budget frustrating. They seem to feel that they have the right to figue their personal taxation down to the mill and then try to defund anything that they don’t want their taxes to support. There are many things on which my government chooses to spend tax money that I do not like and at the same time there are many things I do. One of those things is Public Broadcasting.

Mar. 20 2011 08:24 PM
Mark Richard from Columbus, Ohio

Except for some criticisms from the hard Left, NPR is defended by people who can't write more than a few sentences without going off on Fox News and other sources of liberal obsession. Is there anyone on this thread who is a stalwart Republican (i.e., thinks Reagan was a great president, is sympathetic to the Tea Party, supported the GOP wave of 2010, etc.) who believes that NPR is as tough on liberal-left personalities and shibboleths (race-based affirmative action, abortion rights, unionization, the beneficial economic effects of more taxation and regulation) as it is on their opposite numbers?

It is as much the stories NPR does not think to run, or the issues to which it decides to devote resources, as it is the news it does not decide to run. In this recession, the largest state, strongly Democratic California, is an economic basket case, while the second-largest state, strongly Republican Texas, has about half the unemployment rate as California. The orientation of 'blue' vs. 'red' states has shown the former steadily losing population (=jobs) to the latter for decades. NPR has dutifully reported this sort of thing, but never thinks to ask why. Can't be the climate . . .

Mar. 20 2011 07:53 PM
Mik

While I cannot vouch for some of D. Douglas's particular examples, I certainly agree with Douglas's general arguments, particularly regarding Iraq and the health care debate. Early on in the latter debate there was a large public constituency for single payer as there was, later on, for the public option. Yet the debate on NPR at any given time adhered strictly to the terms dictated by the politicians with the loudest voices ; advocates for single payer and/or the public option were simply frozen out. Another example is the complete failure of NPR to treat Senator Bernie Sanders' marathon speech last December with any seriousness when it clearly raised arguments that needed to be raised and discussed at length.

I continue to support NPR as a valuable informational and and educational resource for our nation, but I find that the closer to home a topic comes, the more timid is NPR. On NPR, as in so many other organs of the media, the most influential politicians are given every opportunity to sway the public; the public's opportunity to influence the politicians is vanishingly small.

Mar. 20 2011 07:48 PM
Mike from United States

Bravo to OTM and NPR for bringing Mr. Negus on to the show. He provided an articulate, intellectual, and polite representation of the view that NPR leans pretty left.

Of course NPR leans liberal. Even relative centrists like Brooke Gladstone bring in "experts" to opine that topics like Global Warming are settled fact. Like Pauline Kael (she famously remarked that Nixon couldn't have won because nobody she knew voted for him), many liberals have a tough time seeing their own biases because they don't run into people with different views.

That said, I'm glad that Ms. Gladstone and Mr. Glass can remain open to polite, fun conversation with people on the other side of the political spectrum. The best of NPR (thinking particularly of Brian Lehrer) is hardcore liberal, but able to place any preachiness beneath their news responsibilities. If all of NPR operated at the same level of professionalism, nobody would worry about personal politics.

Mar. 20 2011 07:47 PM
Karen

The Tea Party movement and evangelical Christians, have moved America's dialogue and ideologies so far the Right that even Eisenhower, Nixon and Regan would be considered extreme Left today. It is ridiculous to take the discussion of NPR having a Liberal bias seriously.

I hope that On the Media also interviews those of us on the Left who think that NPR panders far too much to the Right Wing, and has done so for over a decade. I and those like me are not extremists. We're pretty normal, hard-working Americans, who think that taking care of our fellow Americans with our tax dollars is far more important than Defense and tax cuts for the rich. But we will be labeled "Far Left" or "Extemist" because of our views.

Stop pandering to the right. They will never give NPR what it needs, unless NPR turns into FOX News.

I would like On the Media to do a series of interviews with Americans who think that NPR has a Conservative bias. The Ombudsman will tell you that there are pleanty of us.

Mar. 20 2011 07:38 PM
Wendy from Los Angeles

When I want a progressive point of view these days, I listen to Pacifica. NPR has become too "on one hand, on the other hand," giving equal time (I haven't timed this practice, but I bet it's exactly equal) to both sides (as if there are only two), even when only one point of view is accurate (and this probably demonstrates my bias).

The left side of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, along with a healthy helping of Greens, calls NPR National Pentagon Radio.

A local public radio station proclaims about itself, "no rant, no slant," and means that without irony. Yet it does not present fringe viewpoints on those issues.

Everyone is biased.

Mar. 20 2011 07:35 PM
Dudley from NC

Take the question from a different point of view. Read the bios of senior management and commentators at NPR and ask yourself if you see geographic, racial, educational, or professional diversity. One explanation for why Ira Glass and "On the Media" struggle with the idea of bias is they are part of a system where everyone looks like everyone else, comes from the same type college, and has come up through (or is related to by marriage) the same small professional circle.

When there is little diversity of background there is less diversity of opinion and people fall into the "All right thinking people know...." syndrome. Biases then can't be biases because they are simply acceptance of facts everyone else is the group believes.

I don't want NPR to run out and hire conservatives, just maybe hire someone who isn't white, someone with no connections to the New York Times, a graduate of a state supported university, or heaven forbid someone who is on first name basis with a farmer.

Mar. 20 2011 07:21 PM
Elizabeth from Arizona

I listened to your discussion 3/20 between Sam Negus and Ira Glass and found it to be very unfair/disturbing. Although Negus is very articulate and sounds like he is indeed listening to NPR, he is unabashadly pushing HIS bias onto NPR by forcing them to defend themselves. For example, how can he cling to his mythical beliefs about Jesus' body physically rising and try to force NPR to air them? I am a practicing Christian and I (as well as my friends) do not accept that belief. Obviously EVERYONE cannot take all bias out of their comments; only robots can do that. What is wrong with NPR's being proud of its liberal leanings? Fox News seems to be proud of their right-wing views. I haven't heard anyone giving them grief about being unbiased! PLEASE don't change your style of reporting; we certainly need an alternative to them! NPR has the communities of higher education, science and the FACTS behind them, so please don't pander to the folks who would like us all to be lovers of Fox media. It will never happen for all of us who are thinkers! We desperately need your style of reporting!!

Mar. 20 2011 07:13 PM
D. Douglas

I just want to thank Chuck, Halax and Kadeko for expressing, better than I did, my main complaint about NPR - that it is no longer an alternative to the MSM (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post).

Its news programs are driven by the same Conservative (FOX) talking points that drive the rest of the MSM - all of whom, ever since Nixon I think - have been bending over backwards to prove that they are NOT liberal. They are so afraid, as NPR itself has shown during this latest dustup, of being called liberal by people who have a stake in their being thought to be liberal, that they are no longer credible news organizations.

What is it about being called "liberal" that is so terrible?

Perhaps that is the subject OTM should devote itself to. Why do Rupert Murdoch, FOX, Conservatives and neo-Cons control the debate? Why have they been able to turn the MSM into co-conspirators? From, most definitely, the moment Clinton won the election, the media have (with a brief timeout to get Obama elected) let Conservatives set all the terms of all debates.

Increasingly, I find myself turning to foreign news sources. I get the same basic facts but without the right-wing bias.

Mar. 20 2011 07:10 PM
Angela from Central, MA

What, did those who object to Negus stop listening after he mentioned his offense at the Terry Gross interview?! He also mentioned bias in the coverage of the Wisconsin political scene. Why do many of you keep bringing up Fox News? Fox does not receive public funding. Preachers on Christian t.v. are on privately funded programs. The discussion here is supposed to be about whether bias for a liberal worldview exists on a publicly funded news outlet. Comparing Fox to NPR is comparing apples to oranges. Thanks for the name calling from the open minded NPR listening liberals - ref: wack job, ilk.

Thanks for speaking up Sam. Your comments are appreciated.

Mar. 20 2011 07:08 PM
S Davis from Illinois

Better link Sorry

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_196636283703797&ap=1

If NPR is Bias, Prove it

Mar. 20 2011 07:07 PM
Jim from Oakland, CA

First, the mere fact that NPR is even considering that it might have unreasonable bias sets it head and shoulders above all other US media. In other words, at least NPR tries. I don't see any other news outlet even trying to avoid bias. Some outlets openly admit and embrace their bias (Fox "News", for example). If NPR is ever lost, we'll all be left with liberal liars and conservative liars.

On the flip side of that, it irks me a bit that NPR will quickly, promptly, and loudly respond to any accusations of bias from such ridiculously biased outlets as Fox "News" (who once argued in court that "fair and balanced" is so clearly mis-descriptive of their programs that it could be used as a trademark). If a liar calls you a liar, you don't always have to respond.

Negus's big complaint appears to be that he hears voices with which he disagrees. Not showing only perspectives with which Negus agrees is not bias. Why he gets to be the arbiter of objectivity is beyond me. Ask me about bias and I'll tell you about opinions of your hosts, not your guests.

Regards.

Mar. 20 2011 07:03 PM
S Davis from Illinois

I started a group: If NPR is Biased, Prove it

http://www .facebook. com/home.p hp?sk=grou p_19663628 3703797

Share it and allow those who believe NPR bias to prove it Listen to one news show for a week discuss any bias

NPR is currently available to almost everyone in America. That may change if many small market stations have to close; those oasis in a cultural desert stations.

Mar. 20 2011 07:01 PM
Karen Twyman from East Lansing, MI

I would like to add to my earlier comment, that another example of NPR bending over backwards to avoid the appearance of bias would be the Health Care Reform debate. Americans are notoriously ignorant about this issue. And NPR is partly responsible...on their flag ship programs they did a poor job of explaining the issues....because they were always tying themselves in knots trying not to appear to have a liberal opinion.
I must also object to Mr Negus' comment about the guest on Diane Rehm's show. Diane has a range of guests with opinions from right and left. In fact, there is invariably a guest from the right, often hard right. On the Weekly Roundup she does not always have a guest from the left and only rarely guests from the far left. Progressive voices are hard to find on NPR.

