Public Radio Journalists and Political Expression

Friday, November 04, 2011


Last month, freelancer Caitlin Curran was dismissed from the WNYC/PRI show The Takeaway for participating in an Occupy Wall Street protest in Times Square. Curran talks to Bob about her dismissal.

Comments [27]

Jimbo Veggiehead from Valley Forge, PA

Right on Michiganjf! Absolutely right to emphasize the shoving to the Right that npr has suffered as you describe- and yes I very much remember Bob Edwards- especially as I pride [or fancy] myself as NPR's #1 thorn in the side when it comes to it's FOX NEWS employee [although never mentioned on air, or in her npr bio page] Mara Liasson.
Anyone who has heard Ms. Liasson introduce an Obama Presidential speech about to be broadcast on npr has clearly heard political activism! She just plain old gets ugly about it.
Ever since Obama has been elected, Ms. Liasson [chief political correspondent] has done nothing but conclude, whatever the political occasion, that 'the president is really in trouble over this one'. As does Kokie Roberts, who is editor of a conservative news website.
This is not a one-time disgruntled listener speaking here; I worked to have the classification of "Political Analysis" removed from the network broadcasts and website, because the 2010 election coverage was so biased against Democrats and Obama that the term was actually running up against the oral contract given out by affiliate stations at fund-raising times, that promised, for your money, that npr would deliver a higher standard, and presumably 'un-biased' delivery of truth, or fact-gathering known as journalism.
It worked. Npr does not use that term anymore, and in 2010, actually started broadcasting the Presidents voice, absolutely brought to zero [no joke][!]. Bush got to have his repetitive messages broadcast over npr constantly!
This was, and continues to be, imperical[sp?] data that I confront the network on. And this is the tip of the iceberg...
When one calls the ombudsman, and asks why Ms Liasson's apearances on national TV, the greatest triumphs of her career, are not included in her bio, one can really get some tap-dancing. Stuff about 'she has editorial control over her bio'. POPPY-COCK!
It has never been about her 'editorial control' it is about what is being hidden! It is about the message Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes would love to have delivered to the ever-deliberating Left.
Another fact: local affiliates have been receiving underwriting from Fox Entertainment, and Fox Pictures. When does Mr. Murdoch put his money anywhere without a plan in place?
Check out this media matters for america article about a special npr ethical task force that deals with Ms Liasson's conflict of interest and obvious political activism. [!]
Neal Conan and Ken Rudin and Ron Elving are also clearly working for the Right if you listen to them on Talk of the Nation 'Political Junkie' segments.
None of this is covered on Npr, and sadly, though OTM might be familiar with what I bring today- sadly cover none of this as well.
Hey OTM, your beat is the Media, and you never discuss FOX NEWS because "they don't return your phone calls"- LAME!

It is extremely true that not all npr employees are treated equal!

Nov. 10 2011 08:49 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

You really NEED a comment-delete a la Facebook

Nov. 10 2011 03:15 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

(You really a comment-delete a la Facebook.)

radio station in its community run hay day, ran a monthly senior paper where I was paid enough to deliver, and a public access television station where the bulk of my work was facilitating others' use of free speech. I specialized in utilizing huge corporate resources to say exactly what I wanted to without their ever being able to filter it.

The cost, of course, is financial. Unlike your hero, Eric Blair, I can't ever take a vacation from my George Orwell identity For me, they have always been more like holidays in Cambodia!

Right now, I'm working on a video tying my original 1980 commentary on nuclear waste that supposedly ended the industry's dumping in Idaho (they just contaminated 7 workers there yesterday) and the storage of that waste on-site at all our 100+ nuke plants in view of the Fukishima disaster. (By the way, where do our nuclear submarines crap?)

They control what you say when you accept their pay and, what I always asked the Yale students was, "Why pay to work?" Volunteer organizations are always at least a little out of control!

Nov. 10 2011 03:08 AM
Chris Gray from adio

I'm so very glad I never worked at any Public Broadcasting entity and, yet, get to spout my opinions on their various web pages. Luckily, I spent many years volunteering my opinions in various other sorts of community media; the Yale r

Nov. 10 2011 02:10 AM
Marceline from Cleveland, OH

I agree with Mr. Rosen's assertion that NPR shouldn't be trying to control the personal activity of people for whom they don't pay health insurance.

In their effort to convince detractors that they don't have a liberal bias, NPR is purging passionate, active, involved people from its ranks for committing the crime of being passionate, active and involved. In the effort to be "fair" NPR is sterilizing itself.