Mar. 20 2011 07:00 PM
Icono Clast from San Francisco

I rise to respond to the mid-program godfreak who complained about a Fresh Air interviewee's comments by citing what I said on February 16:

[First Link below]
24. Icono Clast Local: Wed, February 16 2011 04:06*
Newsgroups: alt.fifty-plus.friends
Subject: Re: Rs want to totally cut funding for NPR + PBS
On Feb 15, 8:03 pm, Dink Unbekannter.Benutzer@ungültige.domain wrote:

«PBS and more especially NPR are unacceptably politically left.»
I don't think they're any more unacceptably politically left than they are unacceptably politically right. In fact, I think they're quite acceptably smack dab in d'middle except for religion where they're clearly godfreaks. I know of no better, nor balanced, source of
broadcast information in the USA.

http://iclast.net/

* http://groups.google.com/group/alt.fifty-plus.friends/browse_frm/thread/4b77bfc1690228bf/a0f8f32323c87a78?lnk=gst&q=icono+npr#a0f8f32323c87a78

Mar. 20 2011 06:59 PM
jim from massachusetts

Equal time for someone who believes a man died and came back to life after three days? ARE YOU KIDDING?

Mar. 20 2011 06:55 PM
Karen Twyman from East Lansing, MI

Now, I hope you are going to give a liberal or progressive the chance to express their views on the way in which NPR bends over backwards to avoid the appearance of a liberal bias and in so doing distorts the truth and exasperates those of us on the left. I have found this to be true more and more over the years. An excellent example would be NPR's insistence that its reporters use the term "harsh interrogation techniques" when referring to the Bush Administration's use of torture. In the lead up to the Iraq war NPR fell far short of questioning the existence of WMDs as a rationale for the war. Such reporting could be found on Fresh Air and This American Life but not on programs where NPR had editorial control. So much for NPR being liberal....they try so hard not to be they end up aiding the right....in this case with disastrous consequences. I find NPR's insistence on always giving equal weight to each side of an argument, even when the truth is quite clear, completely maddening.

Mar. 20 2011 06:45 PM
D. Douglas

As a died-in-the-wool, bleeding heart liberal, I think that NPR has, since at least 1990, been a huge disappointment with news coverage & opinion no different and no less biased than that of commercial news media. And I include OTM which, for example, enthusiastically joined in the Hillary Clinton bashing during the Democratic primaries. (And, yes, that's an example of my selection bias.)

I have lost track of the number of times that I have been ready to throw a shoe at the radio broadcasting NPR when I have heard what I deemed to be Conservative bias. In particular, another example of my selection bias, I recall a segment on Science Friday on evolution at the end of which the guest host threw a bone to the Intelligent Designers - on Science Friday! Should I conclude from this one instance that NPR opposes the theory of evolution?

Did NPR provide even a little serious anti-Iraq invasion coverage in the lead-up to that disastrous war? No. And its coverage of the health care debate was, IMO, almost as biased as Fox's. It most certainly did not provide the kind of detailed, fair, ongoing analysis of the debate I think a publicly supported network should have provided. I watched all the hearings; I doubt that a single person at NPR did the same.

So I, as a liberal, believe that NPR is, at best, right of center. Just my selection bias? I honestly don't know.

Unfortunately, when faced with the question of bias, NPR's answer is generally the same as ABC/CBS/NBC/CNN: if it gets complaints from both sides, it can't be biased. As if the level of complaints were ipso facto proof of objectivity.

Mar. 20 2011 06:37 PM
D. Douglas

Negus is guilty of a particularly severe case of selection bias. He remembers one Terry Gross interview show from 2 years ago with a person whose religious views offended him. On another occasion, he noticed an inappropriate liberal tone. While he says that these people have a right to their opinions, in practice he doesn't seem to believe they have a right to express that opinion on NPR - at least not if NPR expects public money. I've noticed this before from Conservatives, esp. religious Conservatives: they mouth the liberal belief in freedom of expression but object to it in practice.

I am not an Evangelical Christian (and I wonder where Negus got that 99% statistic) yet when I turn on the TV on Sunday morning, my television stations (plural) are full of preachers preaching things I do not believe. Does that mean that all of these TV stations and networks are part of a worldwide Christian conspiracy to convert non-believers? Should each hour of preaching include 5, 10, 15 minutes of alternative religious & non-religious views?

TTBOOK on NPR has far too many interviews, to my taste, with members of a few faiths, and a tendency to assume - esp. when the subject is science - that "God" is a universally understood & agreed-upon entity rather than the supreme being of only 3 faiths (albeit with billions of believers).

As for PBS's pandering to Deepak Chopra during pledge breaks ... I find myself unable to express how deeply I dislike everything about him and his so-called philosophies.

Mar. 20 2011 06:31 PM
Carol from Austin, TX

A great fan of NPR and OTM I consider discussion of possible bias to be a healthy one. As an Independent, I get terribly sick of BOTH the Democrat party line and the Republican. And I love NPR because I believe it endeavors to walk a middle road.

I found listener Sam Negus' comments, though, to be sadly laughable... or cryable, whichever the case may be. A lifelong Christian of the Baptist persuasion, I'm generally a supporter of Terry Gross. And I WELL remember the interview Negus referred to with the founder of the Jesus Project. My reaction, however, was very different from Negus'. Mine was, "Thanks be to God for Terry and her interview of an intelligent, REASONABLE Christian on this holy day!"

Fundamentalists of Negus' ilk are just as bad as fundamentalists of other religions - but in their judgmental blindness they refuse to consider that they are the very Pharisees Jesus spoke against. And in so doing they miss the message of Gospel of Christ in its entirety!

Fundamentalists like Negus, no matter their religion, while picking and choosing what they interpret literally in the scripture, say that those who don't agree with THEIR definition of what a True Believer is - are not True Believers. But I don't care what Negus thinks, I only care what Jesus thinks! And thank you, OtM, for helping me to understand, through Sam Negus, the reason so many people today refuse to call themselves Christian. I would prefer not to be lumped in with him either!!!
Blessings upon you, NPR and OtM... And thanks for all you do!!!

Mar. 20 2011 06:27 PM
Mark from Charlotte

So what is if NPR is bias. Most reporters if they are honest are liberal. Why is that because they are inquisitive and see how the sausage is made. That normally makes you liberal. From my reading of the Bible as a Christian I believe Jesus was a liberal. Why because he did not mind being in the company of those less thought of in society. In fact the people he had the most problems with was the power brokers that used religion to maintain their power.

Balanced reporting is over rated on many subjects. When you speak about the orbits of the planets you do not need to bring on the handful of people in the world that still believe the sun revolves around the earth.

Maybe you should have more conservatives like O'Keefe on so more conservatives would see what they have to lose if NPR goes off the air. It is like the more exposure Sara Palin got the many of her supporters decide she does not have the leadership qualities they would like to see. That is the same way I feel about Nader and Kucinich they have their place but not as major leaders.

All I ask is for NPR to point out the hypocrisy of any group.

Mar. 20 2011 06:10 PM
Rich Masse

One is tempted to ask: What is the objection -- that NPR has an ostensibly liberal bias, or that it has any bias at all?

Because, if the objection is that the network is liberal-leaning, does that mean that those making the claim would have no objection if the system had a "conservative" bias? If, on the other hand, the protest is against any bias at all, might we assume that the protesters are equally adamant in their objection to Fox News?

Somehow, it's easy to believe that the answer to the first question is yes and to the second is no.

As importantly, if we begin with the premise that anecdotal evidence proves an argument, you can establish just about any claim, because you can find an anecdote to bolster almost any perspective.

Sure enough, the view presented by Sam Negus during this week's program turns on cataloging instances here and there of ostensibly liberal views in disparate NPR programs. That's a mighty low threshold of "proof."

Mar. 20 2011 05:50 PM
Martha Catt from Charlotte, NC

The fact that NPR is wringing its hands over this is pretty much evidence that they are not. Do you think Bill O'Reilly and Glen Beck worry that they are conservative wack jobs?

When my daughter was only eleven, a job candidate for an anthropology assistant professorship at UNC Charlotte came to dinner at our home. My husband and I were busy in the kitchen, so Katie needed to keep the conversation going with the candidate. From the kitchen, we heard Katie explain a both sides of a complex political debate. The candidate asked, "How is it you know so much about this?"

Katie answered, "My Mom yells at the radio a lot."

We listen, so we support with contributions--regardless of perceived bias. If you listen, get over your own bias and cough up the bucks.

Mar. 20 2011 05:35 PM
Bruce from Madison, WI

I listen to NPR, CNN, NBC (and much, but not all the reporting on MSNBC), CBS and ABC for neutral reporting. And when I want my biased reporting I listen to Click and Clack, Spongebob and the Simpsons.

Michelle Norris spoke here last year about her book. One of the questions posed to here requested her position on one of Obama's policies. She specifically stated that she reports and does not take positions. And then she skillfully analyzed the policy.

I believe the people at NPR strive to uphold the finest tradition of journalistic ideals. And they achieve that ideal, by and large, day in and day out.

Mar. 20 2011 05:26 PM
seana from MA

I agree NPR is biased left. Like many, I listen because coverage on facts and depth is better than most stations on my car radio. You don't always choose to cover events or aspects of events that I think are important so I feel the need to listen to conservative talk radio to provide breadth.

My ability to judge bias increases as distance diminishes. Thus its impossible for me to know if your coverage of Libya is biased. However when you cover things closer to home the bias pops and this casts doubt on all coverage.

For example Wisconsin. My life experience makes me ask why are you not investigating public unions? I see this as a breach of journalistic responsibility. As a public service worker in MA, I know how absolutely corrupt and wasteful the our state government is. I also get the most ridiculous literature in the mail urging me to political action much of it on state time. I cannot support any of these causes and am appalled that state workers are involved in any of it. I can only assume that WI is the same which is why they elected Walker. If NPR had a week long series on union corruption that would be balance, not just inviting on a talking head for three seconds

Mar. 20 2011 05:11 PM
Nancy

I found Jessica's post #'s 34,35 the most insightful. You cannot read these comments without understanding bias is in the eye's and ear's of the beholders.
If NPR is gone in 5 years we will all be the poorer.

Mar. 20 2011 04:19 PM
Shelli from New Jersey

When so many media outlets become far right wing and really "out there", being in the middle suddenly looks left wing, especially to someone who admittedly views everything through his evangelical christian prism. Unfortunately, this prism has become for many a kind of litmus test for bias. (sorry about the mixed metaphore). As religion is a matter of mind over matter, it definately should NOT matter in matters of journalism. If NPR feels that it has to satisfy the desires of the special interests of the religious, then it is chosing to faith over facts. Now, i know this is not the practise of NPR at present, but people, I hope that with the present attacks coming at NPR (undeservedly to my mind), YOU WILL NOT BUCKLE ANYMORE!!! STOP APOLOGIZING FOR DOING THE RIGHT THINGS AND FIRING PEOPLE WHO BASICALLY DID NOTHING WRONG. Black Boot techniques are being used and the only way to prevent possible disaster (and I say this as a student of Nazi history) is to stand up to the bullies. WE count on you. Don't buckle.

Mar. 20 2011 04:04 PM
bruce from austin, tx

Reading the various posts, I must say that Carrie's observation may explain a lot of the commentary, especially where specific political controversies are concerned. However, I contend inherent bias is also unavoidable, if only because people have a natural tendency to congregate in like-minded, mutually supportive and, often, ultimately, self-serving groups. I believe NPR is one such group, despite all their protestations to the contrary, particularly after this morning's programming.

However, my main point is this: Bias is only a problem if a particular group gains privileged access to the public's communications resources. A form of privilege can be created by the terms of a governmental grant of radio spectrum space. Another form is direct tax payer support of program development or broadcast operations. Those privileges may be made seriously problematic if there is also close interaction with politically motivated, governmental decision making bodies who can subtly or overtly impose quid pro quo arrangements. My point is that government support of media, even if only through spectrum allocation, presents a hazard to a democracy.

To Pat, I would acknowledge that hazard is one that is largely disregarded in the Old World cultures of formerly feudal Europe. However, though at least superficially independent, some of the nationalized broadcasters still do shamelessly promote governmental agendas. In the New World, the hazard has more recently been unabashedly set aside by "El Presidente" in Venezuela, a fellow who certainly intends to promote his own version of reality. I suggest we severely restrict government involvement in the media, lest we slide all the way down that same slippery slope. NPR indeed may be dancing too close to the edge, given present practices. If cutting the financial cord is the only way to substantially reduce the risk, then we should do it.

Mar. 20 2011 03:49 PM
Sandra from Maryland

If it wasn't that NPR either "leads" or "echoes" what CNN, ABC, NBC (and family) or CBS (and family) report:AND made a serious effort to report the other side of an issue or controversy, then I would agree. But frankly NPR your coverage is to the LEFT of the Main Stream Traditional Media. And FOX NEWS was once the balance, is now leaning left too. Guess that happens when you have new ownership.

I see from the board results that there is a DIVIDE here, those of us that do listen, even if we disagree and get riled about the bias and then there are your "rabid" fans that feel that anything that is not Democrat Party or media gospel is repressive, and not worth even giving a fair hearing. Behavior that is more like that of a teenager when an adult lays down a rule they personally dislike.

Mar. 20 2011 03:18 PM
Larry from Connecticut

The key to framing this debate is understanding what content is produced by NPR, by the local public radio station, and by third parties. Mr. Negus confused the issue, and it seems many people commenting here are doing so as well. Maybe the real question is "are public radio stations" biased -- and my guess is that they do in fact reflect the leanings of their local audience - either right or left. But in my opinion, NPR tries to be about as middle of the road as they can be and that might be working to their disadvantage.

When it comes to bias, it's totally dependent on the person's views, and nowadays everyone can voice their opinion/position which makes everything else look biased.

Mar. 20 2011 03:10 PM
KadeKo from suburban New England

---I was struck by the coverage from collective NPR programs of the issues surrounding health care in the fall of 2009.---

Me too. If there's one thing NPR could do to be more even-handed is to not just pass along political lies just because Fox (and therefore CNN and therefore the Network commercial news) do it.

The healthcare coverage was instructional given how quickly NPR privileged "death panels" (the Political Lie Of
The Year per Politifact, right?), how slowly they were to give the idea up, how beholden their narrative trends are to Beltway Inbred sources (too much Politico, which means too much Drudge), and when it was recognized as a lie, how quickly the whole thing disappeard down the memory hole lest it be a political embarrassment for the Republicans (or media) who created it and passed it along.

This is the kind of "unbiasedness" that NPR should jettison. People who care about journalism aren't impressed, and people who don't like NPR won't give them any bonus points for being suckers for it. The next time NPR learns from a mistake like this will be the first.

Mar. 20 2011 03:10 PM
JohnInSC from S Carolina

The problem is that unless you agree wholeheartedly with the Right, you are "biased" against them.

Pat's correct: "Be it the Armed Forces issues, the Health Care debate, the Tea Party emergence, NPR provided me with more options than the alternative. " Can Fox make a similar claim without producing gales of laughter?

Again, look at what else is on radio in the US, either AM or FM: pop music with endless commercials, right-wing talk, or evangelicals. How much diversity of opinion do any of those provide?

Mar. 20 2011 03:08 PM
Elaine from Boston

Brilliant interview! Excellent composure on the part of Brooke Gladstone! When fish are caught they wriggle like the dickens. Good job!

Mar. 20 2011 02:59 PM
Michael Harnois from Boston

The "problem" is that the viewpoints of Mr. Negus and folks like him are off the donut, or ought to be. I have a master's degree from a Christian theological seminary and I found both his political and theological assertions ludicrous and offensive. NPR is of value to me because it caters to thoughtful, reasonable people. If NPR's programming were to change so that it treated Mr. Negus as a reasonable person, it would cease to have utility to me.

Mar. 20 2011 02:50 PM
Carrie

social psychologists have often found that people think the media is bias towards the other side. Several studies have shown this:
Matheson and Dursun (2001) showed coverage of a sarajevo market bombing, both muslims and serbs viewed it as biased towards the opposing view,
the same thing has been found with Israeli/Arabs watching new report of the "beirut massacre" (Vallone, Ross, & Lepper 1985)
and students with varying views on the death penalty reading research studies on capital punishment (Ross, Lepper, and Lord 1979)
This phenomenon is important to cover in a discussion of bias. I think you can never really determine bias except in the more extreme examples (Fox & MSNBC). I recommend inviting on social psychologists onto the show to further the discussion.

Mar. 20 2011 02:08 PM
Pat from Las Vegas

(follow up to previous post)

Finally, the US is not the only country with public money going to radios and televisons nationally.

I suggest that they diversify the access to that pool rather than cut it altogether.

In France multiple radios have access to public funding and they really are different in format.

Instead of going at this like it's a Witch Hunt, can't they find a way for multiple groups to find real representation? I want to have the option of getting news that haven't been sponsored/paid for/edited/reduced to by someone with deeper pockets than mine that wants me to think only one way and disregard everything else that makes every problem such an issue.

Mar. 20 2011 02:06 PM
Pat from Las Vegas

(follow up to previous post)
I've lived in 17 countries and what I expect from my news reporting, is reporting and analysis, not personal opinions (I'd like to make those for myself). I want to know as much as possible about as many topics as possible (and that my friends, of all the radios in this fair country, NPR is the only one with a broad reach to do so).

Be it the Armed Forces issues, the Health Care debate, the Tea Party emergence, NPR provided me with more options than the alternative. My husband makes a point of listening to Fox and other right wing radios to have both side of the stories but every single time; he'd say that the coverage is more thorough on NPR.
I, personally can't take listening to Fox because I don't feel like I am getting informed but instead steamrolled by a bulldozer into getting as tense as possible over one particular topic, away from its context.
I believe that NPR could do better; it's the nature of the beast. However, I also believe that NPR is light years ahead of the competition in actually providing info on local, national, and international matters.

Voting against public funding for NPR shows how backward thinking people in Washington are. Because once we all are lobotomized and all think like one, they for sure wouldn't be elected anymore. In a way, they'd deserved to be 1984ed.

I have access to about 20 real radio stations in Vegas and outside of 5mn at the hour none gives you real news, they give you anecdotes to keep you entertained. The AM radios with talk shows are paid programs mostly with anyone that has a little money available to rant wasting your money and time as they do not have the back up (educational, financial, social) to make a real informed commentary on what they decide to talk about (too one sided).

That leaves Fox and KNPR and I can tell you that Fox has definitively a bias... against Truth and Thoroughness!

Mar. 20 2011 02:01 PM
Pat from Las Vegas

It's funny... I've listened to NPR for 7 years now and this past year, I definitively thought it had a Republican tint to it. There were much more topics that dwelled on matters quite upsetting from anyone with a real Liberal mind, in which the opposite side was rarely given an opportunity to express itself (including the Juan Williams and latest problem leading to the two resignations).
I am a black middle class professional who specifically hated the comment Juan Williams had about Muslim (my grandma is Muslim and my grand pa Christian and they made it work quite fine at a time when racism, sexism, and ostracism of anything foreign was an everyday occurrence). However, it was all about how Juan was supposed to be free to have opinions (which I totally agree, as long as he keeps them for himself instead of stirring people to hate and distrust in a media that has a large reach) but our side (those that have traveled, that know how few words can lead to real drama for real people) was barely hinted at.
The same with the latest issue at NPR, you think that the other Media are unbiased in small groups, really? Why can't the organization stand for their people either? For funding choices?

As Jesus said, show me someone that's perfect here before throwing the stone at the sinner...
None of us would make it, and what is important is what is actually seen and heard by the public not what each individual working for the radio think or say in private.

Mar. 20 2011 01:57 PM
bruce from austin, tx

Is NPR biased? Of course. Bias is an inevitable consequence of a certain set of life experiences. When we concentrate in one organization a group of people who are highly compatible, then the organization takes on their collective bias. NPR's first mistake in trying to defend itself was to attempt to assert the contrary. The attempt in today's program failed utterly and, by failing, proved the point made by the opposition.

However, what concerns me is not that NPR has a bias, nor even that it is so self-satisfied (it is!). What bothers me is that NPR enjoys a privileged position among national media outlets, despite its regional, cultural and class bias. If no mechanism can be found to give a similarly national voice to other legitimate perspectives, then I favor the "de-funding" of NPR, as well as re-consideration of radio spectrum allocation rules, all with the goal of breaking NPR's near-monopoly on national non-commercial news and talk radio.

That said, I would like non-commercial radio to exist because commercial programming too often caters to the lowest common denominator of listener interests. It's the nature of the beast, unfortunately. For alternative radio, a tax-payer subsidy that I _might_ be persuaded to support would be one based on small percentage matching grants to stations that are strictly non-commercial and non-institutional; stations that live or die based on voluntary listener contributions. Those stations, to be fair, should then also have unfettered local control of programming sources (no strings tied to governmental grant money, explicitly, implicitly or indirectly). Also, radio spectrum allocation for such non-commercial uses should be based on a more objectively democratic criterion than simply who-knows-who in governmental power structures, as apparently was the case during NPR's ascendancy.