Nov. 07 2011 01:56 PM
John from suburban Chicago

Interesting piece, but it left several questions unanswered:

1.) Did Curran exercise independent editorial judgement in her work for "The Takeaway"?

2.) If no, why was what she did a fireable offense? Would they fire a janitor who was similarly "caught" at a political event?

3.) If Curran exercised independent editorial judgement in her work for "The Takeaway," is that organization abdicating its responsibility by outsourcing editorial judgement to a free-lancer?

Nov. 07 2011 11:08 AM
Sebastian Frank from E. Wallingford, VT

Beekin: isn't the burden of proof that OWS is political on those making the claim? Just because there is an overlap between the style of the left and the style of OWS does not mean that OWS, as a movement, has congealed into a coherent political force. Correlation is not causation. Is that "proof" enough for you? Just because income inequality is an issue claimed by the left (though not the Democratic Party) does not mean that all who are troubled by income inequality are on the left. If you are so concerned about facts (even though you insist that correlation is causation, which is a fundamental logical fallacy), then why do you speculate about the absence of NRA members, etc., at OWS. I would bet there are plenty of Tea Partyers who support OWS in spirit and perhaps in person but the point of my argument is not which political party claims ownership of OWS but that it is irrelevant who does because, structurally speaking, OWS is not advancing a political platform or backing candidates for election. OWS is mulling over the nature of government. There is a difference between politics and government. That is a fact, and it is not my fault if nobody seems to believe this simple but important distinction anymore.

Nov. 07 2011 06:50 AM
beekin from kpbs

not a political movement? just saying that you arent political or that you represent 99% of the public doesnt make it so. you need to back this up with at least some (oh heck,any) know..proof. OWS has republicans and NRA members and anti abortion activists and 'tea partiers' and corporate executives? actual representitive make up of america? funny..what are all those hammer and sickle flags doing there? why so ticked off at the top 1% but not at the top 25%? or top 3%? not political? dont be insulting. no political goal?..aside from the whole 'kill the rich' thing, huh? fire the employee for being careless? no. dock her a days wages sure..make her re-read her terms of employment paperwork, yup. but this 'movement' wasnt worth losing her job over. 'occupy wallstreet incorporated' is run by white guys in suits and ties out of the corner office, running their 'talking points' past the boys in marketing. it is as phoney as the 'tea party' and every bit as corrupted by millionaire money. the sooner the bongo banging cannon fodder realize this the better.

Nov. 06 2011 09:47 PM
Sebastian Frank from East Wallingford, VT

There's a difference between politics and government. As far as I can tell, the OWS movement is mainly a criticism of government, and is essentially non-political. If or when it is political, it is so inchoate as to be non-partisan The fact that political groups claim OWS should not be relevant and I would argue that those who fired the reporter by claiming that her participation in the government protest was a political act are the ones who are in breach of contract by foisting a political identity on someone without good reason. I think On the Media needs to think this one through a little more before assuming that every public act of intellectual reflection is de facto political. Without a public space in which people can behave in a critical social manner without being lumped into one or another political group is to concede that the status quo political discourse is immanent rather than to imagine the possibility of inhabiting an authentically free space--undetermined democracy. As it stands, by assuming the core political essence of all protestation, On the Media has become something more like On the Mediated.

Nov. 06 2011 08:16 PM
Doug from Chicago

Bob Garfield kept me as a WYNC contributor with his blunt response to Caitlin Curran's disingenuous assertion that the Occupy movement was not left-wing. Like many listeners, I was appalled when she was fired for carrying a sign that stated a fairly non-controversial assertion about mortgage-backed securities. However, I cannot justify cutting off WNYC - and by extension Bob Garfield's program - on behalf of someone who refused to be honest about what she was doing. Bob's uncompromising response reminded me of why I contribute to WYNC in the first place - to support this excellent program.

Nov. 06 2011 07:54 PM
Mary Jane Leach from New York

Upon reflection, it seems that NPR's seemingly haphazard policy boils down to: if you get paid to state your opinions (i.e., on Fox News) it's ok, but if it's unpaid, as at OWS, it's not ok.

Also, OWS is an economic protest, which is non-partisan.

Nov. 06 2011 06:35 PM
Kimi from Connecticut

Bob, you showed unacceptable political bias by scoffing at Caitlin Curran's description of the Occupy Wall Street as a diverse and broad movement. You seemed eager to inaccurately characterize it as a narrow left-wing movement.

Perhaps the only thing that occupiers have in common is a disgust with extreme right-wing corporatism (which is very different from healthy capitalism). Radical corporatism impinges on the liberty and economic well-being of human beings in this country and around the world. It renders free market economies unable to function without collapse.