Mar. 20 2011 01:51 PM
Jim Lewis from Juneau, Wisconsin

Instead of receiving every complaint as a compliment, you attempt to destroy the accuser.

In stead of self-correction you ask others to spend time reviewing programs and providing you with a report card.

As to Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR)making heroes of legislators who refused to do their job as sworn by them to do in accordance with Rules of the Legislative body and the State Constitution,You had no idea of what your friend Sam was talking about. Neither does WPR.

Well I do. I truly believe the arrogance is a cultural thing. Sam was trying to help you to understand. In his politeness he complied with your request.

I will not.

It NPR's duty to watch and listen carefully to what it presents to the public.

Our morning Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) programs mock those with whom they disagree with a certain
atitude which is reflected over the air. A sigh, a snicker.

The examples are abundant. Be a good rabbit and hunt them down. Provide your listeners with your report card.

The NPR program immediately following yours this morning mocked wuth humor Muslim dietary restrictions thus including others who share the same view.

At best it is an attempt at gallows humor with nervous laughing. In the same humorous mode they included the Somali pirates who have become slave holders selling people for money. Pirates call it ransom and glory in kidnapping. And NPR laughs. Hardly liberal. Just not nice.

Mar. 20 2011 01:44 PM
Erik L. Olsen from Connecticut

I have been a listener of NPR since 1982 and I have long considered NPR more liberal than not but less biased than most. Some programming seems much more liberally biased than others, though that may be because I am more knowledgeable and opinionated in those areas than others.

I was struck by the coverage from collective NPR programs of the issues surrounding health care in the fall of 2009. It was remarkably broad and comprehensive given the news program format limits. I would not call the coverage “liberal” at all, more Adam Smith than Karl Marx. If anything, it demonstrated the fact that the absence of market pricing for a service has distorted both the supply and the demand of that service. It was the best coverage of the difficulties surrounding a discussion of health care I saw anywhere and appeared lost on the political discussion from both sides of the aisle.

Mar. 20 2011 01:14 PM
Tania from Chicago

The polarization of the political spectrum and the public in general is worrisome. I do not agree with some of the guests or the hosts of different programs on NPR, but I relish the different opinions, the chance to hear all (or at least most) sides to a story. I keep listening to arguments of those who condemn NPR and public radio in general and all I hear is that they don’t agree with something personally. That doesn’t make NPR bias it makes them objective and true journalists. The gentleman, who listens to NPR but doesn’t support them, because (amongst other things) he didn’t agree with a guest who although thinks himself Christian doesn’t accept the Resurrection. Well, I don’t agree either but he has fundamental right to his opinion. Let me paraphrase – I do not agree with what you are saying, but I will die protecting your right to say it.

Mar. 20 2011 01:08 PM
Zen from Austin, TX

Jim in comment #27 nailed it. Just like the technique described in the O'Keefe interview, you guys have been duped into accepting an impossible Republican framing of the argument. Because the definition of "liberal" is so subjective there is no way you can possibly measure it nor convince the indoctrinated masses on the right that you're not. As Colbert asserts, reality has a liberal bias.

Re-frame the debate as a question of truth and accuracy in reporting and I think you'll find a much more compelling and substantive position to debate from.

Mar. 20 2011 12:57 PM
Mary Ann from NJ

Andrea Bernstein was filling in for Brian Lehrer about two years ago and was interviewing a formerly pro-life woman who subsequently became an abortionist. The woman commented that there were a few women who would picket her practice, and then subsequently come in for abortions themselves. Andrea Bernstein let out a "rrrRRRREEALLLLYyy!" in that irritating sing-song voice of hers.

I said to myself that Brian Lehrer would never show such a lack of professionalism. I know that NPR has a liberal bias, but I think they usually do a decent job of not being blatant about it.

Mar. 20 2011 12:52 PM
Heidi Beaver from Jersey City

NPR is associated with liberals. Public radio (public anything) is a liberal idea.

When interpreting the news I am confronted with my own bias as well as that potential for bias from the journalist. I have pretty strong opinions about various news sources. I am aware of what questions are asked and left out, tone and editing. I find I have to spend energy examining my own bias as well as the news I'm interpreting.

We can learn about our own bias from how we view those we least trust and we should maybe question most those whom we do trust and continue to question our own rational for the basis of that trust. I hope you explore this topic more.

Mar. 20 2011 12:33 PM
Jerry from NY

I was astonished this week that in your news and commentary reporting on Congress' cutting funding for the purchase of NPR programming by public stations, in which Congress was repeatedly portrayed as fiddling with a relatively unimportant budget item at a time of crisis in the Mid East and Japan, that you never mentioned that the President was simultaneously giving a presentation on NCAA basketball. The same thing happened on Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me this weekend. I am an independent, but when I hear such obvious (snickering) bias, I simply tune out. Why was this omitted from your segment on bias -- are you too biased to perceive it?

Mar. 20 2011 12:18 PM
Holly Snyder from Providence, Rhode Island

Sam Negus describes himself as an "evangelical Christian libertarian" but he objected to being exposed to a program on Fresh Air which featured a proponent of a particular Christian concept with which he disagrees, saying the show was not balanced because it did not include Christians of his own perspective. I also noted nearly all of the examples he picked were from talk shows such as Diane Riehm, where NPR does not control the content and the host is free to select the guests.

Mr. Negus lacks an appreciation for life in a free society. Listening to opinions that run contrary to what we believe is a responsibility that all Americans share. Restoring civility to our public discourse requires that all of us start showing some respect for opinions of all kinds, including ones we don't hold. If Mr. Negus doesn't like Terry Gross or Diane Riehm, there's are easy remedies - he could just turn off the radio; or, since every NPR show has its own website with comment features like this one, he could make a suggestion for a program topic that would restore the balance he seeks. Public funding makes NPR responsible to the public to represent all views -- commercial media, such as Clear Channel, are responsible only to their sponsors, who are free to distort the news in ways that promote their commercial interests and not the public good. I have yet to see anything on Fox News that represents a range of cultural opinion. I see that Tavis Smiley appears only on NPR and PBS.

After listening to today's show, I wondered what an analysis of media with confessed conservative bias would reveal. I'd like to propose that On The Media undertake a comparative study of all of the programming of NPR and FoxNews. I would be especially analysis for cultural diversity (minority perspectives), religious diversity (including the full range of religion in America, not just varieties of Christianity), and economic diversity (impoverished folks as well as affluent classes).

Mar. 20 2011 11:58 AM
Charles from Michigan

I need to add to the previous post -- one of the most insidious parts of the political bias of Fresh Air's producers is in the guest-booking process. It is rare indeed when any conservative author/figure appears on the program, which effectively saves Terry Gross the trouble of preparing a hard-edged cross examination of those people. They rarely get on her program in the first place. The number of confrontational interviews that Terry Gross has done with conservatives is remarkable precisely because it is such a large percentage of the very small number of conservative voices that ever get on here show.

Mar. 20 2011 11:50 AM
Charles from Michigan

Since there has been so much mention of Terry Gross; let's just clear up this much of the controversy:
~Terry Gross is not "NPR News." Her show is a production of one public radio station, WHYY in Philadelphia.
~But Terry Gross is one of the most public and prominent voices on public radio. It is a fair question to ask if Terry Gross is representative of what is heard more genrally on public radio.
~Terry Gross' political bias is not always on display. She is often interviewing musicians, actors, and other artists. But when she does interview political figures and political writers, which is also often, her editing and style are fair game for criticism.
~Fresh Air's political identitification is clear from its guests. A hard-edged critic of Republicans like Ron Susskind has been featured on Fresh Air every time he'w written a book. And the treatment he gets, is like the treatment Terry Gross gives to Al Franken -- a welcoming place, with open questions designed to help him get his views across to the audience.
~But when a conservative gets a rare invitation to appear on Fresh Air, the tone turns to hostile cross-examination. Witness the abortive interview with Bill O'Reilly in which he walked out of the studio, and Terry kept the tape going. Which earned Terry Gross the condemnation of then-NPR Ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin. Or witness her hostile tone taken with Lynne Cheney, or Boyden Gray, or many other Republicans.

Terry Gross is a fine interviewer on matters of the arts. But when it comes to politics, she has two different modalities. A welcoming one for liberals, and a hostile one for conservatives.

Mar. 20 2011 11:45 AM
Peter from New York, NY

Ridiculous that a self-proclaimed evangelical christian should be allowed to call "bias" because he hears something on NPR with which he doesn't agree. Anyone who takes an "extreme" view, and I definitely think evangelicals are at the extreme end of the the religious spectrum, (they believe their view is the only view and that it is their duty to make everyone else join them) should not be granted this privilege.
I think it's typical that NPR would want to examine this question as they always want to appear to be fair to "everyone's" view. However, it's a little naive to believe that even "unbiased" news reporters can completely hide every emotion in their voice. Is that really necessary? The important thing is whether the news is presented fairly and factually and on NPR it is. If it's obvious to NPR listeners what their reporters really think, so be it. That's our choice as listeners.
I was embarrassed to hear the example that a pro-peace stance could be disadvantageous to the advocates for change. Hasn't anyone ever heard of Ghandi? We don't need violence to support people who want to change their gov't. A pro-peace stance, which is not to say merely a continuation of the status quo, benefits everyone in the long run, the way a non pro-peace stance hurts everyone in the short one.
Please NPR, don't feel that you have to change anything that you do, your reporting is just fine. This Negus guy can go jump in the lake as far as I'm concerned and take Jesus with him.

Mar. 20 2011 11:37 AM
Nancy from New York

I wish On the Media would stop obsessing about this. I was embarassed by the show today. It was just pathetic an defensive. NPR is Liberal, Shock Horror! Is there liberal slant. Of course there is, but it's still a very good source of news, off beat and worth listening to. Should it be funded? There are reasonable arguments either way. I get the sense though that NPR's real fear is of the American public who they don't believe see any value in what they do. That betrays a lack of confidence in themselves and contempt for the public. It's just sad. Please just take the high road and stop whining about it.

Mar. 20 2011 11:22 AM
Hazel from New Jersey

As an avowed Democracy Now listener, needless to say, I don't find NPR news reporting liberal. And that's about all I listen - occasionally OTM, TAL. I came here because I could not believe that ridiculous conversation with that extreme christian Negus and how Ira bent over backward to kiss his ass. Are you kidding me? So Terri Gross/NPR is a big liberal (which I believe Terry probably is) because she had John Dominic Crosson on and Negus disagrees with his view of Jesus. Sorry but that was a truly stupid extrapolation. As many have pointed out it's not a panel discussion show - that's what makes it good. And unusual - it allow Gross to dig in for a whole hour instead of a few minutes of soundbites from a 3-4 people.

I came here to read the comments because I thought Negus came off, frankly, a bit shallow and dare I say it: not very intelligent. HOWEVER what I found here is that A LOT of conservatives listen to NPR. And that's pretty interesting.

Mar. 20 2011 11:21 AM
Hilton from Vermont

This debate is absurd. All news media is biased. A managing editor decides where to send reporters. Value judgment #1, about what is important. The reporters in the field decide where to go within the boundaries of their assignment, who to talk with, and what to cover. Another level of value judgment. The text or sound or video they return gets edited. Yet another level of value judgment. An editor decides which parts of which stories make it into the limited page space or air time available. Every bit of information we obtain through the news media has been through multiple levels of filtration influenced by the worldviews of those responsible.

The best we can do is to look at multiple sources with different biases and create a composite picture of reality.

Mar. 20 2011 11:01 AM
John Ranta from New Hampshire

In response to Mr. Negus' charges of bias:

1. Negus was upset that on one edition of All Things Considered discussing Wisconsin, NPR had a pro-union commentator but no anti-union commentator. I want to assure Mr Negus that I was equally frustrated when a day or two earlier Morning Edition interviewed one of Scott Walker's lieutenant's, without providing an alternative viewpoint.

2. Negus was upset that Terry Gross interviewed Dominick Crossan in 2004 discussing the historical Jesus. As an atheist, I could have been offended that Terry Gross had Tim Lahaye on in 2004, discussing his Evangelical beliefs and his "Left Behind" series of books.

I could give many other examples of times when I, a liberal humanist, was offended by something presented on NPR. I think that Negus (and the rest of us) have to examine NPR over a longer term than one episode or one show. Mr. Negus is cherry-picking, choosing moments when the bias may have swung one way, and not taking a long term view...

Mar. 20 2011 10:57 AM
Alice Sprickman

This is 3/20/11. The programs you identified that originate from NPR are all news programs and were dubbed as factual and useful by your critic. The ones he disliked (Diane Rehms, Fresh Air) or rather disliked some specific instances, were programs which his local station provided. It seems to me that his argument is not with providing funding for factual material from NPR but how his local provider decides to spend his local funds beyond the factual material.

It would seem to me to be more logical to design and introduce shows that fill the perceived gap rather than to discard any access to factual material.

Mar. 20 2011 10:46 AM
Chris from New York

---For Sam Negus' homework project of collecting biases---

In this segment they are explaining bias, with the Daniel Halin doughnut sphere example.

They highlight 2 "fringe" beliefs. Obama's birth certificate (3min), and Global warming(5min)... both conservative fringe conversations. Why no liberal "fringe" debates?

Would that fall into the category of bias?

Mar. 20 2011 10:44 AM
Cynthia from Chester, VT

Allowing Sam Negus to make those comments about Terry Gross's program without challenging them was unacceptable.

1. Terry Gross's format is not a conversation among differing views. It is a dialogue between Terry Gross and her guest.

2. We know what certain mainstream Christians believe about the resurrection. We don't need to hear it again. Terry's guest was presenting an interesting and different view.

3. It is simply not true that the vast majority of Christians since Jesus's death believed that he was physically resurrected. That belief was pushed with the formation of a formal church.

4. And lastly, I am always amazed when human beings feel they need to defend a god who they believe is all powerful.

Mar. 20 2011 10:41 AM
Jim Lewis from Juneau, Wisconsin

Instead of receiving every complaint as a compliment, you attempt to destroy the accuser.

In stead of self-correction you ask others to spend time reviewing programs and providing you with a report card.

As to Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR)making heroes of legislators who refused to do their job as sworn by them to do in accordance with Rules of the Legislative body and the State Constitution,You had no idea of what your friend Sam was talking about. Neither does WPR.

Well I do. I truly believe the arrogance is a cultural thing. Sam was trying to help you to understand. In his politeness he complied with your request.

I will not.

It NPR's duty to watch and listen carefully to what it presents to the public.

Our morning Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) programs mock those with whom they disagree with a certain
atitude which is reflected over the air. A sigh, a snicker.

The examples are abundant. Be a good rabbit and hunt them down. Provide your listeners with your report card.

The NPR program immediately following yours this morning mocked wuth humor Muslim dietary restrictions thus including others who share the same view.

At best it is an attempt at gallows humor with nervous laughing. In the same humorous mode they included the Somali pirates who have become slave holders selling people for money. Pirates call it ransom and glory in kidnapping. And NPR laughs. Hardly liberal. Just not nice.

Mar. 20 2011 10:27 AM
PMM from Tucson, AZ

Interesting! If the Evangelical doesn't like a conversation on Fresh Air, then NPR IS BIAS! Well, doesn't Terry Gross have ALL kinds on her show, which is amazing. We get to hear all kinds of views, good, bad, and wacky! But if the Evangelical doesn't hear "balanced coverage," then Terry is bias???? And, this Evangelical judges the tone of ever commentator to decide if he or she is delighted or grumpy about a remark and if doesn't match his views, then he or she is bias!!! It very much sounds like this Evangelical just doesn't want to contribute to NPR -- very very lame excuses -- but he listens all the time to all programs!!!

And, the portion with O'Keefe! Let's hope that after this nobody will ever find him credible again, because he certainly isn't!!

Mar. 20 2011 09:52 AM
ND from New York

I was so frustrated listening to this segment! The interview with Sam Negus was particularly ridiculous. Either he really doesn't listen to Fresh Air as often as he claims, or he's being disingenuous. It's an interview show. Gross interviews authors, musicians, directors, etc. Why on earth would she have a panel discussion?

Mar. 20 2011 09:50 AM
JohnInSC from S Carolina

In reading these comments I'm struck by the level of self-examination I'm finding among NPR listeners. Would that happen among Fox's viewers? The tone on NPR is becoming "Gee, maybe we ARE biased toward the liberal! We need to prove we aren't." But as in Winston Smith in Orwell's "1984," perhaps the goal of the attacks on NPR is really to plant the seed of self-doubt in order to lead to a greater conformity to a specific opinion.
And has anyone thought of what happens if those stations in rural areas do go dark because federal funding is cut? What happens to the radio channels that would become available? In previous attempts to do away with public radio, the potential availability of additional channels started private broadcasters practically drooling over the prospects of expanded possibilities - and revenues. Who else occupies the part of the radio spectrum where NPR stations are usually found? The overwhelming majority of co-occupants are evangelical broadcasters, who would welcome those open channels with wide open arms and very broad smiles.

Mar. 20 2011 08:52 AM
Charles from Michigan

Ira; the broader realm of public radio outside of NPR sees programming days filled with "viewpoint" shows like Democracy Now!, Tavis Smiley, Michael Eric Dyson, The Takeaway (with John Hockenberry and Celeste Headlee), Forum with Michael Krasny and Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen. Those are all programs whose hosts (and we should not forget Terry Gross on Fresh Air) whose personal views and, rather often, their public views are hostile to conservatives, Republicans, American military interests, American corporate interests, and U.S. national interests in foreign policy.
I'd simply ask if Ira Glass can name the conservative corollaries to any or all of the liberal programs and program hosts on public radio. Is there a conservative equivalent to Nina Totenberg, who is supposed to be a straight-news repeorter on Legal Affiars? Is there a conservative who has equal public radio airtime to Terry Gross?

Mar. 20 2011 12:38 AM
Charles from Michigan

Some of the defenses of NPR are some of the worst condemnations of NPR's supposed balance. How many times have we heard things like, "We need NPR to be a counterweight to Rush Limbaugh and the rest of right-wing talk radio..." That's a stunning indictment of NPR when you think about it.

And to hear Ira Glass essentially taunting the Right to prove that NPR has a liberal bias -- well that one really has got me fired up.

Ira; I know very well, even before it was explained by Brooke Gladstone, the difference between true "NPR News" programming and other public radio programming. On that front, there have been, by my count, about a half-dozen Senior News Analysts. They include(d) the devoted left-wing Republican critic, Daniel Schorr. Also lifelong Democrat Cokie Roberts (daughter of Lousiana Democrats Hale and Lindy Boggs, and sister of Democratic Super-Lobbyist Tommy Boggs). Also Juan Williams, who was hired by Fox to represent the left side of the political spectrum. Ted Koppel held the role of a Senior News Analyst for a while, too. I am tryhing to think of ohters. There have been no conservative "Senior News Analysts," ever, at NPR News.

Mar. 20 2011 12:38 AM
Charles from Michigan

I presume that somewhere, somehow, someone must have studied the NPR listening audience. What are the qualities of the NPR audience, as opposed to other radio audiences?
Radio is a tremendously effective divider and stratifier of the general public. And radio stations tend to self-select their audiences.
So what are the qualities -- the political predilictions -- of the NPR audience?
(I ask this without really knowing the answer. I'm a conservative who listens to NPR a lot. And I find it both informative, and relentlessly biased in favor of liberal views.)

Mar. 20 2011 12:15 AM
Bort from Syracuse

"A candidate that's winning an election is going to have more positive coverage."

Why?

Mar. 19 2011 11:31 PM
Bort from Syracuse

"I have never heard a guy on NPR that said exactly what I wanted him to say."

Well, duh. Who has? You are crazy if you expect this to EVER happen.