When people get together in parks to simply *ask questions and express general concern* about the dominance of the radical right (a tiny portion of the population), the acts of assembly and discussion are not partisan in and of themselves. Assembly and discussion is merely an expression of the First Amendment.

As Caitlin appropriately pointed out, the biggest criticism of the Occupy movement is its excessively broad inclusivity and its *lack* of positions. Many have pointed out that many Tea Partiers hold beliefs in common with Occupiers. This is not a partisan movement unless you divide the world into two sides: extreme rightists and everyone else.

To balk at her opinion and insert your own (which is not supportable) is far more clearly politically biased (in favor of the radical elite) than anything Ms. Curran did in visiting a site and picking up a sign. Perhaps if, as an NPR reporter, you were allowed to actually visit the sites you pretend to have expertise on (rather than relying on hearsay), you could do your job with less bias. Right now, you seem hopelessly cordoned off from getting near the facts - because you could lose your job if you actually tried to go onsite and get informed.

Nov. 06 2011 04:17 PM
Noah Brown from Atlanta, GA

Perhaps this was just a convenient reason for her to be sacked on the grounds of being utterly incompetent.

She like, I dunno, totally wanted to check out the Occupy protest because it was like a "big, major thing"? What!? She then has the audacity to claim that she doesn't view the Occupy protests as political? Again- WHAT!? They are protests against current economic POLICY in the US and worldwide.

Based on that interview this woman was obviously nothing more than a dingbat who lacks the competency to be a journalist. She just made it easier for WNYC to show her the door.

Nov. 06 2011 03:18 PM
Amos Parker from Danville, VT

Piece said that Caitlin Curran was fired for open political advocacy. I think it's clear that she was engaging in open economic advocacy. Are they the same?

Is everything "political"? Would an environmental protest make a protester liberal? An NFL protest?Would we have to poll all protesters at every protest to make sure that Republicans and Democrats are split 50/50?

Nov. 06 2011 02:55 PM
Brenda from New York City

Hogwash. When you work in communications, particularly in journalism, you sacrifice your right to publicly voice your opinions. To say otherwise or attempt to rationalize why you should be exempt is just plain Veruka Salt-like behavior.

Nov. 06 2011 10:53 AM
truthseeker from Planet Earth

What about the use of journalists in a war?

If the same standard was applied to these embedded reporters as seen recently in Libya among other wars, should they be dismissed as well and their agencies be heavily fined or closed?

There is documented evidence as seen in this article by Voltaire [] that acknowledges NATO using journalists as informants.

It is not a stretch to even assume that these same informants/journalists were also be guilty of texting, tweeting coordinates of military targets to NATO.

Nov. 06 2011 04:59 AM
Bob Gardner from Randolph, MA

Presumably, once the Occupy Wall Street demo is over, she gets her job back, right? Just like the All Things Considered host will once the presidential election is over.

Nov. 05 2011 06:07 PM

No one has yet asked exactly what it is that Caitlin Curran was doing for The Takeaway. She's been described as a freelancer, doing web production.

There is, it should be pointed out, a page of The Takeaway's "Blog" section in which listeners are asked to send in their own pictures of OWS. Was that Curran's project?

And, as others have noted, with the one notable exception of featuring an interview with Amity Schlaes (about which many Takeaway listeners howled in protest), The Takeaway's coverage of OWS has been nothing but soft and supportive.

Nov. 05 2011 03:12 PM
David Goodman from Evanston, IL

Since when should we assume that journalists cannot be objective or trustworthy if they have opinions. I think that any journalist who pretends not to have opinions - the approach that WNYC apparently requires of its staff at all times - is either untrustworthy or not worth reading. Such a reporter is either being dishonest or lacks the analytical ability or curiosity that lead to developing opinions. Ms. Curran was not reporting at the time she attended the protest. That should be the end of the story. The rush to placate the far right is galling. A much more important story is why we allow the wealthy and corporate interests to dictate in what we pretend is a democracy. Give Ms. Curran back her show - her voice.

Nov. 05 2011 02:39 PM

I don't know why it is so hard for people to wrap their brain around the idea of a populist movement. OWS is full of people espousing different ideologies. It has no ideology as a whole. It can't, because it's not a centrally organized or top down driven movement.

If you are saying that OWS is clearly liberal left, what you are really saying is that America is clearly liberal left, or the people of the world are clearly liberal left, and perhaps you are correct, but to ascribe an ideology to an entire populist movement is just ignorant.

It shows an inability to comprehend anything outside the standard narrative of left vs. right. The majority of the people have moved far beyond that. You should consider trying to catch up.