Mar. 19 2011 11:26 PM
William Stevens from Redford, Michigan 48240

I think it is an oversight to not ask someone on the liberal side of the ledger, to keep a diary the same as Sam Negus has been invited to do.
I do not take a charitable view of Negus. I think his religious beliefs are at the conservative end of the conservative end of our overall culture. How much play should we give such views?
I think the listeners of NPR have a responsisbility to always evaluate whether or not their views are reasonable. That is true regardless of the issue being discussed. Has Negus done that? I don't think he has, at least when it comes to religion. His views concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus are fixed.
The following story is repeated in the well known book by Lee Strobel, "The Case For Faith." In the late 1940s, Billy [Graham] attended a conference in California only weeks before his largest crusade was to start. Some young seminarians were also there, who were expressing their doubts about the authority of the Bible. 'Suddenly I [Billy Graham] wondered if the Bible could be trusted completely.'" Russ Busby, Graham's photographer for better than half a century, author, "Billy Graham God's Ambassodor." Tehabi Books, W Publishing Group, copyright Graham Evangelical Association, 1999, pg. 45.
After learning of the doubts of the young seminarians, Graham turned to "the Scriptures themselves" for guidance. That is circular reasoning, a tautology. Billy Graham was and is unethical when it comes to his religious beliefs.
I think my comments would, if widely disbursed, create an uproar. That is disgusting to me, especially when those who create the uproar have not seriously investigated whether or not their religious beliefs hold water.
Negus's belief in the death and resurrection of "Jesus" permeates his being. So what. People have believed in all kinds of nonsense from the core of their being. I wonder how Negus views the beliefs of Hindus and other faiths. Again, how much play should we give to his views?

Mar. 19 2011 11:16 PM
TammyB

So Sam Negus thinks most NPR coverage is "excellent," but he won't support the programming because he sometimes hears things that don't conform to his belief system?

Welcome to my world, Sam. I'm one of those so called "liberals" and I also sometimes hear things that don't conform to my belief system. The difference is that I DO support public radio, precisely because I hear things with which I disagree.

To me, that's the definition of democracy and compromise: everybody should always be a little bit happy and a little bit unhappy. If Sam was always hearing his own belief system affirmed...THAT would be a bias.

Mar. 19 2011 10:03 PM
Ken P from Pittsburgh

Sam Negus really doesn't seem to understand NPR or Fresh Air (or the difference between the two). He complains because Fresh Air doesn't have an evangelical to counterbalance the guest who cofounded The Jesus Project, believing that the resurrection of Jesus was not a literal fact. When does Fresh Air ever have opposing "views" on at the same time? It's NOT a panel show, but rather a show in which guests are given a chance to fully explain their views, with help from Terry Gross' insightful questions. Second, Fresh Air is not NPR but rather another show on Negus' local NPR station. Criticizing NPR for an issue about Fresh Air is like criticizing NBC news and Brian Williams for an issue with the Oprah show on the same network. Third, as a few others have noted, Negus claims 99.99% of Christians disagree with The Jesus Project and believe in the literal resurrection of Christ?? That denies millions of Christians the right to call themselves Christian. Somehow they have to believe in what Negus and his fellow evangelicals believe in order to call themselves Christian. I would say Negus is the one with the extreme bias, as well as the typical lack of basic understanding of NPR and other shows that is so routine among critics. Why bother to learn something about the way NPR and other public radio shows work when you can just complain about bias?

Mar. 19 2011 09:57 PM
Don Vandiver

I am afraid your search for an objective view of whether NPR is biased won't change the minds of the majority of conservative or progressive listeners based on this research:
http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/11/how_facts_backfire/
http://www.springerlink.com/content/064786861r21m257/fulltext.pdf
Hopefully there are a few listeners who base their opinons solely on the facts - and are prepared to change their opinions if the facts warrant.

Mar. 19 2011 09:54 PM
J Toner from Philadelphia, PA

I love Ira Glass. But is it fair to have an "amateur" listener be the designated ombudsman as to whether NPR is biased? Sort of an unfair test, isn't it? Ira did the same thing on TAL when he did a segment with a school girl who was a climate change skeptic. How about a blogger or critic who monitors the media full-time be the "journal keeper" re NPR? Of course, OTM blew its cover when "bad cop" Garfield went after O'Keefe with undisguised gusto. I still love Ira and Brooke, despite the fact that I am a post-9/11 conservative convert (and 40 year public radio member). But Bob Garfield? He's broken every "snark-o-meter" known to man - his powers of sarcasm are simply prodigous!

Mar. 19 2011 07:52 PM
Mike Fitzgibbon from Ashland, Wisconsin

Sam Negus' (Sp?) reflection of the Fresh Air interview on the Jesus Seminar as an example of NPR bias seems to a product of his own bias. For one, he says that 99.9 percent of Christians believe that the Resurrection is historical fact. Assuming that is true and that it has always been true, then having a guest on Fresh Air saying that same thing, for which Mr. Negus faults NPR and Fresh Air, really wouldn't be news. The Fresh Air guest offered a unique view of the Jesus story, and that is why it was deemed newsworthy. Mainstream commercial news media would be too afraid of offending their large Christian audience to ever offer this perspective. Not having to answer to commercial advertisers worried about audience size allows NPR to better cover issues and ideas without bias. This is one reason why NPR is a public service and worthy of government support.

Mar. 19 2011 07:45 PM
Mike from Boston

Will OTM have self identified liberal listener's keep diaries to compare with the conservative diaries?

As mentioned in the piece there are many liberal listeners who feel that to often NRP ignores the left or the obvious questions to challenge conservative guests or ideas, even leans to the right at times.

Mar. 19 2011 07:37 PM
Michael Metzger

Many listeners of NPR, as well as employees of NPR and their affiliates, lean so far to the left that they are parallel to the ground. And from that point of view, the world is conservative. Democracy Now is only viewed by the extreme far left and Air America failed badly.

Mar. 19 2011 07:15 PM
Susan Jarzembski from Chicago

Earlier today, I was listening to an NPR show where someone said, Jesus Christ, as an expletive. It bothered me that it was not edited out. I can't imagine that lack of sensitivity to another religion. Then later in the day, I listened to On the Media and the show brought up the subject of bias. I am not sure it is bias as much as a lack of sensitivity. Seriously, can anyone say it was sensitive or respectful to run the Crossan interview on Good Friday?

Mar. 19 2011 06:37 PM
David Calvin from Indiana

I was disappointed that Ira Glass did not ask Sam Negas if he was a member of his local station. If not, why not if he enjoys getting his news from NPR, but especially if he does not support government funding of the programing. He should be asked. "Would you be less informed if your local station was was gone or no longer be allowed to carry Morning edition or ATC?"

Mar. 19 2011 06:07 PM
Martin Voelker from Boston/Arlington (WBUR)

We heard today from a self described born again Christian. In essence, he cries 'Bias!' because Terry Gross on "Fresh Air" once had a guest whose theological research contradicts his arbitrary religious dogma.
In other words: he wants his own arbitrary ideology regurgitated, but never challenged.
Luckily for the rest of us, he can't have it:

PBS' founding document declared as its mission to give voice to those "who would otherwise go unheard" and help viewers to "see America whole, in all its diversity."

Assuming that NPR as an offshoot of PBS subscribes to the same general principles I can only express my deep regret that people like that person will eventually mature as citizens.

Mar. 19 2011 06:06 PM
Martin Voelker from Boston/Arlington (WBUR)

Last week you played a clip with Bill O'Reilly where he used a tell-tale right wing propaganda frame: "the far Left".
Anyone who uses that term in the context of American media and politics is either among the demagogues or among the deceived.
I know, because I consider myself Far Left and I regretfully report that there aren't any Far Left wingers out there, not even fakes who play them on TV.

But even if there were any we'd still have to look at the media landscape as a whole. The actual political distribution of voices has been researched with great regularity by well credentialed academics and year after year they find that the spectrum is harshly skewed to the right. (e.g. Columbia Journalism Review).

Mar. 19 2011 06:03 PM
Mike

An apple falls from a tree.
If the headline reads, “Apple Falls from Tree” it is, I trust, balanced reporting. But few will read further without a link to YouTube.
If I see, “Apple Falls from Tree - Children Unhurt” then I suspect sensationalism and know some will read further if only to be disappointed.
If an announcer says “Apple Falls from Tree” and follows with suggesting more fruit in our diet or increasing farm aid then bias is close. Large parts of two populations will listen but will hear two different stories.
If a story includes political leaders and observers, if it is the premise for discussion panels and the pulp for talk show monologues, if it plants a seed for thoughtful commentary, anxious callers and comic one liners, I know I’ve found bias.
Once upon a time an apple fell from a tree and a bright physicist, without anyone else’s opinion, realized a universe.
I believe in Newtonian journalism - just tell me the apple fell and let me figure the rest.

Mar. 19 2011 06:02 PM
William Stevens from Redfolrd, Michigan 48240

Ira Glass, Car Talk, OTM, Michael Feldman, Peter Sagal, ... exhibit liberal bias?
I'll be up front and say that I have to be considered to be a liberal. Of course I am speaking of my politics; but there are other aspects of existence, of life, of living, where I am sure many people will consider me to be a conservative. But I try to be informed of and understand views that are different than mine; and I am open to changing my mind. With those comments in the background, I will make the following comments.
By the year 2050, and probably much sooner, Ira Glass, Car Talk, etc. will be considered to be conservative by people who at that time will be considered to be liberal. It is impossible for anyone to be without bias. We all have a lens, that is multi-faceted, through which we view what is, and what we consider to be a desirable culture. What is moral? How we should govern ourselves? What kind of economic system we should have? etc., etc.
We all live in different worlds. I recall a person/group creating Conservapedia because they considered Wikipedia to be liberal. The lens that they were looking through was that of religious fundamentalists who believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, that Genesis tells it the way it is, etc. That for me goes along with beliefs such as the belief that the sun revolves around the earth.
Contentions between people with different lenses will be never ending. What to do? Prior contributors to this discussion have presented thoughtful answers.

Mar. 19 2011 05:33 PM
Kathleen Zyrkowski from Chicago, Illinois

It is interesting that Mr. Negus assumed that "Fresh Air" is a program that presents their guests' views as news and that it should have a guest to refute the first guest's opinions. I have listened to that show for years and never assumed it is a news show. Do I have a justifiable reason to criticize the producers when they invite a novelist that writes mysteries to discuss her work without inviting an author to talk about science fiction? It is not that type of show. It is an interview show.

Mar. 19 2011 05:30 PM
gina burk from Akron, OH

Like, Travis, I am a devoted NPR listener and an evangelical christian.
I listen and financially support NPR, because it is the only news source I've found with "less bias" news reporting, which is a result, I believe, of it's "public" funding.
Having said that, NPR struggles with its "liberal" view. Unfortunately, the most liberally minded people, I've come across, aren't necessarily "open minded" and open to the legitimacy of more conservative view points. NPR, does in my opinion struggle with this oxymoron.