Nov. 05 2011 02:29 PM

I'm a liberal...

however, I don't "believe public radio will toady up to [their] corporate masters at any moment."

Rather, I believe that conservative politicians garnered enough clout after their take-over of Congress in 1994, that they finally were able to begin their decades long ambition of loading up their own "toady" appointments at the CPB, culminating (but not ending) with the appointment of Kenneth Tomlinson as Chairman of the Board in 2003 by G.W. Bush.

Ever since, NPR has been compelled to play the absurd point-counterpoint "balancing" act that has been forced on ALL THE REST of American media by the Rabid Right, presenting the absurd, utterly politicized opinions of a few right-wing fanatics as equal to contrary unbiased scholarship, the truth, scientific concensus, majority public opinion, common sense and the public good, the constitution, civil liberites, etc...

After the republican take-over of Congress in 1994, Republicans immediately began to gut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and any other entities they suspected of not towing the line for Right-wing fanaticism, striking the fear of God into NPR and all its affiliate stations nation-wide. This changed significantly the tenor and the uncompromising dedication to fact over "point-counterpoint" opinion at NPR, and began a process of intimidation to assure the new direction (does anyone remember Bob Edwards?).

I understand that far too many smaller affiliate stations would have to be sacrificed if the last, tiny 2.5 percent of funding from the CPB were eliminated, and Right-wing politicians are forever holding that threat over the head on Public Radio... it's just a shame that Public Radio can't openly admit to the ways it has had to compromise the quality of its journalism to appease such a small cadre of very vocal, and thus influential, right-wing fanatics.

... still the best quality available, perhaps, yet only a shadow of what once stood tall and proud above the rest.

Nov. 05 2011 12:26 PM

Hasn't the guest's former radio program like most other national media outlets offered virtually nothing but sympathetic, saccharine and sentimental coverage of the Occupy protests with little or no mention of the sinister reports of assaults and extremism emerging from the protests? Should the audience really be "shocked...shocked" that a staff member of that sympathetic show was a casual participant in the protest? Most producers in the news media need not show up at the protests because their thinly veiled advocacy tends to be all over the work they produce including what they choose to report and not report on the protests.

Is the news media deliberately averting its attention from the serial lawlessness and political extremism of the Occupy protests after three years of unforgiving and some would say defamatory coverage of the Tea Party protests?

Nov. 05 2011 11:45 AM
Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan

Aside from the merits of WNYC's policy on participating in political events, it's noteworthy that responsible, humane employers don't fire employees for the first instance of a violation of a rule or policy, except for quite serious actions such as theft, dishonesty, assault. They view achieving compliance with company rules and policies primarily as a matter of coaching, reminding, counseling and warning which are all that are needed for nearly all employees.In the organizations where I worked the matter would have been handled simply by reviewing the policy with Ms. Curran and asking/instructing her not to do it again. Firing her, in my opinion, was unduly harsh and unfair. No arbitrator worth his salt would find the incident "good cause" for dismissal. Here is a link to a piece on General Motors' supervisory training material on employee discipline:

Here is a link to a description of General Motors' supervisory training material on discipline for it's factory employees:.

Nov. 05 2011 11:38 AM
Stuart M. Whitaker from Washington, DC

One of the most interesting comments that Ms. Curran made was that "the same standards aren’t applied to all employees and that’s part of the problem.”

Though she didn't provide any examples, and Mr. Garfield seemed to ignore her remark, here's a case in point.

NPR radio host Scott Simon wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on October 11, 2001, "Even Pacifists Must Support This War," advocating that the US go to war in response to the 9/11 attacks (copies are widely available on the Internet).

Mr. Garfield says that public radio ethics policies forbid political advocacy in order to avoid charges of bias. Yet what, if anything, was ever done by public radio, in response to Mr. Simon's advocacy?

Nov. 05 2011 10:27 AM
rich from NY

correction--Bob's comment

Nov. 05 2011 08:50 AM
Rich from NY

Steve didn't "buy" Ms. Curran's evaluation of the OWS phenomenon is not clearly "left wing". There is plenty of libertarian and anti-Obama administration sentiment at OWS lending credence to Ms. Curran's nuanced observation. Note: I have spent four days there over the past 4 weeks and have seen that that what's happening there is not easily circumscribed. Ms. Curran's observations were spot on!

Nov. 05 2011 08:48 AM

In this week's live chat, Brooke says that the sign could have said "I like cheese" and she still should have been fired. It was her mere presence that caused her dismissal.

That's just really silly.

(And it's silly for Curran to insist that OWS is some sort of non-partisan organization. Come on!)

Nov. 04 2011 11:05 PM

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