We desperately need civil discourse in our public debate and the basis of that conversation starts with balanced reporting. Journalism is the fourth estate, as "free people" we need to know the truth. If gov. funding plays a legitimate role in keeping public radio and tv "for the people" then that is a legitimate use of public funds, especially in such an extremely volatile media market.
We should be investing in free speech because it is the basis of our democracy.

Mar. 19 2011 04:32 PM
Jessica from Boston

I also meant to include this question about the NYT: "Do I love everything about the Times? No." :)

Mar. 19 2011 04:31 PM
Jessica from Boston

Thanks to On the Media for inviting Sam Negus to appear on the show, and thanks to Sam Negus for participating.

The question I have for Sam is the same question I have for myself regarding the New York Times: Will you mind if in five years NPR does not exist? Given that you tune in regularly for accurate and thorough reporting, will you mind if that is gone in five years?

If I heard correctly, I believe you said you would not support NPR period--which I took to me that you would not choose to contribute either via public support or by your own personal contributions.

Your points are taken about occasional liberal bias, particularly on the talk shows. But what if you look at NPR as a whole?

I am asking myself a similar question as the NYT announces that online readers like me will have to pay if we want to read more than 20 articles a month. Do I want to pay for something I've gotten for free? No. Could I manage with less than 21 NYT articles per month--or work around their rules? Probably? Will I mind if, without support from readers like me, the NYT folds or declines or contracts significantly in the next five years? Yes.

Sam Negus, where are we going to go for that daily news fix without NPR?

Mar. 19 2011 04:30 PM
KadeKo from suburban New England

Eli, that does sound like the study stuck in the back of my mind, thanks.

Mar. 19 2011 04:18 PM
Travis Thompson

I am evangelical Christian with moderate to liberal political beliefs and I have to agree with Negus. There is definitely a liberal bias with NPR. It is usually minor, but I find a little disturbing that NPR/On the Media isn't aware of it. It is much more prominent in programs like Fresh Air (one of my favorite programs) or Diane Rehm than on ME, ATC, or Talk of the Nation.
For example look at recent Fresh Air shows. Terry has done a couple of shows on the union battle in Wisconsin which have leaned pro-union and liberal. I actually agree with this view point but that doesn't mean it's not biases. Also as Negus was saying as far as Terry and Christianity she is much more likely to present a more liberal religous leader or scholar (I think of the interviews with Katharine Jefferts Schori and Jennifer Wright Knust) then one with more traditional or evangelical views. These are view points that have every right to be on the air but don't tell me it's balanced.

Mar. 19 2011 03:50 PM
Hilary from St. Louis

I think NPR bends over backwards to accommodate conservative/GOP/tea party views. When listening to Morning Edition, a standard joke in our house is along the lines of "well, I can't wait to hear what the Republicans think about this!" More often than not, that's what we get: an interview with a Republican that may go on for several minutes, while the Democratic stance on the issue is asked and answered in one statement from the reporter.

I would happily do a diary to log instances where conservative viewpoints were overly covered at the expense of liberal ones. Do we get to include stories that aren't covered because they would upset conservative elites? i.e. the growing labor movement in the midwest? It would be interesting to go back and see how much comparative coverage the tea party got compared to the rising of the labor movement now.

Mar. 19 2011 03:20 PM
deb

Thus far, I am disappointed. I thought Ira Glass wanted to prove NPR was not *left-wing* media.

But then again, what does "left" mean? Does NPR have it's own source dictionary like the Urban Dictionary?

This is our "defining" moment, I guess:)

Mar. 19 2011 03:16 PM
Mike Hennessy from New Milford, CT

I have to call bull on Sam Negus saying he never heard someone talking for a whole segment or show about Christianity. My local station (WNPR Hartford, CT) has a weekly show called “Being”, which used to be “Speaking of Faith” which has religious people, often Christians, every Sunday for an hour. If this guy hasn't heard it, that doesn't mean it's not there. Maybe it's not pro-Christian enough or anti-non-Christian enough for him, but his dismay at the lack of his favorite bias isn't the same as a bias against him.

Mar. 19 2011 02:25 PM
Angela

I am a Christian in the evangelical camp. I support two local public radio and one local public t.v. station.

I hear liberal assumptive language (bias) used frequently on NPR as well as in the media at large. It is interesting to me to hear that Ira and others cannot detect or even imagine that this bias is present. There are times that I find myself wincing at the views being presented and asking where is the presentation of the opposing viewpoint. I don't mind being challenged by different viewpoints but where is the challenge for liberal listeners? There are no conservative opinion shows on NPR that I am aware of. Each year when renewal time arrives, I struggle with the decision to continue to be a supporter. I want conservative viewpoints to be presented in the same thoughtful and in-depth manner that liberal viewpoints are presented. As long as public broadcasting receives public funding, this should be its obligation.

Mar. 19 2011 02:20 PM
Jim from Cleveland, Ohio

The question of liberal bias is so subjective that it is completely useless for framing a constructive debate. The only working definition of liberal that universally covers how it has been used in this context would have to be “liberal = not conservative”. An accurate tautology but not very useful since we’re defining one subjective term with yet another.

People leveling the claim of liberal bias are only flinging political slander at NPR for periodically conveying facts that inconveniently contradict conservative dogma. I feel like you’ve been drawn into a fool’s debate along the lines of “how many good Republican ideas could fit on the head of a pin”? This too is immeasurable on multiple levels.

Instead, consider asking: “Is NPR news truthful?”

I think OTM is the perfect program to explore that more precise question. Perhaps you could also draw upon your hundreds of documented cases where Fox News misreported or fabricated news as a good counterpoint.

Mar. 19 2011 01:53 PM
Chris from Chicago

It's sad that NPR goes through great pains to remove bias, yet the people screaming about bias and trying to get them defunded are the ones who never listen to it, and just take Fox News and Rush Limbaugh's word that it is liberal.

The sad part is if NPR is defunded, local stations all over the country will go dark. That's the real kicker. NPR's model allows federal dollars to go to small communities in rural areas so they can have their own public radio, focused on local and state issues. NPR is the most effective way to use federal dollars to allow non-federal views to reach airwaves all over the country, and it's under attack because it is easier to rile up people over fiction than it is to actually balance the budget and making meaningful spending cuts.

Mar. 19 2011 12:25 PM
Eli from Washington, D.C.

KadeKo,

You didn't have time to cite a reference, but I'd suggest a book:

"Mistakes Were Made (but Not By Me)" by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

Aronson was interviewed on NPR, "Why It's Hard to Admit Being Wrong":

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12125926

Mar. 19 2011 11:38 AM
Sal

Negus hit the nail on the head. I am a daily listener, agree NPR is a great source of information. However it IS VERY liberal. Your NOT objective, all your reporters are obviously liberal, the one that wasn't got CANNED, Juan Williams. It would be refreshing to listen to NPR and have more voices from across the aisle and across the political spectrum. Your "tone" the reaction to news stories. This is not subtle. The fact your asking for diaries to keep track of your liberalism tells me how blind you are to this fact. Can you your heads really be buried that deep in the sand? This is not new, groundbreaking stuff.
For this I would never contribute, nor should the Fedl Govt. subsidize your organization. I would be as against them funding Fox news or Rush. Thats NOT where my tax dollars belong. Keep up the good "albeit with liberal bias" work, but not at the expense of the US people.

Mar. 19 2011 11:37 AM
KadeKo from suburban New England

---Mainstream news coverage in a polarized environment tends to have both sides alleging bias. ---

Yeah, but I'm sick and tired of ombuds who pipe up, "Each side is complaining equally, so that must mean we're doing it accurately, unbiased and down-the-middle". In this media environment, "both sides complain equally" means nothing.

And when it comes to scientific research, I also would bring into the discussion the study* that showed how people convinced of "unfacts", who "know" things that simply aren't, are distinctly close-minded. New facts, occurrences and discoveries often make them double down on their "knowledge".

(*No cite--too busy right now.)

Mar. 19 2011 10:58 AM
Robert from New York City

In the hour or so after Sam Negus appeared on OTM, I heard Scott Simon wax poetic about pets. I would never harm a pet, but I hate having a dog in my house. Should Scott have been instantly refuted by someone who is not a "pet person," someone who could tell everyone how nasty dogs smell and how unpleasant a slobbering dog can be (a bit like being hit on by a person of the gender that is not of one's preference)? I heard NPR's sports guy talk about how exciting some of the games in the NCAA's have been. Shouldn't there have been someone who instantly came on to remind everyone how corrupt the recruitment process is for big time college sports? In both of those cases, my beliefs were not included in the segments, but my emphatic answer is NO! For Negus to be intellectually consistent, he would have to say yes.

There is nothing wrong with a Fresh Air show that questions the underpinnings of a religion, as there is nothing wrong with a Being show where the clearly religious host and her religious guest clearly assume that religious belief is a positive. Would Mr. Negus ask that Salman Rushdie, who eloquently argues that the underpinnings of religion are not a given, be on standby whenever Being is aired? Again, to be intellectually consistent, he would need to do so.

The right standard is not whether all points of view are represented at all times, but whether the points of view (singular or plural) are honestly presented. I have major trouble believing that Limbaugh or O'Reilly or Olbermann or many on Pacifica could possibly believe the things that come out of their mouths, so fact-starved are many of their pronouncements. Ditto many of the "talking points" spewers who populate media discussion.

I would rather hear an honest presentation with which I disagree (or whose presenter's world view isn't mine) than a dishonest presentation in which points with which I do agree predominate. I think NPR meets that standard. Were it only true for other media!

Mar. 19 2011 10:01 AM
e5

Bias is reporting falsehood, rationalized as truth using logical fallacy.

Appeal to authority and equivocation are the most usual techniques.

NPR often just echoes liberal fallacies as truth. Examples are:

In global warming, NPR appeals to pro GW choices of climate experts to prove that Global Warming is settled fact, although a sizable number of credible climatologists disagree.

On President Obama's birth certificate, NPR dismisses any differing opinion, using equivocation on the term 'birth certificate', to mean the document posted by the President, when it is actually a doctor witnessed certificate from which the posted document is ostensibly derived (but never revealed).

NPR bias was evident in the OTM O'Keefe segment. Clearly, O'keefe edited his first video release. But, Bob Garfield used an absurd extreme example of editing to suggest that O'Keefe's 'sting' piece was nothing more than similarly misleading editing - but never showing falsehood in O'keefe's major revelations.

Mar. 19 2011 09:56 AM
CHuck

The way this charge works and is effective is very similar to what O'Keefe does in his interviews. It is a no-win situation where half the crowd yells about the umpire and either their team wins in actuality or they win the argument that the other side's victories are illegitimate.

You fell right into this today by asking a bunch of conservatives to keep diaries and present their complaints to you next week. No one even *considers* the complaints of people like me who see a NPR mindlessly accepting a corporate culture bent on war and profit, an unquestioned Wall Street plutocracy profiting from fraud, outsourcing, and corruption, an authoritarian "Daddy state" that rules through voter suppression and media manipulation, a vast right wing radio megaphone that Rwandaizes every election, and a DC "villager" mentality that pervades NPR. I stopped listening to NPR because I got sick of hearing Cokie opine about how nasty and low-brow the Clintons were and giving me her patrician tut-tutting about any issue not deemed worthy of her social standing.
This charge of liberal bias really works and you fell for it and will bend over backwards now to accommodate the noisy united brigades of loyal right wing.

If OTM falls for this harassment, God help us all

Mar. 19 2011 09:49 AM
nelms Graham from Waynesboro,Ga.

I have been an NPR listener for perhaps 30 years and I believe that NPR is most certainly liberal in its broadcasts. Many shows casting dispersions on the faith of Christians. Many stories like the story on the DEA 's taking the excution drugs used by the state of Ga.were simply thin veiled excuses to promote your anti-capital punishment agenda. FOX NEWS certainly knows its conservative. NPR failure to perceive its own liberalism is certainly damming. Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for NPR's liberal propaganda.

Mar. 19 2011 09:40 AM
jennifer tobias from nyc

imho, that OTM has taken on the bias question as an ongoing story is meta-journalism at its best.

the observation of an across-the-board "pro-peace" bias across is fascinating as something both listeners and producers are unaware of, and as a way of understanding why it irks listeners on a given side of a given situation.

well done.

Mar. 19 2011 08:34 AM
David White from Brooklyn, NY

Sam Negus talks as if he and his religious and political views are an aggrieved minority. This is, politely, nonsense. Evangelicals and Libertarians (self-defined) command platforms throughout the media. His remark about the 2006 mid-terms could be applied to Murdoch's media outlets in 2010. If he does not like what he is hearing be a Libertarian, turn off the radio.

Mar. 19 2011 08:27 AM
Lenore from New York City

And another thing--on Brian Lehrer this week it came out that the Republican bill will prohibit local radio stations from using Federal money to purchase ANY outside programs. Can we have someone on NPR point out how the party of small government is now, at all opportunities, using its (hopefully momentary) majority to constantly meddle with local and govts, local radio stations, doctors' offices, etc. etc.??

Mar. 19 2011 08:04 AM
marty siegrist

Since when is it NPR’s (or any other mainstream news organization) job to reinforce Mr. Negus' or anyone else's religious beliefs? He was upset by the Fresh Air episode in which no rebuttal was offered as to the interviewee's view of the Resurrection. A rebuttal would have been inappropriate under those particular circumstances and in that particular show. It is not NPR's job to defend someone's particular religious beliefs. For that, he can look to his church. And one particular episode of one particular program (which is not a news program, per se, by the way) does not a liberal bias make.

Mar. 19 2011 08:02 AM
Trey from New York, NY

In Ira and Sam's discussion, one thing that particularly irked Sam was that on Good Friday of 2008, Terry Gross had interviewed John Dominic Crossan, a founder of the Jesus Seminar, for "nearly the entire hour" without presenting a contrary point of view, even though Crossan's views are deeply objectionable to the vast majority of those who call themselves Christians.

But Terry Gross's program, Fresh Air, *doesn't do panel discussions*. She does one-on-one interviews, and she delves deeply into whatever her guest's views are to try to help the listener to understand them. Over the 20+ years I've listened to her show, I have heard other guests—many who were entertainment or political figures rather than religious ones—speak of Christ's salvation as important to their being. She has hardly gone out of her way over the years to present a pseudo-Jeffersonian view of Christ-as-merely-human. But bringing on an opposing view would not fit with her program.

Mar. 19 2011 07:59 AM
Richard Johnston from Manhattan upper west side

So how does the dude with the Australian accent get to be the arbiter of balance? We know from his objection to Terry Gross that he has a religious bias. Does he think Ira Glass's freak show is anti-American because what purports to be Americana focuses on the exceptions rather than the norm? He listens to NPR looking for matters to find exception to.

Mar. 19 2011 07:58 AM
Vernon from Pittsburgh

I just caught the tale end of this segment and I am about to download it and listen again...Sam Negus exactly reflected my feelings. I love NPR and do believe I am better informed for tuning in, but it makes me wince a few times a day. He hit the nail on the head when he said that it's about assumptions.

Mar. 19 2011 07:54 AM
Trey from Detroit

Sheesh!

Negus doesn't think it was fair that NPR didn't "balance"
the tone of presumption of religious radio talkers who don't believe Jesus bodily rose???

Ask listener Negus if he can help minimize the media's
tone of unwarranted credulity about the actual existence,
much less the return to life, of a bible character for
whom there's no credible independent evidence of either
of the two alleged lives?

And who "balances" the rest of the religious radio talkers, nearly all of them sucking up the public's
airways promulgating Negus' cherished mythology?

Mar. 19 2011 07:53 AM
Lenore from New York City

So you had a discussion and interview of an evangelical Christian, and you are inviting some "conservatives" to also do diaries of NPR for next week. How about asking people to keep a diary who would like to hear more from Naomi Klein? the economist Baker? David Cay Johnston? FAIR? Why don't you invite Katrina Vanden Heuvel to do a diary for the week?

Mar. 19 2011 07:51 AM
Howard M Thompson

Did Ira Glass call the two sides on the abortion issue "pro-choice" and "anti-abortion"? I believe he did. Does that word choice reflect a liberal bias? Maybe.

Mar. 19 2011 07:41 AM
Halax from Washington, DC

I have been an NPR listen for over 25 years and can say without question the news is clearly reported without much filtering of so called liberal or conservative bias. What I find more troubling as NPR has grown, it has become more like cooperate media. I find cooperate media (network news such as ABC, Fox, and local channel news) tend to report on the "loudest voices" or the "squeakiest wheels" of the event of the day without looking deeper into the story. I suppose this is done to cram as much content into a block of time as possible.
In my opinion, the meat of the story goes unreported far too often. The NPR Sting Story is a clear example. The media jumped on this story very quickly without questioning the source of the story. I wonder if the rage expressed by some towards NPR would have been as loud if more reporters had also reported on the originator of the story's own history of cut and past journalism. Where's the reporting about that.

Mar. 19 2011 07:38 AM
Ralph R from Switzerland

The discussion came across as a baack versus white in that, generally, listening to NPR and their broadcasted programs meant accpetance there was no bias and, again generally, not listening meant there was no "liberal bias". The one guest listened, though believed there was a bias. That was a good start.

I believe the elements should be looked at in detail:

- factual reporting
- gathering of sufficient facts including follow-up questions
- commentary on the facts

People may well listen to NPR as the facts gathered are reasonably accurate and they may well believe their can 'edit out' bias (intended or perceived) to understand or determine for themselves the meaning and implications of the facts.

Many 'facts' have varing degrees of opinion even when something might appear factual altough the degree of 'truth' depends upon the commentar's point of view (consider scientists who use have been known to change their views over time over the ages).

Finally, many listeners may well wish to listen to NPR because there are very few commercials (and fewer "and next we have . . ." time eaters) so one's activity to gain the news is more effecient than commerical stations.

In the same way, it is more efficient to listen to the on-line stream so one gets through shows as All Things Considered in one and one-half hours rather than the two hours from stations such as WNYC (the station to which I on trips to in the USA).

Just one person's views. - R

Mar. 19 2011 07:22 AM
david amann from Redwood City

AnyCarol --

Regarding OTM and Ira Glass being left leaning, how do you detect iit? Is it just an impression you pick up? If so, how do you know that impression is accurate?

Is it a choice of the stories they cover? I remember TAL covering the Tea Party recently, but I cannot remember anything really 'liberal' about the coverage.

Sometimes, I think that when things correspond to our particular viewpoint, it flies underneath our radar & we don't notice. But when a subject or viewpoint challenges our own cherished beliefs, we charge bias.

Maybe the allegation of bias arises from our own bias. Maybe we sometimes interpret thinking differently as bias.

David

Mar. 19 2011 07:18 AM
Carol

I haven't listened to the piece yet, but I'd say that Morning Edition and All Things Considered, the hard news shows, are incredibly balanced and every effort seems to be made to invite guests from all points of view.

The fun shows I listen to are generally hosted by lefties, but maybe that's just the ones I choose. I think the Car Talk guys lean Libertarian, but the OTM hosts are decidedly left, as are Michael Feldman, Peter Sagal and Ira Glass.

NPR offers dozens upon dozens of special interest shows, though, so I'm sure there's something for everyone. Cutting funding isn't going to hurt my big city affiliate, it's the small stations that are going to hurt.

Mar. 18 2011 11:39 PM
Adriana from Phoenix, AZ

The fact that you are even considering this question seriously speaks volumes about what makes public radio great. I'd like to see Fox News seriously navel-gazing about its biases... yeah right.

Considering NPR programming in the context of all the other news organizations out there is the key. If NPR programming sometimes gives voice to a different side of the conversation that isn't heard elsewhere, isn't that what good journalism should be?

I hope NPR will come out of this crisis renewed in its journalistic integrity and its progressive outlook, whether there is public funding for it or not. The public discourse in this country desperately needs a high quality news source that isn't beholden to advertising revenue and shareholder interests, and that is NPR's greatest calling.

Mar. 18 2011 11:24 PM
bloody hammer

"What is liberal? What is bias? What is NPR?"

LOL

wow.

Mar. 18 2011 11:07 PM
Kevin from Princeton, NJ

Mainstream news coverage in a polarized environment tends to have both sides alleging bias.

For scientific research on this empirical regularity, please see Vallone et al's seminal article "The Hostile Media Phenomenon" (http://www.zaxistv.com/sociology/popular%20culture/BiasedPerceptionofMediaBias.pdf) and for a summary of related research, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hostile_media_effect

Mar. 18 2011 10:38 PM
Burnell Hoekstra from New Smyrna Beach

Liberal bias self evident. Your discussion is a joke.

Mar. 18 2011 07:58 PM

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